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Campbell v. Campbell

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

February 3, 2017



          Elaine E. Bucklo United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Dawn Campbell (“plaintiff”) has sued her former spouse, Kenneth Campbell (“defendant”), and his company, Campbell Professional Services LLC (“the company”) for defamation.[1] Defendant has moved to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction pursuant to Rule 12(b)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. In the alternative, he moves pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a) to transfer the venue to the District of Minnesota.[2] For the reasons below, the motion is denied.


         Plaintiff's complaint alleges that she and defendant divorced in 2004. In July 2015, she moved from Minnesota to Illinois to take a job with Inland Real Estate Investment Corporation (“Inland”). In January 2016, defendant sent a series of emails to Inland containing allegedly defamatory statements about plaintiff. Defendant states (and plaintiff does not dispute) that he authored and sent the messages from Shoreview, Minnesota. Among other things, the emails state that plaintiff had previously “sold securities without a license for many years” and had “perpetrated fraud against [i]nvestors” while working for a former employer. See Compl. Ex. D. Defendant also stated that plaintiff was a “bad gambler, ” was “not creditworthy, ” and was a “high-risk person.” Id. The first of the messages was submitted to Inland via Inland's website. Two subsequent messages were sent directly to the email account of plaintiff's superior, Rod Curtis (“Curtis”). In addition, defendant sent complaints about plaintiff to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA). Defendant does not deny sending the messages. He denies that the statements are defamatory, however, because he claims that they are true.


         A. Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Personal Jurisdiction

         Defendant first argues that plaintiff's complaint should be dismissed because this court lacks personal jurisdiction over him and his company. “The plaintiff has the burden of establishing personal jurisdiction, and where, as here, the issue is raised by a motion to dismiss and decided on the basis of written materials rather than an evidentiary hearing, the plaintiff need only make a prima facie showing of jurisdictional facts.” Tamburo v. Dworkin, 601 F.3d 693, 700 (7th Cir. 2010). At this stage, therefore, I “take as true all well-pleaded facts alleged in the complaint and resolve any factual disputes in the affidavits in favor of the plaintiff.” Id.[3]

         “Courts recognize two types of personal jurisdiction: general and specific.” Kipp v. Ski Enter. Corp. of Wisconsin, 783 F.3d 695, 697 (7th Cir. 2015). “General jurisdiction is ‘all-purpose'; it exists only ‘when the [party's] affiliations with the State in which suit is brought are so constant and pervasive as to render it essentially at home in the forum State.'” Id. (quoting Daimler AG v. Bauman, 134 S.Ct. 746, 751 (2014)). “Specific jurisdiction is case-specific; the claim must be linked to the activities or contacts with the forum.” Id.

         Here, plaintiff argues only that the court has specific personal jurisdiction over defendant. Specific personal jurisdiction is established where three conditions are met: “(1) the defendant must have purposefully availed himself of the privilege of conducting business in the forum state or purposefully directed his activities at the state; (2) the alleged injury must have arisen from the defendant's forum-related activities; and (3) the exercise of jurisdiction must comport with traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice.” Felland v. Clifton, 682 F.3d 665, 673 (7th Cir. 2012) (citations omitted). I consider each of these requirements in turn.

         1. Purposeful Direction

         The Seventh Circuit has “distilled three requirements ... for determining whether conduct was purposefully directed at the forum state: (1) intentional conduct (or intentional and allegedly tortious conduct); (2) expressly aimed at the forum state; (3) with the defendant's knowledge that the effects would be felt -- that is, the plaintiff would be injured -- in the forum state.” Id. at 674-75 (quotation marks omitted).

         These requirements are met here. There can be no question that defendant acted intentionally in composing and sending the emails. It is likewise clear that defendant's conduct was expressly aimed at Illinois. He sent the emails directly to Inland, which is located in Illinois. And defendant knew (or at least intended) that plaintiff would be injured in Illinois. Cf. Compl. Ex. B, Email from Kenneth Campbell to Dawn Campbell (Jan. 25, 2016) (“[A] good fate for you would be panhandling on the streets of Chicago. Then you could compete with rats like you.”). The purpose of his messages was clearly to bring her into disrepute with her employer and to get her fired.

