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Keeton v. Hustler Magazine, Inc.

    Brief Fact Summary.

    Plaintiff sued Defendant for libel in the United States District Court for the District of New Hampshire under its diversity jurisdiction. The district court dismissed the complaint for lack of personal jurisdiction. The court of appeals affirmed. Plaintiff appealed.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law.

    Personal jurisdiction is proper over a nonresident magazine in any state where that corporation has sold and distributed a substantial number of copies.

    Facts.

    Kathy Keeton (Plaintiff), a resident of New York, sued Hustler Magazine, Inc. (Hustler) and others (Defendants) for libel in the United States District Court for the District of New Hampshire under its diversity jurisdiction. Plaintiff claims that Defendants committed libel against her in five issues of its magazine published between 1975 and 1976. Plaintiff has no contacts with the state of New Hampshire other than through a magazine she helps produce. Hustler is a corporation organized under the laws of Ohio, and its principal place of business is in California. Hustler sells between 10,000 and 15,000 copies of its magazine in New Hampshire per month. The district court dismissed the complaint for lack of personal jurisdiction. The court of appeals affirmed on the ground that Plaintiff lacked sufficient contacts with New Hampshire to justify the state’s personal jurisdiction over Defendants. Further, the court of appeals placed significant weight on the fact that New Hampshire’s six-year statute of limitations for libel made it the only state in which Plaintiff’s suit could still be brought and that the “single publication rule” meant that, if successful, Plaintiff would be able to recover for damages suffered in all fifty states. For these reasons, the court of appeals considered personal jurisdiction over Defendants unfair. Plaintiff petitioned the United States Supreme Court for certiorari, which was granted.

    Issue.

    Whether personal jurisdiction is proper in a libel action against a magazine in a state where its only contacts are magazine sales.

    Held.

    Yes. The court of appeals’ ruling is reversed and the case is remanded.

    Concurrence.

    Brennan, J. : The contacts between the Defendants and the forum State are sufficiently important and sufficiently related to the underlying cause of action to foreclose any concern that the constitutional limits of the Due Process Clause are being violated. These interests of the State should be relevant only to the extent that they bear upon the liberty interests of Defendants that are protected by the Fourteenth Amendment. "The restriction on state sovereign power described in World-Wide Volkswagen Corp. v. Woodson, 444 U.S. 286, 291-292 (1980) must be seen as ultimately a function of the individual liberty interest preserved by the Due Process Clause. That Clause is the only source of the personal jurisdiction requirement and the Clause itself makes no mention of federalism concerns.

    Discussion.

    Due process forbids the assertion of personal jurisdiction over a nonresident corporation unless the corporation has sufficient minimum contacts with the state. Hustler’s “regular circulation” of its magazines within the state of New Hampshire constitutes sufficient contacts to justify the assertion of personal jurisdiction over it for a libel claim related to statements made in the magazine. Defendants purposefully sought to do business in the state of New Hampshire and regularly sells thousands of magazines per month there. Further, New Hampshire has an interest in adjudicating harm that occurs inside its borders. This includes a case involving libel committed in the state, even if committed against a nonresident. The court of appeals’ concern with New Hampshire’s unusually long statute of limitations and the possibility of an unfair damage award was misplaced. Choice of law matters have no bearing on a forum’s right to assert personal jurisdiction over a party. In addition, a plaintiff’s contacts with a forum state have no relevance to whether personal jurisdiction exists over the defendant. It is Defendants’ contacts that are at issue, and while they might not be sufficient to justify general personal jurisdiction over unrelated claims, Defendants’ continued business justifies specific personal jurisdiction over claims related to that business. Moreover, the fact that a plaintiff resides outside the state will not destroy personal jurisdiction over the defendant. Even though Plaintiff’s damages would likely be greater in her home state, there is no prohibition on bringing libel actions elsewhere. Defendants purposefully availed themselves of the privileges of doing business in New Hampshire, and should reasonably anticipated being haled into court for claims related to the magazine it sells there. National publications may properly be sued for their content anywhere “a substantial number of copies are regularly sold and distributed.”


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