Can You Sue a Defendant Residing in Another State for Libel or Slander in a San Diego or Los Angeles Court?

I am often asked whether you can sue an out-of-state defendant for libel or slander in our courts. The general answer is no. However, certain factors may create the minimum contacts (California’s “long arm” law) essential with our state to justify the court allowing the suit to proceed. One factor relates to the ownership of real estate.

In late 2015, a San Diego appellate court considered a case where a defendant was sued while living in Mexico. Before the defendant moved (he was deported after a prison term) out of the United States, his wife, facing a collection lawsuit, transferred to him title to valuable real estate in the Northern San Diego County city of Vista. A few months later, the creditor won a $416,000.00 judgment against the wife. Then, on a fraudulent transfer theory, the judgment creditor attempted to enforce its judgment by taking the Vista, CA property. The husband objected, claiming the court did not have personal jurisdiction over him.

The Court of Appeals disagreed. “Where a person acquires an ownership interest in California real property while living in California, a California court can properly exercise personal jurisdiction over that person in a subsequent lawsuit pertaining to title to that property, even if the person is no longer living in California.”

The panel explained, “…[Defendant]… purposefully availed himself of forum [California] benefits by owning real property in this forum, the controversy is related to or arises out of [his] ownership of the property, and the assertion of personal jurisdiction would comport with fair play and substantial justice.”

If a defendant owns an interest in real estate in California, she or he can be sued in our state’s courts after moving out of the state – or out of the country. The rule applies to claims for libel and slander.

Counsel: See Buchanan v. Soto, (2015) 241 Cal.App.4th 1353.