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Having a vast social media following does NOT establish personal jurisdiction in Illinois

Posted by Steve Vondran | Jan 18, 2024

Vondran Legal® Social Media Law - Establishing Personal Jurisdiction over a Defendant.  

Illinois personal jurisdiction case


In order to force a defendant to answer a lawsuit in a particular federal court jurisdiction (ex. for copyright infringement) a defendant needs to establish personal jurisdiction.  This requires Plaintiff to establish that a defendant has either (A) General jurisdiction with the forum, or (B) specific jurisdiction with a forum. If not, generally the Plaintiff would need to sue Defendant in their home-state, or state of incorporation or where their principle place of business is.  This video, by Attorney Steve®, America's hardest working attorney, explains this with some simple examples.

The Alani Nutrition Case

The threshold for a finding of general personal jurisdiction is high; it requires a
party to have engaged in systemic and continuous activity in the forum state such that
it approximates physical presence. Tamburo v. Dworkin, 601 F.3d 693, 701 (7th Cir.
2010). Plaintiff's argument that Hathaway is subject to general personal jurisdiction in
Illinois boils down to essentially one point: Hathaway has millions of social media
followers, which include Illinois residents. So, because Hathaway derives “substantial
income” from sponsorship deals and endorsements in connection with her social media
posts (which are viewed by Illinois residents), and that she directly interacts with her
followers (including Illinois residents) on social media platforms, she is essentially “at
home” in Illinois. This argument lacks merit.

Defendants argue—persuasively—that Hathaway's business contacts are
insufficient to establish general personal jurisdiction. Hathaway does not maintain an
office or have employees in Illinois, she does not regularly send agents to Illinois to
conduct business, and she has no registered agent in Illinois. She traveled to Illinois for
business purposes one time in the past year. Outside of her posts and other internet
activity, and the rare appearance at fitness related events, she does not advertise or
solicit business in Illinois. She estimates that less than 1% of her income in the past
year came from Illinois.

Plaintiff argues that Hathaway's direct interaction with her followers and
consumers is highly distinguishable from a mere “internet presence” or “maintenance
of an interactive website,” which courts have repeatedly found insufficient to establish
general personal jurisdiction.

Placement of content on the internet,
by itself, does not subject the poster to personal jurisdiction in any state in which
someone accesses that content. Nor is a single visit to Illinois for business purposes in
the past year enough; isolated or sporadic contacts—such as occasional visits to the
forum state—are also insufficient for general jurisdiction. Burger King v. Rudzewicz,
471 U.S. 462, 475 (1985).

The Seventh Circuit has cautioned that general jurisdiction “should not lightly
be found.” Kipp v. Ski Enter. Corp. of Wisc., 783 F.3d 695, 698 (7th Cir. 2015). It has
stated that having “an interactive website . . . should not open a defendant up to personal
jurisdiction in every spot on the planet where that interactive website is accessible. To
hold otherwise would offend traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice.
Advanced Tactical Ordnance Sys., LLC v. Real Action Paintball, Inc., 751 F.3d 796,
803 (7th Cir. 2014) (cleaned up).

We think the same principle applies in this case.
Exercising general personal jurisdiction over Hathaway here simply because her social
media activity reaches Illinois residents would mean that every social media influencer
is “at home” in every state in which they have followers.

About the Author

Steve Vondran

Thank you for viewing our blogs, videos and podcasts. As noted, all information on this website is Attorney Advertising. Decisions to hire an attorney should never be based on advertising alone. Any past results discussed herein do not guarantee or predict any future results. All blogs are written by Steve Vondran, Esq. unless otherwise indicated. Our firm handles a wide variety of intellectual property and entertainment law cases from music and video law, Youtube disputes, DMCA litigation, copyright infringement cases involving software licensing disputes (ex. BSA, SIIA, Siemens, Autodesk, Vero, CNC, VB Conversion and others), torrent internet file-sharing (Strike 3 and Malibu Media), California right of publicity, TV Signal Piracy, and many other types of IP, piracy, technology, and social media disputes. Call us at (877) 276-5084. AZ Bar Lic. #025911 CA. Bar Lic. #232337

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