Minimum Contacts: In Los Angeles or San Diego, Can You Sue Someone Posting on the Internet From another state for Libel or Slander?

Many prospective clients ask me a very reasonable question. “I’m in Los Angeles. Can I sue an Internet poster of damaging, defamatory statements about me who lives in Chicago?

In 2015, a California Court of Appeals responded. The court considered a California plaintiff suing Illinois defendants for libel based on public Facebook statements. The court ruled:

[An Illinois resident] “…posting defamatory statements about a person on a Facebook page, while knowing that person resides in …[California], is insufficient in itself to create the minimum contacts necessary to support specific personal jurisdiction in a lawsuit arising out of that posting. Instead, it is necessary that the nonresident defendant not only intentionally post the statements on the Facebook page, but that the defendant expressly aim or specifically direct his or her intentional conduct at the forum, rather than at a plaintiff who lives there.”

To establish the essential “minimum contacts” by an out-of-state defendant with California, the court noted a defendant’s contacts must be “substantial, continuous and systematic.” Some variables the court discussed included these: Did the non-California defendant ever reside, work, own or lease property, visit California regularly, or engage in some meaningful combination of these factors?

As the Appellate Court noted, “…merely posting on the Internet negative comments about the plaintiff and knowing the plaintiff is in the forum state are insufficient to create minimum contacts.”

A California plaintiff cannot maintain a case here against an out-of-state defamatory poster unless the variables mentioned above, and others, align to provide our courts the legal power to adjudicate an interstate, Internet-based action for libel or slander.

Counsel: See Burdick v. Sup. Ct. (Sanderson) (2015) 233 CA 4th 8, 25.