Long-Arm Jurisdiction Over Websites

posted Jun 25, 2013, 3:27 PM by Helen Partlow   [ updated Jun 26, 2013, 2:58 PM by Michael Vosilla ]

As the world’s technology continues to rapidly advance, the law often has to catch up with it. When it comes to personal jurisdiction, there are generally three ways that a court can validly have jurisdiction over the defendant in a case: (1) the defendant must have minimum “substantial contact” with the state; (2) the conflict must have arisen out of the defendant’s contact; and (3) jurisdiction must be reasonable.

When it comes to Websites that do not technically exist anywhere, it has been difficult to determine exactly how to render personal jurisdiction over them for lawsuits.
In Massachusetts case Signazon Corporation v. Nickelson, Nickelson owns a website that exists outside of Massachusetts but directly solicits Massachusetts residents to visit his website.  “The core question — one that the First Circuit has not completely addressed — is whether an interactive website like the one owned and operated by Nickelson, which is located outside of Massachusetts but which Massachusetts residents can (and are invited to) access satisfies the purposeful availment test.”  Tom Egan, Jurisdiction – Personal – Website, Mass. Lawyers Weekly, June 24, 2013.

The purposeful availment test is used when the defendant is a nonresident of the state. It focuses on the defendant’s intentions to see if he purposefully availed himself of the state and if he should reasonably expect that from his actions he could be subject to the court’s jurisdiction based upon his interaction with the state.

Specifically with websites, the court looks at the Zippo test (See Zippo Mfg. Co. v. Zippo Dot Com, Inc., 952 F. Supp. 2d 1119, 1124 (W.D. Pa. 1997). By using this test, the court examines a website’s interactivity with its user. In Nickelson’s case, the court found that his website was extremely interactive and directly solicited Massachusetts residents to visit his website. Because of these factors, the court determined that Nickelson met the Massachusetts long-arms statute’s “transacting any business” provision and has thus purposefully availed himself to its courts.

For more information: Full decision