Media Law Prof Blog

Editor: Christine A. Corcos
Louisiana State Univ.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Fifth Circuit Affirms Lower Court Dismissal in Defamation Case; Lack of Personal Jurisdiction

In Ouazzani-Chahdi v. Greensboro News & Record, the plaintiff sued a Greensboro, North Carolina, newspaper claiming defamation. The lower court dismissed for lack for personal jurisdiction. The U. S. Fifth Circuit has affirmed.

"In 2004 the News & Record published a story about sham marriages used by immigrants to obtain United States citizenship illegally....The article focused on a local immigration attorney, Manlin Chee....One of these marriages was that of Ouazzani-Chahdi, who had hired Chee to represent him...Ouazzani-Chahdi, who used to reside in North Carolina, is now a Texas citizen. The story alleged...that Ouazzani-Chahdi had married to obtain permanent legal resident status. The lawyer stated that had Ouazzani-Chahdi's ex-wife knwon that this was his motivation she would not have married him. Ouazzani-Chahdi sued News & Record in Texas state court, asserting that the defamatory article had caused him physical and reputational harm. News & Record removed to federal court...then successfully dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction....Ouazzani-Chahdi appeals only the finding that the court lacked specific jurisdiction."

The Fifth Circuit examined whether it could exercise personal jurisdiction over the defendant. "Texas's long-arm statute reaches to the limits permitted by the Constitution, so the inquiry collapses into whether the exercise of jurisdiction over News & Record would offend due process....Specific jurisdiction in suits alleging an intentional tort based on the publication of defamatory material exists for (1) publication with adequate circulation in the forum state or (2) an author or publisher who "aims" a story at the state knowing that the "effects" of the story will be felt there...." The Court determined that under the Calder test, "News & Record did not sufficiently "aim" its conduct toward Texas such that a Texas court can exercise personal jurisdiction. Ouazzani-Chahdi bases his argument in large part on the availability of his biographical information, including his Texas residency, on the internet. If one enters his name into particular internet search engines, one result will be a website indicating that he is employed by a Houston law firm. He thus asserts that even if News & Record was unaware that he resided in Texas, this could be discovered with minimal effort. We must resolve all factual disputes in favor of Ouazzani-Chahdi. Despite this, the sole fact that News & Record knew, or could have determined through an internet search, that Ouazzani-Chahdi now works at a Texas firm is insufficient to establish personal jurisdiction under Calder....As discussed...there is no evidence, other than the fact of a mere three subscriptions, that defendants "aimed" any conduct toward Texas."

The case is Ouazzani-Chahdi v. Greensboro News & Record, 05-20957. Read the entire opinion here.

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