Justia Civil Procedure Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Internet Law
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In this case, the plaintiff, a victim of sex trafficking, brought a putative class action against various entities, including foreign-based defendants who operated websites on which videos of her abuse were uploaded and viewed. The district court dismissed the claims against the foreign-based defendants for lack of personal jurisdiction. On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed and vacated in part, holding that the district court erred in its conclusion.The Ninth Circuit found that the plaintiff had established a prima facie case for the exercise of specific personal jurisdiction over two foreign defendants, WebGroup Czech Republic, a.s. ("WGCZ") and NKL Associates, s.r.o. ("NKL"), which operated the websites. The court concluded that the plaintiff had shown that these defendants had purposefully directed their activities toward the United States, that her claims arose from these forum-related activities, and that the exercise of jurisdiction would be reasonable.The court based its decision on several factors. WGCZ and NKL had contracted with U.S.-based content delivery network services to ensure faster website loading times and a more seamless viewing experience for U.S. users, demonstrating that they had actively targeted the U.S. market. They also profited significantly from U.S. web traffic. Furthermore, the harm the plaintiff suffered—namely, the publication of videos of her abuse on the defendants' websites—had occurred in the U.S., and a substantial volume of the widespread publication of the videos occurred in the U.S.As for the remaining foreign defendants, the court vacated the district court's dismissal of them because it was based solely on the incorrect assumption that there was no personal jurisdiction over WGCZ and NKL. The court remanded the case for further proceedings to determine whether personal jurisdiction could be asserted against these additional defendants. View "DOE V. WEBGROUP CZECH REPUBLIC, A.S." on Justia Law

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The plaintiff, a survivor of childhood sex trafficking, filed a class action suit against a group of foreign and domestic corporations, alleging that they violated federal and California laws by distributing videos of her sexual abuse on the internet. The defendants included the owners and operators of two pornography websites based in the Czech Republic. The plaintiff argued that the court had personal jurisdiction over the foreign defendants under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 4(k)(2), which allows for jurisdiction over a foreign defendant if the claim arises under federal law, the defendant is not subject to jurisdiction in any state's courts, and exercising jurisdiction is consistent with the U.S. Constitution and laws. The district court dismissed the case, ruling that it lacked personal jurisdiction over the foreign defendants.The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed in part and vacated in part the district court's dismissal. The court found that the plaintiff had established a prima facie case that the Czech website operators had purposefully directed their websites at the United States. The court also held that the plaintiff's claims arose from the defendants' forum-related activities, and that the defendants failed to show that the exercise of personal jurisdiction would be unreasonable. Therefore, the court reversed the district court's dismissal of the action against the Czech defendants for lack of personal jurisdiction.The court also vacated the district court's dismissal of nine additional foreign defendants. The district court had dismissed these defendants solely on the grounds that there was no personal jurisdiction over the Czech defendants. The appellate court instructed the district court to address on remand whether personal jurisdiction could be asserted against these additional defendants. View "DOE V. WEBGROUP CZECH REPUBLIC, A.S." on Justia Law

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While Johnson, CEO of VisuWell, had dinner at a Franklin, Tennessee hotel, 40-50 teenagers taking prom pictures created a disturbance. Johnson asked the chaperone to settle them down. One teenager, wearing a red prom dress, confronted Johnson, while his boyfriend filmed the interaction. The video captures Johnson saying that the student in the dress “look[s] like an idiot.” Johnson left. The boyfriend posted the video to TikTok and it was reposted to Twitter. VisuWell’s Board assured Johnson that VisuWell would stand by him. Days later, the celebrity Kathy Griffin retweeted the clip to her two million followers: “If this is Sam Johnson in Nashville, Tennessee, the CEO of @VisuWell, healthcare-tech-growth strategist, married to Jill Johnson where they may reside in Franklin, Tennessee, it seems like he’s dying to be online famous,” with a caption: “Homophobic POS in Tennessee harasses a teenager for wearing a dress to prom.” Later, Griffin tweeted pictures of Johnson with the caption: THIS Sam Johnson of Franklin Tennessee. Several VisuWell customers threatened to reevaluate their business ties. VisuWell fired Johnson and announced this decision in a reply to Griffin’s original tweet. Griffin then warned against keeping him on the Board.Johnson sued Griffin in federal court. The district court dismissed the lawsuit for lack of personal jurisdiction. The Sixth Circuit reversed. Griffin’s repeated emphasis of Johnson’s residence and VisuWell’s home base indicates that she knew that the “focal point” of her tweets concerned Tennessee. View "Johnson v. Griffin" on Justia Law

