In recent posts, we have discussed how employee social media use may subject California companies to liability for defamation. Now, a recent California court of appeals case found that social media conduct by out-of-state users was sufficient to establish personal jurisdiction in California courts. The case involved a non-resident who sent allegedly defamatory and fabricated direct messages to a California resident through social media with the aim of interfering with the resident’s personal relationships. The non-resident moved to quash service of the complaint for lack of personal jurisdiction, arguing that even if the alleged conduct were true it did not amount to an intentional targeting of California. The court found personal jurisdiction was appropriate for three reasons. First, the non-resident transmitted the allegedly defamatory messages directly to someone he knew to be a California resident. Second, the reputation-based effects of the alleged defamation connected the non-resident to California. Third, the allegedly defamatory conversations had a distinct California focus because the defendant specifically referenced that plaintiff had ruined the reputation of women in San Diego and referenced conduct that had occurred in San Diego.
Although this case involved individual claims, the decision should serve as a reminder that social media conduct, even by out-of-state parties or corporations, may submit the parties to the jurisdiction of foreign states. For corporations in particular, implementing and enforcing robust social media policies for their employees may help avoid liability for employee social media activity.