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Civil Procedure Fall 2014

Calder and the "Effects Test"

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Calder v. Jones, 465 U.S. 783 (1984)

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In Calder v. Jones, the Supreme Court elaborated an “effects test” for finding specific in personam jurisdiction based on intentional aiming of harmful conduct at a forum State, albeit by actors outside the State with few or no other jurisdictionally-relevant links to the forum. The case involved claims of libel, invasion of privacy, and intentional infliction of emotional harm stemming from an article that appeared in the National Enquirer about the respondent, Shirley Jones. Jones brought the case in California, where she lived and worked, but petitioners resisted, claiming a lack of personal jurisdiction.

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The California superior court found that the petitioners’ contacts with California were sufficient to find jurisdiction but that the potential “chilling effects” on First Amendment expression counseled against the exercise of jurisdiction in the present case. On appeal, the California Court of Appeals reversed, finding insufficient contacts for jurisdiction on a traditional theory, but concluding that “a valid basis for jurisdiction existed on the theory that petitioners intended to, and did, cause tortious injury to respondent in California.” The Court of Appeals also rejected the superior court’s conclusion that First Amendment concerns had any relevance in the jurisdictional inquiry. 

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The case was appealed to the Supreme Court where the Court affirmed the decision of the Court of Appeals and further elaborated the “effects test” for finding personal jurisdiction.

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Justice Rehnquist, writing for the Court, described the Enquirer as “a Florida corporation with its principal place of business in Florida. It publishes a national weekly newspaper with a total circulation of over 5 million. About 600,000 of those copies, almost twice the level of the next highest State, are sold in California.”

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He continued on to outline the extent of each petitioner’s relevant jurisdictional contacts with California and the article in question:

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“Petitioner South is a reporter employed by the Enquirer. He is a resident of Florida, though he frequently travels to California on business. South wrote the first draft of the challenged article, and his byline appeared on it. He did most of his research in Florida, relying on phone calls to sources in California for the information contained in the article. Shortly before publication, South called respondent's home and read to her husband a draft of the article so as to elicit his comments upon it. Aside from his frequent trips and phone calls, South has no other relevant contacts with California.”

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“Petitioner Calder is also a Florida resident. He has been to California only twice-once, on a pleasure trip, prior to the publication of the article and once after to testify in an unrelated trial. Calder is president and editor of the Enquirer. He ‘oversee[s] just about every function of the Enquirer.’ … He reviewed and approved the initial evaluation of the subject of the article and edited it in its final form. He also declined to print a retraction requested by respondent. Calder has no other relevant contacts with California.”

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In affirming the decision of the Court of Appeals finding jurisdiction, the Supreme Court ultimately looked not at the alleged contacts between each petitioner and the state, but rather at the purposeful and targeted nature of their actions:

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“The allegedly libelous story concerned the California activities of a California resident. It impugned the professionalism of an entertainer whose television career was centered in California. The article was drawn from California sources, and the brunt of the harm, in terms both of respondent's emotional distress and the injury to her professional reputation, was suffered in California. In sum, California is the focal point both of the story and of the harm suffered. Jurisdiction over petitioners is therefore proper in California based on the “effects” of their Florida conduct in California.”

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The Court continued: “[T]heir intentional, and allegedly tortious, actions were expressly aimed at California. Petitioner South wrote and petitioner Calder edited an article that they knew would have a potentially devastating impact upon respondent. And they knew that the brunt of that injury would be felt by respondent in the State in which she lives and works and in which the National Enquirer has its largest circulation. Under the circumstances, petitioners must “reasonably anticipate being haled into court there” to answer for the truth of the statements made in their article. … An individual injured in California need not go to Florida to seek redress from persons who, though remaining in Florida, knowingly cause the injury in California.”

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The Supreme Court also rejected the idea that First Amendment considerations have any weight in a jurisdictional analysis, finding that “[t]he infusion of such considerations would needlessly complicate an already imprecise inquiry” and that First Amendment concerns are sufficiently and appropriately dealt with through the constitutional limitations on the governing substantive law.

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