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Vincent "Bo" Jackson, et al v. The California Newspapers Partnership, et al

No. 05 C3459 (N.D. Ill., October 27, 2005)

Illinois federal court holds that it lacks personal jurisdiction over corporate and individual defendants residing in California in a defamation action arising out of defendants' publication of a newspaper article that allegedly defamed Illinois resident "Bo" Jackson.  The article was published both in a local California newspaper and on the newspaper's website.  The Court based its determination on the fact that the article was not aimed at Illinois, because it reported on a speech given in California, and because only one of the subscribers to the print and electronic versions of defendants' local California newspaper was a resident of Illinois.

Defendant Jim Mohr ("Mohr") is the Sports Editor for the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin ("Daily Bulletin"), a newspaper published by defendant California Newspapers Partnership.  Mohr attended a forum in California on diet and exercise at which Ellen Coleman, a registered dietician, spoke.  Mohr wrote an article about the forum titled "Forum tackles the dangers of steroid use."  According to the Court "the article stated, in reference to Coleman "'Bo Jackson lost his hip because of anabolic abuse,' she said, citing an example of how she personally witnessed damage on someone's life."

Coleman, in a sworn affidavit, denied making the statement attributed to her in the article concerning Jackson, or, indeed, even mentioning Jackson in either her speech or conversation with Mohr.

The article was published in the print edition of the Daily Bulletin, and posted on its website at  The Daily Bulletin has 65,000 subscribers to its print newspaper, only one of whom resides in Illinois.  None of the subscribers to the electronic version of this publication reside in Illinois.

Plaintiff "Bo" Jackson, a famous sports figure, commenced this suit in Illinois, charging defendants with defamation, invasion of privacy and intentional infliction of emotional distress as a result of their publication of the article.  Defendants moved to dismiss, asserting that the Court lacked personal jurisdiction over them.  The Court agreed, and dismissed the suit.

The Court held that defendants' operation of a website available to Illinois web surfers was insufficient to permit the Court to assert general jurisdiction over the defendants.  "The mere maintenance of an Internet website is generally not sufficient to exercise general jurisdiction . . .".

The Court further held that the publication of the Article on the newspaper's website was insufficient to permit the Court to exercise specific jurisdiction over the Defendants.  According to the Court specific "jurisdiction arises if the defendants have purposefully directed their activities at Illinois residents and the litigation results from injuries arising as a result of these activities."  Thus, to establish specific jurisdiction over defendants, they must have reasonably anticipated that their actions would cause Jackson injury in Illinois, his state of residence.  This, in turn, held the Court, required defendants to anticipate that Illinois residents would read the article, and thereby cause plaintiff substantial injury in Illinois.

Application of this standard mandated dismissal of the action.  The Court held that defendants did not direct their activities at Illinois.  Rather, the article was aimed at California, because it was published by a local California newspaper, concerned an event that occurred in California, and was not based on interviews with Illinois-based sources.  Nor could defendants have reasonably anticipated that Illinois residents would read the publication, because, with one exception, Illinois residents did not subscribe to either its print or electronic versions.  As such, held the Court, defendants could not reasonably anticipate that their actions would give rise to injury to Jackson in Illinois.  The Court also found support for this conclusion in the fact that Jackson possessed a national reputation.

As a result, the Court concluded that:

[I]t is clear that hailing defendants into an Illinois court based on an article regarding a local California forum posted on a local California website would offend notions of Due Process.

This conclusion was not altered by the interactive nature of defendants' website, or the fact that web surfers could use it to subscribe to either the print or electronic versions of defendants' publication.  Because no Illinois residents had in fact so subscribed, held the Court "while the website may be interactive for California residents, it does not aim its services at Illinois residents."

The Court accordingly dismissed the case for want of personal jurisdiction.

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