Picking Fights in Missouri: Baldwin's Non-Rule Embraces the Minority Approach to Internet Libel Jurisdiction

By Isaak, Allison Marie | Missouri Law Review, Fall 2011 | Go to article overview

Picking Fights in Missouri: Baldwin's Non-Rule Embraces the Minority Approach to Internet Libel Jurisdiction


Isaak, Allison Marie, Missouri Law Review


I. Introduction

Personal jurisdiction is not a new concept. Rather, it is one of the oldest principles that form the foundation and structure of the U.S. court system. Thus, when the Internet became available to the general public in 1995, (1) courts were faced with the difficulty of incorporating modern Internet situations into traditional standards of personal jurisdiction. (2) Because personal jurisdiction is rooted in the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments' Due Process Clauses, (3) the preferred source of guidance in the area of Internet jurisdiction is the U.S. Supreme Court. (4) However, the Supreme Court has remained silent on the issue, leaving the lower courts to decipher the appropriate standard themselves. (5) This has led to considerable divergence among the lower courts in deciding Internet-related disputes. (6)

When it comes to Internet libel across state borders, courts have been particularly contradictory. (7) Many courts continue to apply the traditional "effects" tests of Calder v. Jones? despite the fact that Calder did not involve the Internet. Although many jurisdictions use this test, courts differ in how they interpret the three requirements, especially the second "express aiming" requirement. (9) The minority view is that express aiming requires no more than the mere targeting of a plaintiff who resides in the forum. (10) on the other hand, the majority view is that express aiming requires "something more" than merely targeting a plaintiff who happens to reside in the forum; the defendant must, to some extent, target the forum state as well. (11) Even within the majority view there are varying opinions regarding the extent to which the defendant must target the forum state. (12)

Although Calder is the predominant standard of libel jurisdiction, some courts incorporate the personal jurisdiction principles of Burger King Corp. v. Rudzewicz (13) into their analyses of libel cases. (14) However, because Burger King was a contract case, its test is not always a perfect fit for intentional tort situations. (15) In the alternative, some courts have chosen to apply the framework set forth in Zippo Manufacturing Co. v. Zippo Dot Com, Inc., which is a nontraditional test catered specifically to Internet-related disputes. (16) As if these competing standards were not confusing enough, courts often choose to utilize two or more standards side-by-side instead of committing to only one. (17) This presents problems because courts seldom explain how such seemingly contradictory tests relate to each other. (18)

Before Baldwin v. Fischer-Smith, (19) Internet libel jurisdiction was an unsettled issue in Missouri. (20) Because it was an issue of first impression for the Missouri Court of Appeals, the Baldwin court faced numerous possible standards from which to choose. (21) Ultimately, the Missouri Court of Appeals for the Southern District adopted the minority view of the Calder effects test. (22) The court found that to satisfy the express aiming requirement of the effects test, a defendant is subject to personal jurisdiction by merely targeting a plaintiff who resides in the forum; no extra targeting of the forum state is necessary. (23) Therefore, the court opted for the looser version of the Calder effects test, one that allows the forum state greater leeway in reaching a nonresident defendant.

The competing standards of Internet libel jurisdiction reflect the tensions between the forum state's interest in providing convenient recovery for its injured residents and the defendant's constitutional right to foresee where he might be subject to jurisdiction. In an effort to pursue these two goals as well as integrate modern Internet-related concerns, lower courts have derived numerous divergent tests for Internet libel jurisdiction, leaving the issue in a state of disorder and ambiguity. To analyze this problem, this Note will first survey the historical background of traditional personal jurisdiction principles, with particular emphasis on the U. …

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