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Epstein v. Gray Television, Inc

    Brief Fact Summary.

    Plaintiff brought suit against Defendants alleging libel claims. Benn, one of the defendants, motioned to dismiss the case against her because she claims the court lacks personal jurisdiction over her.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law.

    A state court has the discretion to exercise specific personal jurisdiction over a nonresident when there is an alleged tortious conduct that is expressly aimed at the state and the brunt of the effects are felt in that state.

    Facts.

    Benn, is a Georgia resident and was a reporter for Gray Television, Inc. and Gray Television Group, Inc., GTG. Benn reported a story on multiple malpractice lawsuits in South Carolina against Epstein, Plaintiff. Plaintiff moved to Texas for employment at a Veterans Administration Hospital. For the report, Benn did the majority of her investigation in Georgia and South Carolina, however, she interviewed Epstein by phone in Texas. Additionally, Benn investigated Texas laws and looked for reports against Plaintiff with the Texas Medical Board. Benn presented her investigation to the Veteran’s Administration. GTG placed Benn’s report in both South Carolina and Georgia, as well as on its website. Also, Benn gave the report to an affiliate station in Texas, but the affiliate station did not run it. Plaintiff brought suit against Benn and GTG for libel under diversity jurisdiction in Texas federal court. Benn motioned to dismiss the case for a lack of personal jurisdiction on the grounds that Benn did not have sufficient contacts with Texas to establish personal jurisdiction.

    Issue.

    Whether a state court has the discretion to exercise specific personal jurisdiction over a nonresident when there is an alleged tortious conduct that is expressly aimed at the state and the brunt of the effects are felt in that state.

    Held.

    Yes, a state court has the discretion to exercise specific personal jurisdiction over a nonresident when there is an alleged tortious conduct that is expressly aimed at the state and the brunt of the effects are felt in that state.

    Discussion.

    A court has the discretion to exercise specific jurisdiction over a defendant when the defendant’s contacts with the state cause the claim to arise. Under the Calder Effects test, a state court has the discretion to exercise specific personal jurisdiction over a nonresident when there is an alleged tortious conduct that is expressly aimed at the state and the brunt of the effects are felt in that state. Calder v. Jones, 465 U.S. 783 (1984). In Calder, the Court upheld the California court’s jurisdiction over Floridian reporters. In that case, the reporters published an article about a California resident, using the sources in California. Ultimately, the harm resulted in California as well. Nevertheless, a Texas court did not uphold jurisdiction in Revell v. Lidov, 317 F. 3d 467 (5th Cir. 2002), where a nonresident defendant published an article online. The court noted that the nonresident defendant did not aim its conduct at Texas. Here, Plaintiff lived in South Carolina at the relevant time, the majority of the sources were in South Carolina, and the report mainly reported on activities in South Carolina. Nonetheless, Plaintiff also lived in Texas when the report aired, Texas was referenced, and Benn called Plaintiff there for the phone interview. Yet, Benn argues that phone calls and references to the state are not substantial enough to meet the jurisdictional requirement. Young v. New Haven Advocate, 315 F. 3d 256 (4th Cir. 2002). The court disagrees with Benn because Benn had more contacts than previously stated. Benn researched Texas law, contacted the state medical board, and even sent the report to Texas entities.  Thus, the Court found that Benn had sufficient contacts to satisfy due process, and the exercise of personal jurisdiction is not offensive “traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice.” Int’l Shoe Co. v. Wash., 326 U.S. 310 (1945). Therefore, the court has proper personal jurisdiction over Benn, and Benn’s motion is denied.


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