Website terms of service provide basis for exercise of personal jurisdiction

CoStar Realty Information, Inc. v. Field, — F.Supp.2d —-, 2009 WL 841132 (D.Md. March 31, 2009)

Personal jurisdiction cases — even ones that involve the internet — are generally not all that interesting. But the case of CoStar Realty Information, Inc. v. Field is worth noting because of the way the personal jurisdiction analysis was tied to a provision found in online terms of service.

CoStar provides its paying customers with access to a proprietary database via the web. It claimed that certain defendants, who were residents of Texas and Florida, accessed the database using another customer’s password. So CoStar sued these defendants in federal court in Maryland.

These defendants moved to dismiss arguing, among other things, lack of personal jurisdiction. The court denied the motion.

It found that in the four or so years that the defendants accessed the database without authorization, they would have been presented with the online terms of service from time to time. Those terms of service contained a clause which provided that any litigation over use of the database would be conducted in Maryland. The court found that the defendants assented to these terms, and that the forum selection clause was valid and enforceable.

Map photo courtesy Flickr user Marxchivist under this Creative Commons license


  1. Why would the service provider specify Maryland? Is that where they are based? Or is Maryland's corporate law more favorable to them?

  2. @joe — Yes, the plaintiff is based in Md.

  3. The CFAA holding in this case is notable as well. The court jettisoned the :interruption of service" language in the CFAA as a necessary element to recover loss. Not unprecedented, but still the minority view. This moves the focus of inquiry away from the machine/event and out into IP/Privacy issues. The scope of potential recoverable loss expands widely. In theory. Thank you for posting it.

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