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Thursday, March 21, 2019

Personal jurisdiction problems in Nunes v. Twitter (Updated)

At the Civ Pro Listserv, Alan Trammell (Arkansas) questions whether there is personal jurisdiction in Virginia in Nunes v. Twitter (to say nothing of bovinal jurisdiction over Devin Nunes' Cow).

The jurisdictional allegations are a garble and, Alan notes, not consistent with recent P/J precedent. (of course, the entire complaint is poorly drafted nonsense, so no surprise the attorney would get this wrong, as well). But here is what we can glean. Twitter is a Delaware corporation with its principal place of business in California. Liz Mair is a Virginia citizen and the sole member of Mair Strategies LLC. Devin Nunes Mom and Devin Nunes Cow are unknown. Nunes is a California citizen and a representative of that state.

There is general jurisdiction over Mair and Mair Strategies, both of which are "at home" in Virginia under recent precedent because domiciled there. That is easy. In fact, I would guess that Nunes sued in Virginia because that was the surest way to get Mair.

As for Twitter, it is not domiciled in Virginia, so it is not obviously at home under the new analysis. The complaint alleges that Twitter is "at home" in Virginia, in between allegations of Twitter's ubiquity, being registered to do business in Virginia, targeting Virginians with advertising, and earning revenue from source customers; it later alleges that Twitter engages in "continuous and systematic business in Virginia." This sounds in the old "doing business" test for general jurisdiction, which the Court has rejected three times in the past decade. Giving counsel the benefit of the doubt about his understanding of current P/J doctrine, he might be setting up one of two arguments: 1) By mentioning registration, it jumps into an ongoing scholarly debate about whether registration constitutes consent to personal jurisdiction or 2) the Court has left open the possibility that a company can be at home beyond its state of incorporation and PPB in extraordinary circumstances, so maybe he is going to argue this is the extraordinary case and Twitter the extraordinary defendant. I doubt either works here, but each at least reflects a current understanding of jurisdiction.

However great the marketing, advertising, and revenue drawn from Virginia, it has nothing to do with this lawsuit, so it no longer provides the basis for general jurisdiction. But that advertising and revenue does not give rise or relate to the mean comments on which Nunes is suing, so it cannot form the basis for specific jurisdiction. Another option for specific jurisdiction is a Walden/Calder argument. But Nunes has no obvious connections to Virginia, other than that it is close to where he works in DC; his connections to Virginia are not greater than his connections to any other state besides California. The mean comments about Nunes do not discuss him or his conduct specifically in Virginia and were not "directed to" or "aimed at" Virginia. A Walden/Calder argument might work in California or DC, but my guess is he does not want to sue in either place, where he potentially is wildly unpopular.

Update: Some email exchanges raise the question of why he went to Virginia. Alan pointed out that Henrico County, Va. is not a conservative bastion. My theory: His lawyer thinks he can get Twitter anywhere on a doing business theory and Virginia is the only place he knew he could get Mair. And Virginia has rural areas, so that helps with reaching the cow.

Update: A commenter asks whether Nunes could establish specific jurisdiction over Twitter because the offending tweets came from Virginia. All Twitter has done is provided a nationwide platform for anyone, anywhere to use for their tweets, having no involvement in this particular tweet or that particular user. I think more purposeful direction of the conduct at the forum state is required; knowledge of where the tweet might (or did) come from is not enough.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on March 21, 2019 at 11:07 AM in Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman | Permalink

Comments

That might provide some basis. But if Nunes' lawyer has any notion that this is true, he should have included it in the complaint.

Posted by: Howard Wasserman | Mar 21, 2019 5:09:25 PM

Nunes is in some sense suing Twitter over data stored on its servers, and seeks, in part, to have Twitter delete that data. What if Twitter hosts that data in some form or part in Virginia?

Posted by: Dave | Mar 21, 2019 2:06:26 PM

Now I don't know if the factual premise of this question is correct, but would an argument that there is specific jurisdiction over Twitter in Virginia because the tweets he's complaining about were sent from Virginia fly? That makes some intuitive sense to me.

Posted by: Asher | Mar 21, 2019 11:51:24 AM

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