Pattishall IP Blog

September 20, 2011

Florida Appellate Court Issues New Ruling on Jurisdiction Through Internet Contacts; Questions Zippo

Filed under: Internet, Litigation — Tags: , , — Pattishall, McAuliffe, Newbury, Hilliard & Geraldson LLP @ 12:02 pm

Categories: Litigation, Internet
Tags: Internet, Jurisdiction, Phillip Barengolts

By Phillip Barengolts, Attorney

Frank Caiazzo reviewed a Revolver[1] album cover allegedly signed by all four Beatles and decided that the signatures were a forgery.  This cost the American Royal Arts Corp. (“ARA”) a nearly $15k sale.  ARA sued under Florida’s Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act, unfair competition statute, and also claimed defamation.  Caiazzo moved to dismiss all claims for lack of personal jurisdiction, among other reasons.  He lost in the lower court, which found both specific and general jurisdiction over Caiazzo, in part, because of his website.  He appealed.  The Fourth District Court of Appeal of the State of Florida affirmed, but only as to specific jurisdiction.[2]  Most significantly for practitioners and businesses assessing the potential to be hailed into court in far away places because of their websites, the Florida court rejected the oft-used Zippo test for determining jurisdiction in connection with a website. [3]

This court, however, found the test flawed and rejected its adoption in Florida.  First, it described the Internet as “essentially a medium for communication and interaction, much like the telephone and the mail.”[4]  It then identified the Zippo test as a “talismanic jurisdictional formula,”[5] which the Supreme Court has forbidden in jurisdictional analysis.  Finally, it quoted favorably a 2004 federal court decision noting that a rigid adherence to Zippo could lead to erroneous results because “even a passive website may support a finding of jurisdiction if the defendant used the website to intentionally harm the plaintiff” and “an interactive… website may not be sufficient to support jurisdiction if it is not aimed at residents in the forum state.”[6]  Furthermore, there must still be a nexus between even the most interactive website and the cause of action alleged.  The court did, however, note that a Zippo analysis could form a part of the overall minimum contacts analysis. (more…)

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