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Shirlington Limousine and Transportation, Inc. v. San Diego Union-Tribune

July 24, 2008

SHIRLINGTON LIMOUSINE AND TRANSPORTATION, INC., ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
THE SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Chief Judge Royce C. Lamberth

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Now before the Court comes defendants The San Diego Union-Tribune and Copley Press, Inc.'s Motion to Dismiss the First Amended Complaint for Lack of Personal Jurisdiction or in the Alternative for Improper Venue [14]. Upon consideration of the motion, plaintiffs Shirlington Limousine and Transportation, Inc. and Christopher D. Baker's opposition [15], defendants' reply [16], the entire record herein, and the applicable law, the Court will GRANT defendants' motion.

I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

Plaintiffs Shirlington Limousine and Transportation, Inc. ("Shirlington") and Christopher D. Baker filed suit in this Court on April 30, 2007 against defendants The San Diego Union-Tribune ("Tribune") and The Copley Press, Inc. ("Copley"), alleging a number of claims stemming from two articles published by the Tribune.

A. Publication of the Articles and the Aftermath

The Tribune published two articles which serve as the focal point of this action. Both articles were written by Mr. Dean Calbreath, and the research, writing, and publication took place entirely within San Diego. (See Calbreath Decl. ¶¶ 3, 5.) Mr. Calbreath received no assistance from the Copley News Service Bureau in Washington, D.C. in preparing these articles. (Id.) The first article was published on April 28, 2006, and the second was published the following day. (See Mot. Dismiss Ex. A & B.) The content of the articles was precisely the same; a printing error forced the Tribune to print the article a second time. (See id.) The articles highlighted a sordid tale of bribery involving legislators in Washington, D.C., including former congressman Duke Cunningham. (See id.) Central to the allegations at issue here, the articles cited sources who claimed that plaintiffs brought prostitutes to the hotel suite where the legislators would congregate and socialize. (See id.)

Plaintiffs claim these allegations of wrongdoing are false and were made with reckless disregard of the truth. (Compl. 3.) Plaintiffs assert that they became the focus of intense media scrutiny after the Tribune articles were circulated throughout various U.S. media outlets. (Id.) As a direct consequence of the articles' publication, plaintiffs allege, their reputations were indelibly damaged. (Id.) This reputational damage was exacerbated by Congress's launching of an investigation of Shirlington in response to the Tribune's allegations. (See Comp. 3-4.) Ultimately, plaintiffs' lease at the Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport was terminated, and they suffered other business damages. (See id.) In seeking recompense for these alleged damages, plaintiffs assert libel and false light claims against defendants. (Compl. 3-6.)

B. Copley and the Tribune

Copley owns the Tribune (Dwyer Decl. ¶ 3), and the principal place of business of both entities is California (see Mot. Dismiss 2-3). Only one paid subscription of the Tribune is mailed anywhere within Washington, D.C. - to the Library of Congress. (Dwyer Decl. ¶ 3.) Copley does not own or publish any national newspapers or any newspapers within Washington, D.C. (Dwyer Decl. ¶ 2.)

Copley's physical presence in Washington extends only to a newsgathering bureau, which operates as a division of Copley. (Id.) The bureau's purpose is to gather newsworthy information on behalf of Copley and subsequently report it to other outlets. (See Winders Decl. ¶ 2.) The Washington bureau does not publish or distribute newspapers; its sole function is newsgathering. (See id.)

Copley does, however, operate a website for the Tribune, and this website is accessible by users in Washington. (See Jennewin Decl. ¶ 1.) The site has limited user interactivity, and users are neither charged a fee nor forced to register to access the site's content. (Id. ¶ 3.) The site is designed for use principally by San Diego residents - the content focuses on local news, and local weather conditions and webcams are posted. (Id. ¶ 4.) Moreover, the website's primary web servers are located in San Diego, and, to the best of Copley's knowledge, no third-party application servers are located in Washington. (Id. ¶ 5.)

II. ANALYSIS

A. Principles of Personal Jurisdiction Analysis

Exercising personal jurisdiction over a non-resident defendant requires that "service of process [] be authorized by statute and [] comport with the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment." Wiggins v. Equifax, Inc., 853 F. Supp. 500, 502 (D.D.C. 1994). In accord with longstanding Supreme Court precedent, "personal jurisdiction exists when the defendant has purposely established minimum contacts with the forum state and when the exercise of jurisdiction comports with the 'traditional notions of ...


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