The World in U.S. Courts: Fall 2015 - Personal Jurisdiction/Forum Non Conveniens
Plaintiffs Apollo Education Group and the University of Phoenix ("UOP") brought trademark infringement, cybersquatting, and unlawful competition claims against Indian Defendant Vivek Somani. UOP claimed Somani improperly used their marks on his websites to sell University of Phoenix course materials to students in the United States. Somani filed a motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction based on the fact that he resides in India and has never traveled to the United States. The Court rejected his argument and denied his motion to dismiss, reasoning that Somani's sole assertion that he is beyond the jurisdiction of U.S. courts simply because he lives in India is "plainly insufficient to defeat specific jurisdiction in this forum under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 4(k)(2)."
That federal rule is designed to permit the assertion of jurisdiction where a defendant's contacts with the U.S. as a whole are substantial enough to satisfy the Due Process Clause of the U.S. Constitution, even though its contacts with any one State are not. The Court required UOP to prove three factors: that the claims against Somani arose under federal law; that there was no state court that had general jurisdiction over Somani; and that any personal jurisdiction exercised in a federal court would comport with the Due Process Clause. The Court easily determined the first prong was satisfied—UOP's claims arose under the federal "Lanham" and "Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection" Acts. The second prong was satisfied based on Somani's own undisputed assertion that he was "not subject to general personal jurisdiction in any state of the United States." Thus, the bulk of the discussion centered on the third prong, related to the constitutional requirement.
The Court stated that, in the context of the present case, Due Process requires that personal jurisdiction may only be asserted against a defendant who has purposefully directed his activities to the forum state by committing an intentional act aimed at the state that causes harm "the defendant knows is likely to be suffered in that forum state." UOP's claims against Somani alleged he intentionally created websites with the purpose of selling various materials to University of Phoenix students in the United States and thus could reasonably assume harm could occur within the United States. Additionally, his activities were related to and directly led to UOP's claims. For these reasons, the Court concluded that UOP had successfully made a prima facie case that the Court had specific personal jurisdiction over Somani, despite the fact that he was not physically present in the United States.
Because a prima facie case for jurisdiction had been established, the burden then shifted to Somani to convince the Court that exercising jurisdiction over him would be unreasonable and thus would violate the Due Process Clause. But Somani failed to file a reply brief to UOP's opposition to his motion to dismiss—presenting the Court with no evidence that it would be unreasonable for him to defend himself in an American court. The Court took that failure as a concession that no legitimate Due Process problem existed.