Insufficient Contacts to Establish Personal Jurisdiction in Defamation Action

Ex parte M.E.J., [Ms. SC-2023-0062, Oct. 13, 2023] __ So. 3d __ (Ala. 2023). The Court (Cook, J; Parker, C.J., and Wise, Bryan, Sellers, Mendheim, and Stewart, JJ., concur in the result; Shaw, J., dissents) grants M.E.J.’s mandamus petition challenging the Jefferson Circuit Court’s order denying her motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction in this defamation case.

M.E.J. claimed that M.T.C. raped her in Washington state while M.T.C. was a pastor there at M.E.J.’s church. Later, after M.T.C. had accepted a new position at an Alabama church, M.E.J. notified her new pastor in Washington about the alleged rape. M.E.J.’s new pastor communicated her allegation to M.T.C.’s senior pastor in Alabama. He also encouraged M.E.J. to write a letter to M.T.C.’s new senior pastor in Alabama detailing her allegations. That letter became the basis of M.T.C.’s contention that M.E.J. was subject to specific jurisdiction in Alabama.

The Court explains that the “effects test” laid out in Calder v. Jones, 465 U.S. 783 (1984) is applied to evaluate personal jurisdiction. Under Calder, the Court finds that M.E.J.’s letter is insufficient to establish jurisdiction. Ms. *30. The Court reasons that the underlying allegations concerned Washington activities committed while M.T.C. was a Washington resident. In addition, the Court notes that M.E.J. submitted unopposed affidavits. These affidavits establish that M.E.J. sent the letter at the direction of her new pastor in Washington, and that her Washington pastor had already spoken to M.T.C.’s new senior pastor in Alabama when she sent the letter. Plaintiff M.T.C. offered no evidence in opposition to M.E.J.’s affidavits, did not request jurisdictional discovery, and did not ask to exclude M.E.J.’s evidence. Ms. **31-32. Therefore, the Court finds “that M.E.J. lacked sufficient minimum contacts with Alabama under the ‘purposeful availment’ requirement” to support jurisdiction.” Ms. **31-32.

The Court also notes that even if M.E.J. had sufficient contacts with Alabama, M.E.J. would still be entitled to relief because hailing her into court in Alabama would offend “traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice.” Ms. *37. The Court concludes that Alabama’s interest in the dispute is minimal and M.T.C.’s interest in convenient relief was outweighed by the burden placed on M.E.J. of litigating 2500 miles away from her home in Washington. Ms. **35-36.

Related Documents