Newman-Lakka Cancer Foundation v. Briggs

(Unpublished, No. A15-1217)

Minnesota Court of Appeals, March 7, 2016

 

The appellate court in Newman-Lakka Cancer Foundation v. Briggs held that Minnesota courts lacked personal jurisdiction over a Massachusetts resident.

Newman-Lakka Cancer Foundation (hereinafter “The Foundation”) is a Minnesota non-profit that supports cancer research.  Christine Briggs is a former employee of GeneSys Research Institute, Inc. (GRI), which is located in Massachusetts.  Ms. Briggs was let go from GRI.  Ms. Briggs allegedly posted several defamatory statements about The Foundation on social media, including Facebook and Twitter, alleging that The Foundation had misappropriated funds.

The Foundation sued Ms. Briggs for defamation.  Ms. Briggs moved the district court to dismiss the case based on her argument that Minnesota courts lacked personal jurisdiction over her.  The district court granted Ms. Briggs’ motion and The Foundation appealed.

In its decision, the appellate court applies two tests to determine whether Minnesota held personal jurisdiction over Ms. Briggs.  The first test, the Calder effects test, requires the Plaintiff to show:  “(1) the defendant committed an intentional tort; (2) the plaintiff felt the brunt of the harm caused by that tort in the forum such that the forum state was the focal point of the plaintiff’s injury; and (3) the defendant expressly aimed the tortious conduct at the forum such that the forum state was the focal point of the tortious activity.”  Griffis, 646 N.W.2d at 534.  In this case, the court held that the Plaintiff could meet the first two parts of the test, but not the third.  The court states that Plaintiff had not sufficiently shown that Ms. Briggs had aimed her conduct that Minnesotans.  As such, the court found that The Foundation could not meet the requirements of the Calder effects test.

The second test that the court analyzes is the Minnesota five-factor test.  The five factors are:  (1) the quantity of the defendant’s contacts with Minnesota; (2) the nature and quality of the defendant’s contacts with Minnesota; (3) the connection between the claims and the defendant’s contacts; (4) Minnesota’s interest in providing a forum; and (5) the convenience of the parties.  Juelich, 682 N.W.2d at 570.

The court found that the first factor weighed against The Foundation’s claim because The Foundation was only mentioned four times in Ms. Briggs’ posts, and Minnesota was not mentioned at all.  The court found that the second factor fell “in the middle ground,” but because the posts were non-commercial in nature, the court weighed the second factor against The Foundation.  The third factor weighed in favor of exercising jurisdiction because Ms. Briggs’ posts were directly related to the cause of action at issue.  The fourth factor weighed against personal jurisdiction, and the court found that the fifth factor was irrelevant.

The appellate court ultimately found that the district court properly applied the jurisdictional tests and affirmed the district court’s decision not to exercise personal jurisdiction over Ms. Briggs.

This case is a good demonstration and explanation of the tests involved in determining whether Minnesota courts can exercise personal jurisdiction over a non-resident.

 

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