Designer Skin LLC v. S & L Vitamins, Inc., et al.
Stephen C. Edberg, et al. v. Neogen Corporation
17 F. Supp. 2d 104 (D. Conn., August 4, 1998)
Plaintiffs commenced a patent and trade dress infringement suit against defendant arising out of defendant's sale of equipment utilized to detect the presence of e. coli bacteria. Plaintiffs claimed that these products infringed various patents plaintiffs held in similar diagnostic devices.
Plaintiffs commenced suit in Connecticut. They argued that two separate contacts defendant had with Connecticut each were sufficient to permit the Court to exercise personal jurisdiction over the defendant -- a single sale of product to a Connecticut customer initiated at plaintiff's request, and defendant's maintenance of a world wide website available to forum residents. The court rejected these arguments and granted defendant's motion to dismiss for want of personal jurisdiction.
Defendant was a Michigan-based corporation with neither property, offices nor employees in Connecticut. Defendant maintained a website on the World Wide Web on which it advertised its products, including those at issue. While additional information about defendant's products could be ordered online, the actual products themselves could not. To order products, the user had to either call an 800 telephone number, or contact defendant by fax or mail. Information on how to place such an order, including defendant's 800 number, was provided on the site.
Plaintiff argued that the availability of defendant's web site to Connecticut residents rendered defendant subject to jurisdiction there. The court disagreed, finding that defendant's contacts were below that minimum sufficient to sustain jurisdiction under the U.S. Constitution. Said the court:
In this case, there is no evidence that any user in Connecticut accessed Neogen's Website or purchased products based upon the Web site advertisement. There is also no evidence that this website advertisement was directed at Connecticut anymore than any place else in the nation. Internet users could not order products directly from the Web site. Rather, it required them to call an "800" number in Michigan or write Neogen in Michigan or Kentucky. Like the court in Hearst, we find this Web site to be similar to an advertisement in a national magazine or newspaper. ... If jurisdiction were to be based upon a defendant's mere presence on the internet, this would lead to a defendant's being subjected to jurisdiction on a worldwide basis and would eviscerate the personal jurisdiction requirements as they currently exist.
The Court also held that a single sale of $246 worth of the allegedly offending product to a forum resident was insufficient to support jurisdiction. In reaching this conclusion, the court relied heavily on the fact that the resident purchaser had bought these goods at the behest of the plaintiff, which, like defendant, was not based in Connecticut. Said the court:
In the instant case, plaintiffs assert that [defendant's] single $246.00 sale to Cadbury, constitutes "minimum contacts" sufficient to sustain personal jurisdiction. This "contact," however, was initiated by [plaintiff] IDEXX, not by the defendant. Regardless of IDEXX's motives, it was still the acts of IDEXX that brought the infringing product into the forum, not Neogen's promotion, advertising, or sales activities. ... The courts have repeatedly held that jurisdiction may not be manufactured by the conduct of others. Under such circumstances a defendant cannot be said to have purposefully availed itself of the forum.
The full text of the court's decision can be found on a web site maintained by Prof. Randy Canis of the University of Missouri - Rolla.