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Midvale created an “instant quote” feature on their websites. Anyone who supplied basic identifying information could receive a quote for auto insurance. Each site would auto-fill some information, including the number of the applicant’s driver’s license. Anyone could enter a stranger’s name and home address, which caused the form to disclose the number of the stranger’s driver’s license. Midvale discontinued the autofill feature after observing unusual activity suggesting misuse, and notified people whose information had been disclosed improperly. Three people who received Midvale’s notice filed a purported class action under the Driver’s Privacy Protection Act, 18 U.S.C. 2721–25.The district court held that the plaintiffs lacked standing, having failed to show a concrete injury traceable to the disclosure. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, noting that whether the Act applies at all is questionable. Its principal rule is directed to state officials rather than private actors. A driver’s-license number is not potentially embarrassing or an intrusion on seclusion. It is a neutral fact derived from public records, a fact legitimately known to many private actors and freely revealed to banks, insurers, hotels, and others. Plaintiffs have not plausibly alleged that Midvale’s disclosure of their numbers caused them any injury, and the disclosure of a number in common use by both public and private actors does not correspond to any tort. View "Baysal v. Midvale Indemnity Co." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Ava Morton appealed the denial of her complaint for an order against stalking. In May 2022, plaintiff’s mother filed a complaint on behalf of plaintiff, who was then seventeen years old, seeking an anti-stalking order against defendant Mayah Young. The affidavit attached to the complaint alleged that in April 2022, defendant had posted a video on the social media platform TikTok that included a half-naked picture of plaintiff. Plaintiff’s mother called the police, who went to defendant’s home, directed her to delete plaintiff’s picture from her phone, and warned her that she could end up in a lot of trouble because plaintiff was a minor. The complaint alleged that afterward, defendant posted another video in which she threatened to hurt plaintiff, followed by two more videos in which she suggested that she still had the picture and might send it to others. The civil division declined to issue a temporary order, concluding that the alleged conduct did not fall within the definition of stalking. Finding no reversible error in the civil division's judgment, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed. View "Morton v. Young" on Justia Law

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Microsoft Corporation offers email security software to shield users from cyber threats. TocMail, Inc. is a relative newcomer to the cybersecurity scene and offers a product geared towards a specific type of threat called Internet Protocol (IP) evasion. TocMail sued Microsoft for false advertising—all within two months. In its complaint, TocMail alleged that Microsoft misled the public into believing that Microsoft’s product offered protection from IP evasion. And TocMail—who had been selling its product for two months, spent almost nothing on advertising and had not made a single sale—alleged billions of dollars in lost profits. TocMail brought two counts: false and misleading advertising under the Lanham Act (count one); and contributory false and misleading advertising under the Lanham Act. The district court entered summary judgment for Microsoft.   The Eleventh Circuit vacated the district court’s summary judgment order and remanded to the district court with instructions to dismiss this case without prejudice for lack of standing. The court explained that to establish an injury, in fact, a plaintiff must show “an invasion of a legally protected interest which is (a) concrete and particularized; and (b) actual or imminent, not conjectural or hypothetical.” The court wrote that TocMail failed to meet this standard because TocMail has offered no evidence from which a reasonable jury could find that it suffered any injury. TocMail didn’t offer testimony from any witness saying that he or she would have purchased TocMail’s product if not for Microsoft’s advertising. TocMail didn’t offer any expert testimony calculating TocMail’s lost sales from consumers who went with Microsoft. View "TocMail Inc. v. Microsoft Corporation" on Justia Law

