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Question: I sell products over the internet. Does that make me subject to personal jurisdiction in a
Posted on Jan. 22, 2018

Question: I sell products over the internet. Does that make me subject to personal jurisdiction in all 50 states?

Answer: In the early days of the internet, the answer was probably yes. Many courts adopted the approach first used in 1997 by the court in Zippo Mfg. Co. v. Zippo Dot Com, Inc., 952 F.Supp. 1119 (W.D. Pa. 1997). In Zippo, the court held that the operation of a “passive” web site that does little more than provide information is not enough to subject the operator to jurisdiction in all 50 dates, but the operation of an “active” web site through which products are sold is enough to subject the operator to 50 states. Based on that approach, an e-commerce company based in California could be sued in, for example, Vermont, even if it had never actually made any sales into Vermont.

 

The Utah district court, however, recently rejected the Zippo approach. In Kindig It Design, Inc. v. Creative Controls, Inc., 157 F.Supp.3d 1167 (D. Utah 2016), the plaintiff sued a Michigan company in Utah for copyright infringement. The defendant moved to dismiss the case for lack of personal jurisdiction based on the fact that it was a Michigan company with no contacts with Utah. The plaintiff responded that the defendant operated a web site that allowed users to place orders for products, including Utah residents. It was therefore an “active” web site. Had the court used the Zippo approach, the defendant would have been subject to the jurisdiction of Utah courts, as well as the courts of every other state. But the court rejected the Zippo approach because it “effectively remove[d] geographical limitations on personal jurisdiction over entities that have interactive websites.” Thus, the Michigan defendant’s operation of an e-commerce web site was not enough to subject it to personal jurisdiction in Utah.

 

So, does selling products over the internet in 2018 by itself subject you to personal jurisdiction in another state? In Utah at least, the answer is probably no.

 

 

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Attorney Brett D. Ekins

Brett D. Ekins is an experienced and accomplished trademark and intellectual property lawyer. He represents clients in intellectual property matters and commercial litigation throughout Utah, Nevada and California in state and federal courts, including high-stakes litigation involving trademarks, patents, copyrights and trade secrets. Brett also has extensive experience registering trademarks with the United States Patent and Trademark Office, including proceedings before the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board.