Postings to newsgroup support exercise of personal jurisdiction

Goldhaber v. Kohlenberg, — A.2d —-, 2007 WL 2198181 (N.J.Super.A.D. Aug. 2, 2007).

A pair of New Jersey plaintiffs sued a California defendant over “vile” messages that the defendant allegedly posted about the plaintiffs on a newsgroup devoted to cruises and cruise ships. The defendant didn’t answer the complaint, and the trial court entered a default judgment against him in excess of $1 million. That got the defendant’s attention, so he hired local counsel to move to set aside the default judgment, claiming the court lacked personal jurisdiction over him. The trial court denied the motion, and the defendant sought review with the appellate court. On appeal, the court affirmed the denial, holding that the exercise of personal jurisdiction was proper.

The case is particularly interesting in the Internet law context, because the allegations of personal jurisdiction stem exclusively from the defendant’s alleged web-based activity. Looking to an earlier Internet jurisdiction case decided by the New Jersey Supreme Court, Blakey v. Continental Airlines, 164 N.J. 38 (2000), the court observed the implicit application therein of the well-known Calder v. Jones “effects test” [465 U.S. 783, 104 S.Ct. 1482, 79 L. Ed.2d 804 (1984)].

In Calder, the defendants “edited an article that they knew would have a potentially devastating impact upon [the plaintiff],” knowing that “the brunt of that injury would be felt by [the plaintiff] in the State in which she live[d] and work[ed].” The New Jersey court found similarities in this case, even though, in reciting the facts, it stated that the defendant had “no contacts of any type with New Jersey.”

The court concluded that the author of the message board postings did, indeed, target them to New Jersey, not only knowing that plaintiffs resided there, but also knowing the municipality in which they resided. He made specific disparaging references to that municipality in many of his postings, some of which were made in response to plaintiffs’ replies to offending comments. This intentional and directed conduct, and its connection to New Jersey, according to the court, was such that the defendant should reasonably have anticipated being haled into court there.