Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Decision of Interest: Baseball, Steroids, and Personal Jurisdiction

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit has decided Clemens v. McNamee, No. 09-20625 (Aug. 12, 2010). If those names sound familiar, it’s because this case is the defamation action filed by baseball legend Roger Clemens against ex-trainer Brian McNamee based on McNamee’s statements that Clemens used performance-enhancing drugs. Clemens filed the case in Texas state court, and McNamee removed it to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas. The district court dismissed for lack of personal jurisdiction. A Fifth Circuit panel has now affirmed the dismissal in a 2-1 decision. From the majority opinion authored by Judge W. Eugene Davis:  

In this appeal, we consider whether allegedly defamatory statements made elsewhere but which caused damage to the plaintiff in the forum state are sufficient to confer personal jurisdiction over the defendant when the content and context of the statements lack any connection with the forum state. For the following reasons, we agree with the district court that the plaintiff failed to establish personal jurisdiction over the defendant and affirm.

. . .

The most instructive case on this issue from the Supreme Court is Calder v. Jones, 465 U.S. 783 (1984). . . . We read Calder as requiring the plaintiff seeking to assert specific personal jurisdiction over a defendant in a defamation case to show (1) the subject matter of and (2) the sources relied upon for the article were in the forum state. Thus the question in this case further narrows to whether McNamee’s allegedly defamatory statements were aimed at or directed to Texas. . . . [T]he statements in this case concerned non-Texas activities–the delivery of performance-enhancing drugs to Clemens in New York and Canada. The statements were not made in Texas or directed to residents of Texas.

In support of jurisdiction, Clemens points to the harm he suffered in Texas and to McNamee’s knowledge of the likelihood of such damage in the forum. Yet . . . Clemens has not made a prima facie showing that McNamee made statements in which Texas was the focal point: the statements did not concern activity in Texas; nor were they made in Texas or directed to Texas residents any more than residents of any state. As such, the district court did not err in dismissing Clemens’ suit for lack of personal jurisdiction over McNamee.

From the dissenting opinion by Judge Catharina Haynes:

Because I conclude that specific jurisdiction exists here, I respectfully dissent. McNamee had sufficient minimum contacts with Texas, and the exercise of personal jurisdiction does not offend traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice.

. . .

In this case, there are two independent grounds upon which the minimum contacts inquiry is satisfied. First, McNamee made numerous business trips to Texas to train Clemens, and these trips “relate to” and form an integral part of the instant cause of action. Second, under the Calder “effects test,” McNamee established minimum contacts with Texas because, taking Clemens’s allegations as true, McNamee intentionally directed his false claims at Texas, where he knew Clemens resided and where it was foreseeable that the brunt of the injury from McNamee’s statements would be felt.

For additional coverage, see the Associated Press and How Appealing.

--A

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/civpro/2010/08/decision-of-interest-baseball-steroids-and-personal-jurisdiction.html

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Comments

The US Court of Appeals was correct in dismissing Clemens suite in Texas. McNamee's contacts with the forum state were not continuous nor systematic so a claim of general jurisdiction would not apply here. For cases of specific jurisdiction the minimum contacts must arise out of or relate to the claim and that is not clear here. Although Judge Haynes' dissent points to McNamee's business trips to Texas in order to substantiate a theory that his comments did indeed arise out of his contacts with the state, this is not enough to pass the Calder test. Clemens is a figure of national and international fame, and it cannot be said that McNamee's comments were expressly aimed at the forum state of Texas. There is no evidence to suggest that McNamee's comments were made to any Texas-based media in particular, and the fact that Clemens is a Texas state resident is not enough to assert such a claim.

Posted by: Marc Borden | Sep 5, 2010 11:03:01 AM

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