District Court Finds No Personal Jurisdiction over Danish Civil Servants Whose Only Alleged Contact With Forum Was Presence on Social Media Servers

The World in U.S. Courts: Spring 2016 - Personal Jurisdiction/Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA)/Forum Non Conveniens

Fernando v. Sareen, U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, February 12, 2016

Fernando, an American citizen living abroad, sued multiple Danish civil servants and government officials for allegedly interfering with his visitation rights for his daughter, and inflicting mental and emotional pain and suffering on her. The defendants moved to dismiss on several grounds, including that the Court lacked personal jurisdiction over them.

The Court began by summarizing the applicable jurisdictional principles. The plaintiff bears the burden of demonstrating that jurisdiction is appropriate. Where, as here, the defendant's motion to dismiss is based on written materials as opposed to an evidentiary hearing, the plaintiff need only respond with materials demonstrating a "prima facie" showing of jurisdictional facts. As required by the Due Process Clause of the U.S. Constitution, for the assertion of "general personal jurisdiction" a plaintiff must show that the defendant is essentially "at home" in the forum. "Specific personal jurisdiction" minimum contacts with California necessary to ensure that requiring the defendant to participate and binding it to the result of the litigation would not offend traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice

Fernando relied principally on the fact that the defendants maintain digital persona on social media which use computer servers that are physically located in the U.S. (principally in Northern California). The Court considered this an inadequate basis for general personal jurisdiction, noting that other courts had considered even interactive websites incapable of establishing that a defendant was "at home" in a forum.

As to specific personal jurisdiction, the Court identified a three-prong test: (1) the non-resident defendant must purposefully direct his activities or consummate some transaction with the forum or a forum resident, or perform some act by which he "purposefully avails" himself of the privilege of conducting activities in the forum, (2) the claim must be one which arises out of or relates to the defendant's forum-related activities, and (3) the exercise of jurisdiction must comport with fair play and substantial justice. The Court found that all three requirements were absent in this case since Fernando did not contend that the defendants engaged in any California-related activities, nor did he dispute that his claims were based on events that transpired entirely in Denmark. Consequently, the Court dismissed Fernando's complaint for lack of personal jurisdiction.

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