Directing e-mail to residents of Texas gives rise to personal jurisdiction

The case of Middlebrook v. Anderson is a recent case coming to us from a federal court in Texas, and like the recent case of Bible & Gospel Trust v. Wyman discussed on this site, it addresses the issue of whether the court could properly exercise personal jurisdiction over an out of state defendant based on his conduct over the Internet. Unlike the Minnesota federal court in Bible & Gospel Trust, the Texas court in Middlebrook determined that the exercise of personal jurisdiction over the defendant was proper. The Texas court, however, had plenty more to hang its hat on, as the defendant had done much more to direct his activities to the forum state.

Plaintiffs sued Anderson, a California resident, for defamation after they discovered he had placed on his website a story that accused plaintiffs of various types of wrongdoing and illegal conduct. The story also told of plaintiff Middlebrook’s 2003 arrest for child indecency, for which he was never indicted. Anderson also posted on his website a solicitation for information about Middlebrook.

Anderson’s conduct did not stop with merely posting defamatory statements on his website. Perhaps most central to the court’s decision to exercise personal jurisdiction over Anderson were the numerous emails he sent to addresses that he had obtained at a seminar in Texas. The emails repeated many of the accusations which were posted on the website.

These activities of the defendant were directed toward Texas, and served to establish sufficient contacts with the forum state for the exercise of personal jurisdiction. The court held that through his actions, Anderson purposefully availed himself to the law of the forum state, and that the exercise of personal jurisdiction over him comported with traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice.

Middlebrook v. Anderson, 2005 WL 350578 (N.D.Tex. Feb. 11, 2005).