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Designer Skin LLC v. S & L Vitamins, Inc., et al.
Unauthorized internet reseller of plaintiff’s products is not guilty of trademark infringement, and does not cause actionable initial interest confusion, by using plaintiff’s trademarks in meta tags of website at which plaintiff’s and its competitors’ products are sold, and in...

Jerry L. Falwell v. Gary Cohn and God.Info

Civ. Act. No. 6:02CV0040 (W.D.Va., March 4, 2003)

Court dismisses action brought against a non-resident for want of personal jurisdiction.  In the action, plaintiff, a nationally known public figure who resides in Virginia, sued a non-resident, inter alia, for defamation and violation of the Anticybersquatter Consumer Protection Act ("ACPA") as a result of critical statements defendant made on a website he operated at a Url bearing plaintiff's name.  Finding that defendant had not, by his activities, expressly targeted a Virginia audience, the court dismissed the suit for want of personal jurisdiction.

Plaintiff the Rev. Jerry Falwell, is a nationally known public figure who resides, and serves a congregation, in Virginia.  Defendant Gary Cohn, is a resident of Illinois who operates a website critical of plaintiff at the domains and  It does not appear from the court's decision that defendant engaged in any commercial activity at his site.  Defendant's website is linked to that operated by a non-affiliated third party, which contains a message board devoted to Mr. Falwell.  Advertisements do appear on this third party site.  By the time of the suit, the domain names at issue were registered with entities located outside of Virginia.

Plaintiff commenced this suit in Virginia, asserting claims, inter alia, of defamation and violations of the ACPA.  Defendant moved to dismiss the complaint for want of personal jurisdiction.  The court granted defendant's motion. 

Virginia has elected to extend its long arm jurisdiction to the fullest extent permitted by the U.S. Constitution.  As such, the jurisdiction inquiry is governed by the familiar International Shoe decision, namely jurisdiction can be exercised over a non-resident party only if that party has sufficient "minimum contacts with the forum such that the maintenance of the suit does not offend "traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice." 

Following the recent decision of the Fourth Circuit in Young v. New Haven Advocate, 315 F.3d 256 (4th Cir., 2002) the court held that defendant did not have sufficient contacts with the forum to permit the court to exercise jurisdiction over him.  The court based this determination on its conclusion that defendant's activities were targeted to the national audience that was familiar with the Rev. Falwell, and not just the local Virginia audience.  Said the court:

Mr. Cohn's website is not aimed at a Virginia audience.  Instead, it addresses a national audience, discussing such things as Reverend Falwell's reaction to the September 11,2001 attacks and President Bush's Faith-Based Initiative.  Mr. Cohn's site does not discuss anything that relates specifically to Virginia.  Although Reverend Falwell's church and many of his followers are located in Lynchburg, Virginia, he is self-admittedly a nationally known religious figure.  The Court finds that the contents of Mr. Cohn's website do not demonstrate a manifest intent to expressly target a Virginia audience.  Accordingly, Mr. Cohn could not have "reasonably anticipate[d] being haled into court" in Virginia.  This Court cannot, therefore, constitutionally exercise jurisdiction over Mr. Cohn.

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