Ripoff Report Wins Lawsuit on Jurisdiction Grounds–Williams v. Dunn

Dunn posted a negative Ripoff Report about Williams. Williams asked Ripoff Report to remove it; he says Ripoff Report agreed to do so and then reneged. Williams sued Dunn for defamation and other claims and sued Ripoff Report for publication of private facts, negligent misrepresentation and estoppel.

Williams sued in Dunn’s home court (eventually determined to be Ohio). Ripoff Report is located in Arizona. Other than having (up to) 14,000 reports about Ohio-based businesses, Ripoff Report apparently has no Ohio ties. Nevertheless, Williams sought general jurisdiction in Ohio based on Ripoff Report’s Corporate Advocacy Program (CAP), which Ripoff Report markets by email to businesses across the nation, including Ohio. The court says that’s not enough (cites omitted):

sending these emails does not constitute contact with Ohio that is of such a continuous and systematic nature as to confer general jurisdiction. The emails do not appear to be tailored emails; rather, they are form emails sent to every company or individual targeted by a Ripoff Report poster, regardless of the state. Similarly, Xcentric asserts, and Plaintiff does not dispute, that none of Xcentic’s advertisements specifically target Ohio. For these reasons, Xcentric is not subject to general jurisdiction in Ohio.

Specific jurisdiction won’t work either (cites omitted):

the claims against Xcentric must arise out of Xcentric’s activities in Ohio. Here, the alleged tortious conduct by Xcentric arises out of conversations between Plaintiff and Magedson. Plaintiff is a resident of Minnesota. Magedson is a resident of Arizona. Likewise, the conversations arose from material posted on a website owned by an Arizona company. It is undisputed that neither Plaintiff nor Xcentric ever set foot in Ohio, at least with respect to the tortious conduct alleged in this case. Further, Xcentric does not own any assets in Ohio, does not have any officers in Ohio, and does not have any employees or agents in Ohio. Likewise, Xcentric’s conduct or the alleged consequences caused by Xcentric have no connection to Ohio as to make the exercise of jurisdiction reasonable. In short, because the alleged tortious conduct did not occur in Ohio, the Court finds that any contact with Ohio is not sufficient to confer specific personal jurisdiction over Xcentric.

Will it make sense for Williams to sue Ripoff Report in Arizona? Almost certainly not; Section 230 will cast a shadow on the lawsuit; the Barnes v. Yahoo promissory estoppel exception is quite narrow; and Dunn may not be subject to personal jurisdiction in Arizona, in which case the litigation costs will approximately double.

Case citation: Williams v. Dunn, 2016 WL 7210922 (S.D. Ohio Dec. 13, 2016)