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Birmingham attorney Daniel Flickinger posted a message on his personal Facebook social-media page in which he appeared to reference the death George Floyd, which occurred while Floyd was being arrested and was recorded. The social-media post, along with an allegedly "counterfeit" social-media "profile," was later shared with Flickinger's supervising attorney at his law firm by Lawrence Tracy King, an attorney with the Birmingham law firm of King Simmons Ford & Spree, P.C. Shortly thereafter, Flickinger was forced to resign. Flickinger's post was also shared by members of a "private" Facebook group, who then posted a series of offensive comments about him both personally and professionally. Flickinger sued King and the King law firm asserting claims of defamation, invasion of privacy, and tortious interference with a business relationship. The King defendants filed a motion to dismiss Flickinger's claims pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), Ala. R. Civ. P., and the circuit court granted the motion. After review, the Alabama Supreme Court affirmed the trial court's judgment insofar as it dismissed Flickinger's defamation and invasion-of-privacy claims. However, the Court reversed the trial court's judgment insofar as it dismissed Flickinger's tortious-interference claim, and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Flickinger v. King" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs SkyHop Global, LLC, SkyHop Technologies, Inc. (collectively, “SkyHop”) and Defendant company owner and his company Indyzen, Inc. (collectively, “Indyzen”) have developed and deployed digital software aimed at transporting crew members to and from airports across the country. SkyHop has about eighty contracts with fifteen airlines, including major carriers like Delta, American, and United. SkyHop and Indyzen dispute who owns the digital software. And beyond that, they disagree on where their dispute should be decided. Indyzen has filed an arbitration action in California (where it is based), alleging various forms of breach of contract and other promises. Meanwhile, SkyHop has filed a federal lawsuit in Florida (where it is based), alleging that Indyzen violated the federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (“CFAA”) and the Florida Computer Abuse and Data Recovery Act (“CADRA”). In response, Indyzen sought to dismiss this action for lack of personal jurisdiction. The district court entered an order dismissing SkyHop’s complaint.   The Eleventh Circuit reversed the district court’s order. The court reasoned that the allegations in SkyHop’s complaint suggest that SkyHop is the rightful owner of the digital software. And because Indyzen has refused to relinquish possession of the digital software without additional payment, SkyHop’s complaint states a cause of action under the CFAA. The complaint therefore satisfies the Florida long-arm statute. And it also meets the requirements of the Due Process Clause because the emails that Indyzen sent into Florida triggered SkyHop’s claims. View "SkyHop Technologies, Inc., et al. v. Praveen Narra, et al." on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, a class of children, appearing through their guardians ad litem, filed a lawsuit against Google LLC and others, alleging that Google used persistent identifiers to collect data and track their online behavior surreptitiously and without their consent in violation of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (“COPPA”). They pled only state law claims arising under the constitutional, statutory, and common law of California, Colorado, Indiana, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Tennessee, but also allege Google’s activities violate COPPA. The district court held that the “core allegations” in the third amended complaint were squarely covered, and preempted, by COPPA.   The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court’s dismissal on preemption grounds. The panel considered the question of whether COPPA preempts state law claims based on underlying conduct that also violates COPPA’s regulations. The Supreme Court has identified three different types of preemption—express, conflict, and field. First, express preemption is a question of statutory construction. The panel concluded that COPPA’s preemption clause does not bar state-law causes of action that are parallel to, or proscribe, the same conduct forbidden by, COPPA. Accordingly, express preemption does not apply to the plaintiff class’s claims. Second, even if express preemption is not applicable, preemptive intent may be inferred through conflict preemption principles. The panel held that although express and conflict preemption are analytically distinct inquiries, they effectively collapse into one when the preemption clause uses the term “inconsistent.” For the same reasons that the panel concluded there was no express preemption, the panel concluded that conflict preemption did not bar Plaintiffs’ claims. View "CARA JONES, ET AL V. GOOGLE LLC, ET AL" on Justia Law

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In 2016, McLaughlin, the head of a business, was arrested based on an alleged domestic dispute with his former girlfriend, Olivia. In 2018, an Illinois court ordered all records in that case expunged, and the destruction of McLaughlin’s arrest records and photographs. McLaughlin sought an order of protection against Olivia. The terms of the parties’ subsequent settlement were incorporated in a judgment, which was sealed. Doe nonetheless posted multiple Twitter messages about McLaughlin’s arrest with McLaughlin’s mugshot, tagging McLaughlin’s business contacts and clients, and media outlets. Twitter suspended Doe’s accounts. The Illinois court issued a subpoena requiring the production of documents related to Doe’s Twitter accounts and issued “letters rogatory” to the San Francisco County Superior Court. Under the authority of that court, McLaughlin's subpoena was to be served on Twitter in San Francisco, requesting information personally identifying the account holders. In a motion to quash, Doe argued he had a First Amendment right to engage in anonymous speech and a right to privacy under the California Constitution. Doe sought attorney fees, (Code of Civil Procedure1987.2(c))The court of appeal affirmed orders in favor of McLaughlin. No sanctions were awarded. Doe failed to establish he prevailed on his motion to quash or that “the underlying action arises from [his] exercise of free speech rights on the Internet.” Doe presented no legally cognizable argument that McLaughlin failed to make a prima facie showing of breach of the settlement agreement. View "Doe v. McLaughlin" on Justia Law