By: Randall Manvitz, Esq.

The rise of social media has seen a corresponding rise in lawsuits seeking redress for alleged defamatory statements posted on Internet sites. This raises many novel legal issues, including whether a person can be sued in a faraway state because he or she posted a statement on the Internet that allegedly harmed someone who resides in that faraway state.

The California Court of Appeal recently issued an interesting opinion in Burdick v. Superior Court, analyzing whether a California state court has personal jurisdiction over an out-of-state defendant who allegedly posted defamatory statements on Facebook about a California resident. The court held that posting defamatory comments on a website while knowing that a plaintiff resides and will be damaged in California is insufficient on its own for the minimal contacts necessary for personal jurisdiction. Personal jurisdiction must be based on the defendant’s forum-related acts instead of the plaintiff’s forum contacts, so to establish jurisdiction it is necessary that the defendant: “expressly aim or specifically direct his or her intentional conduct at the forum, rather than at the plaintiff who lives there.”

While the facts in Burdick were insufficient to establish jurisdiction over an out-of-state defendant in California, the parameters of personal jurisdiction over a defendant who intentionally damages a resident of another state via the Internet is sure to be a hot topic for years to come.