Steinbuch’s Second Battlefront Against Cutler Shut Down

By Eric Goldman

Steinbuch v. Cutler, 2007 WL 486626 (E.D. Ark. Feb. 7, 2007)

Everyone’s favorite blog law case, Steinbuch v. Cutler, spilled over to a second front. While the lawsuit over Cutler’s blog posts continues in DC, Steinbuch initiated a lawsuit against Cutler and her publishers over the publication of her book, The Washingtonienne. Steinbuch has moved to Arkansas to take a law faculty position, so to make everyone else’s life difficult, he sued for privacy violations in a federal court in Arkansas.

In this ruling, the court has little difficulty dismissing the claims for lack of jurisdiction. No one other than Steinbuch is located in Arkansas, and Steinbuch moved there after the publication date (thus, under the single publication rule, the continuing publication in Arkansas doesn’t count for specific jurisdiction). Hyperion, the book’s publisher, didn’t make a marketing push in Arkansas, and sales–both by Hyperion and by Cutler from her website–have been anemic (see below), i.e., consistent with Asahi stream of commerce. HBO has optioned the book for a possible TV series, but they haven’t committed any privacy violations yet. Plus, in all cases, the book is fictionalized, so it’s not entirely clear that any Arkansan would recognize the book as a privacy violation. Finally, the corporate parents of Hyperion and HBO are too attenuated from this lawsuit simply by owning another defendant.

As a result, the court says what everyone knew all along–that the proper venue for this lawsuit is DC, where the blog-related litigation is ongoing and where all of the witnesses are located.

While this is yet another embarrassing judicial development for Steinbuch (this time, the embarrassment is seeing a law professor’s motion being so soundly thumped), it’s also embarrassing for Cutler and Hyperion that very few people are buying Cutler’s book. As part of showing that they are not doing business in Arkansas, Cutler and Hyperion sheepishly admit that there haven’t been a whole lot of sales. According to the opinion, “at least four copies of the book have been purchased here, forty-six copies were sold to retail or wholesale accounts, and two books were purchased from the internet….Arkansas has not proved to be a lucrative market for Cutler’s book, and the evidence shows that the book’s minimal distribution is diminishing.” Let’s see, 52 copies at an MSRP of $24 = less than $1,250 of gross revenue from the entire state of Arkansas. Ouch!

I’m also intrigued that HBO is thinking about developing the book into a TV series. Maybe they will call it “Sex in DCity”?