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Bensusan Restaurant Corp. v. King

    Brief Fact Summary.

    Plaintiff, the owner of the “Blue Note” club in New York, brought suit against Defendant, the owner of “The Blue Note” club in Missouri, for trademark infringement after Defendant’s website, which was established in Missouri, referenced Plaintiff’s club.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law.

    A federal court must look to the long arm statute of the forum state to determine personal jurisdiction.

    Facts.

    Bensusan Restaurant Corporation (Plaintiff), the owner of the “Blue Note” jazz club located in New York City, filed a complaint against Richard B. King (Defendant), a Missouri resident, who owned a small club since 1980 under the name “The Blue Note” in Columbia, Missouri. Around 1993, Plaintiff wrote to Defendant demanding that he cease and desist from operating under the name “The Blue Note” because Plaintiff trademarked the name in 1985. The matter did not come up again until 1996 when Defendant allowed another company to create a website or cyber spot on the Internet for his Missouri club, which was made in Missouri. The website referenced Plaintiff’s club. Plaintiff filed suit in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York for trademark infringement and sought trebled compensatory damages, punitive damages, costs, and attorney’s fees. Plaintiff also sought that Defendant be enjoined from using the name “The Blue Note” on the website. After the district court dismissed the complaint for lack of personal jurisdiction, Plaintiff appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

    Issue.

    Does a federal court have to look to the long arm state of the forum state to determine whether personal jurisdiction exists in a case?

    Held.

    Yes. A federal court must look to the long arm statute of the forum state to determine personal jurisdiction. Here, the court focused on the long arm statute in New York found in § 302(a)(2) of the Civil Practice Law Rules (CLPR). Under § 302(a)(2), personal jurisdiction only exists if the specific tortious act complained of occurred in New York. Because Defendant’s website was made in Missouri at the time the tortious act occurred, Plaintiff failed to allege that Defendant committed the tortious act within New York. Even if Plaintiff suffered from Defendant’s alleged tortious act in New York, that does not establish a tortious act in New York as defined by § 302(a)(2). Therefore, personal jurisdiction was lacking. The Court of Appeals affirmed the district court’s decision.

    Discussion.

    In diversity or federal question cases, the court must first look to the long arm statute of the forum state. After the court determines that the long arm statute is satisfied, the court will then analyze whether the exercise of personal jurisdiction complies with the requirements of due process. Because the long arm statute was not applicable in this case, the court did not have to address whether the exercise of personal jurisdiction was constitutional.


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