         Defendant argues that his conduct was not expressly directed toward Illinois because he did not know where Curtis lived or where he would open the emails. See Defs.' Mot. to Dismiss, Ex. B, Kenneth Campbell Aff. ¶ 14 (“As to the communications and emails I sent to Inland Real Estate Corporation, I had no personal knowledge as to where those communications or emails would be received or opened by Rod Curtis or any other representative of Inland Real Estate Corporation.”). He argues that under Advanced Tactical Ordnance Systems, LLC v. Real Action Paintball, Inc., 751 F.3d 796 (7th Cir. 2014), the fact that the email might have been opened anywhere means that he did not expressly aim his conduct at Illinois. Advanced Tactical was a trademark infringement suit in which the defendant, Real Action, was alleged to have sent two misleading emails to a list of subscribers. The plaintiff argued that specific personal jurisdiction could be exercised over Real Action in Indiana based on the fact that Indiana residents were among the emails' recipients. The court disagreed, stating:

The fact that Real Action maintains an email list to allow it to shower past customers and other subscribers with company-related emails does not show a relation between the company and Indiana. Such a relation would be entirely fortuitous, depending wholly on activities out of the defendant's control. As a practical matter, email does not exist in any location at all; it bounces from one server to another, it starts wherever the account-holder is sitting when she clicks the “send” button, and it winds up wherever the recipient happens to be at that instant. The connection between the place where an email is opened and a lawsuit is entirely fortuitous. We note as well that it is exceedingly common in today's world for a company to allow consumers to sign up for an email list. We are not prepared to hold that this alone demonstrates that a defendant made a substantial connection to each state (or country) associated with those persons' “snail mail” addresses.”

Id. at 803.

         The communications in this case bear little similarity to those in Advanced Tactical. Inland was not one of a long list of email recipients located throughout the country. Defendant sent the messages in question specifically and (with the exception of the SEC and FINRA complaints) exclusively to Inland. His contact with Illinois was not fortuitous and was entirely within his control. The bare possibility that Curtis might have opened and read the emails in another state does nothing to change this fact. See, e.g., Felland, 682 F.3d at 676 n.3 (“Of course, email accounts can generally be accessed in any state, so it may not make much sense to say that they were sent to a Wisconsin address. Nevertheless ... [defendant] purposefully sent these emails to Wisconsin residents knowing that they would most likely be read and have their effect in Wisconsin. This manner of communication is similar to mailed letters or telephone calls, so the emails are properly considered as contributing to [defendant's] minimum contacts with the forum state.”) (quotation marks omitted). In any case, while two of the defamatory emails were sent to Curtis's email account, the first was submitted to Inland directly via Inland's website. Thus, even if Curtis might have accessed or opened the emails in a location other than Illinois, there is no reason to believe that the first message was opened anywhere other than Illinois.[4]

         I conclude that the purposeful-direction requirement is met here.

         2. Defendant's Forum-Related Activities

         Specific personal jurisdiction is proper only where the “relation between the defendant and the forum [arises] out of contacts that the defendant himself creates with the forum.... Contacts between the plaintiff or other third parties and the forum do not satisfy this requirement.” Advanced Tactical, 751 F.3d at 801 (citation and quotation marks omitted). Here, defendant's contact with Illinois resulted from his own actions. This is not a case in which a defendant posted defamatory statements on a website that was accessed through the online activity of others. See, e.g., Shrader v. Biddinger, 633 F.3d 1235, 1241 (10th Cir. 2011) (“The maintenance of a web site does not in and of itself subject the owner or operator to personal jurisdiction, even for actions relating to the site, simply because it can be accessed by residents of the forum state.”). Nor is this a case in which the defendant's emails were originally received in other states or locations and subsequently forwarded to Illinois. See, e.g., Headstrong Corp. v. Jha, No. CIVA 305CV813-HEH, 2007 WL 1238621, at *4 (E.D. Va. Apr. 27, 2007) (no personal jurisdiction where defamatory emails were not expressly directed at Virginia, but instead were merely ...

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