DontSueThere.com

You may have heard of the Web site DontDateHimGirl.com. The purpose of the site is to allow women to make anonymous postings about specific men. A defamation lawsuit was filed with respect to statements made on the site about a particular man. While the name of the case is Hollis v. Joseph, as owner and operator of DontDateHimGirl.com, et al., perhaps the case should be referred to as DontSueThere.Com. Why? Because the case was just dismissed for failure of personal jurisdiction. The lesson learned is that plaintiffs must take care to file suit where they are confident that the court will find that it has jurisdiction over the defendants.

Let's take a look at the facts of the case.

On May 24, 2006, a profile of the plaintiff appeared on the DontDateHimGirl.com site. Additional postings about him appeared thereafter. The plaintiff claimed in a lawsuit filed in state court in Pennsylvania that the profiles about him were false and misrepresented that he has multiple children, he has herpes, he transmitted a sexually transmitted disease to anonymous poster, and that he is gay or bisexual.

The court determined that whether the use of an Internet Web site permits it to exercise jurisdiction over an out-of-state company under Pennsylvania's Long-Arm Act required the court to look to a "sliding scale" of contacts. Namely, the more contacts by the defendants with Pennsylvania, the more likely it is appropriate for the court to decide that it has personal jurisdiction over the defendants.

The court then embarked on an analysis of those contacts in this case. The court first noted that the server for the DontDateHimGirl.com site is located in Florida, not Pennsylvania, and that all Web site operations take place in Florida. The court also concluded that the site does not specifically solicit residents of Pennsylvania to post profiles on the site. However, the defendants apparently are aware that Pennsylvania residents will post profiles on the site.

The court also found that while DontDateHimGirl.com maintains an online store on its server where users can purchase clothing and accessory items, the store has made sales to only six Pennsylvania residents, for less than five percent of the total sales of the store.

Next, the court noted that DontDateHimGirl.com obtains revenue through advertising, with the primary source being the Google AdSense program. Pursuant to this program, advertisers enter into contracts with Google to place their advertisements. Google places advertisements on numerous Web sites, including DontDateHimGirl.com, by way of contracts with the site operators. Google makes the selection as to which sites it will run advertisements. However, advertisers may generally describe the types of sites where the advertisements preferably should be placed. Google pays site operators in this instance based on "clicks" on the link taking the viewer from the Web site of DontDateHimGirl.com to the site of the advertiser. Google cannot determine the amount of money paid on profiles of people identified with Pennsylvania.

At the end of the day, after analyzing the foregoing facts, the court concluded that the defendants do not perform a "significant amount of commercial business over the Internet" as directly impacting Pennsylvania sufficient to warrant personal jurisdiction over the defendants in the state. Indeed, the court viewed the defendants' activities as no more than "general advertising with the added convenience of an online registry."

The court recognized that the DontDateHimGirl.com Web site, like other sites, is accessible to anyone connected to the Internet anywhere in the world. The court rejected the notion that a defendant can be hauled into court in any state for any controversy, regardless of contacts with that particular state. This would violate principles of due process, according to the court.

This reasoning makes abundant sense and should provide comfort to companies and individuals that they only should have to answer to legal allegations in states where they have substantial enough contacts to justify further legal proceedings.

Eric Sinrod is a partner in the San Francisco office of Duane Morris LLP where he focuses on litigation matters of various types, including information technology and intellectual property disputes. His Web site is http://www.sinrodlaw.com and he can be reached at ejsinrod@duanemorris.com. To receive a weekly email link to Mr. Sinrod's columns, please send an email to him with Subscribe in the Subject line.

This column is prepared and published for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. The views expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the author's law firm or its individual partners.