Huizenga v. Gwynn et al
OPINION AND ORDER Granting Defendant N.Y.P. Holding's 14 Motion to Dismiss. Signed by District Judge Matthew F. Leitman. (HMon)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF MICHIGAN
Case No. 16-cv-12001
Hon. Matthew F. Leitman
JOELLE GWYNN et al.,
OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT
N.Y.P. HOLDINGS’ MOTION TO DISMISS (ECF #14)
In 2016, the New York Post (the “Post”), a New York-based daily
newspaper, published three articles about The Biggest Loser, a reality-television
program on which contestants compete to lose weight.
The articles included
statements about Plaintiff Robert Huizenga, M.D. (“Dr. Huizenga”), a medical
consultant to the show. In this action, Dr. Huizenga brings libel and business
interference claims against the Post based upon the statements it published about
him. (See Compl., ECF #1.)
The Post has filed a motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction (the
“Motion to Dismiss”). (See ECF #14.)
Because the assertion of personal
jurisdiction over the Post would be unreasonable – and would “offend traditional
notions of fair play and substantial justice,” Int’l Shoe Co. v. Washington, 326 U.S.
310, 316 (1945) – the Court GRANTS the Motion to Dismiss and DISMISSES
the claims against the Post without prejudice.
Dr. Huizenga is a licensed physician who lives in Los Angeles, California.
(See Compl. at ¶1, ECF #1 at 3, Pg. ID 3.) For many years, he has practiced
medicine and acted as a medical consultant in southern California. He is the
former team physician for the Los Angeles Raiders professional football team; has
served as a “writer, correspondent, advisor, and doctor on numerous TV shows and
movies,” including shows produced in southern California1; and he “runs The
Clinic by Dr. H, a state of the art, multi-disciplinary fat loss facility in [s]outhern
California.” (Id. at ¶¶13, 16, 18, ECF #1 at 5-7, Pg. ID 5-7.)
Defendant N.Y.P. Holdings, Inc. publishes and does business as the Post.
(See id. at ¶3, ECF #1 at 3, Pg. ID 3.) The Post has its primary newsroom in New
York and is published there. (See Declaration of Michael Racano (“Racano”) at ¶4,
ECF #14-2 at 3, Pg. ID 119.)
The Post “covers a mix of local (i.e., New-York focused) and national
stories, including general news, business, culture, and sports stories that appeal to
Dr. Huizenga has consulted on numerous television programs including Inside the
Vault, a program on Los Angeles television station KTLA, Thinervention,
Shedding For The Wedding, Extreme Makeover, and American Gladiators. (See
Compl. at ¶16, ECF #1 at 6, Pg. ID 6.)
the Post’s primarily New York-based readership.” (Id. at ¶7, ECF #14-2 at 3, Pg.
ID 119.) The Post’s New-York focused coverage includes articles about, among
the city, county and state governments of New York.
Coverage of crime in the Post focuses almost entirely on
crime in the New York City area, including a page called
‘NYPD Daily Blotter.’ Culture reviews in the Post
typically cover New York cultural offerings (such as
restaurants, theater, or concerts). Coverage of real estate
(both commercial and residential) focuses on the New
York metropolitan area. The weather coverage in the
Post (including the daily temperature and weather
forecast on the ‘ear’ of the front page of the paper)
focuses on New York-area weather. The TV listings in
the Post list the New York affiliates of the various
broadcast networks. The sports section of the Post (for
which the motto is ‘The Best Sports In Town’) focuses in
particular on New York metropolitan area sports teams,
including professional, college and high school teams.
(Id. at ¶7, ECF #14-2 at 2-3, Pg. ID 119-20.)
The Post publishes a daily print edition and a digital edition. (See id. at ¶3,
ECF #14-2 at 2, Pg. ID 118.) Readers may purchase the print edition in one of
three ways. First, readers in certain limited geographic areas such as New York,
Los Angeles, and Washington D.C., may purchase the print edition at retail
locations. (See id. at ¶9, ECF #14-2 at 4-5, Pg. ID 120-21.) Second, readers who
live in an area where the print edition is sold at retail locations may sign-up for
daily home delivery. (See id. at ¶¶ 9, 11, ECF #14-2 at 4-5, Pg. ID 120-21.)
Finally, readers anywhere in the United States may obtain the print edition through
mail delivery. (See id. at ¶¶ 14-15, ECF #14-2 at 5-6, Pg. ID 121-22.) “Unlike
ordinary home delivery, U.S. Mail subscribers do not receive the paper the same
day it is published on newsstands, but rather receive the paper days later in the
U.S. Mail.” (Id. at ¶14, ECF #14-2 at 5, Pg. ID 121.) “U.S. Mail subscriptions [to
the Post] may not be purchased directly through the [Post]. Instead, individuals
must contact [a] third party fulfillment agent with whom the [Post] contracts for
that purpose via [a] telephone number provided on the Post’s website (and in the
newspaper itself).” (Id. at ¶14, ECF #14-2 at 5-6, Pg. ID 121-22.)
The Post’s digital edition is available on “several tablet computer and ereader platforms,” including the Apple iPad and the Amazon Kindle Fire. (Id. at
¶22, ECF 14-2 at 7, Pg. ID 123.) Readers who subscribe to the digital edition do
not subscribe through the Post. Instead, “customers place orders to and directly
pay” third party vendors, “who then remit a portion of those fees to [the Post].” (Id.
at ¶23, ECF #14-2 at 7, Pg. ID 123.) “For example, a customer would order the
Apple iPad Digital Replica edition of the Post through the Apple App Store and
directly pay Apple by providing a valid credit card number and billing zip code to
Apple. Apple would [then] remit a portion of that fee to [the Post].” (Id. at ¶23,
ECF #14-2 at 7-8, Pg. ID 123-24.)
“Customers may also purchase Digital
Subscriptions through a service called PressReader … which offers subscriptions
to digital replicas of many publications, including the Post, which may be then
viewed through PressReader’s ‘app’ on various platforms or printed out on paper.”
The Post also operates a website. The content of that site “heavily overlaps
with, but is not always identical to, what is included in the Post newspaper.” (Id. at
¶43, ECF #14-2 at 14, Pg. ID 130.) The website content “is available free of
charge to any Internet user, without any requirement of the creation of a profile or
payment of a subscription fee.” (Id. at ¶41, ECF #14-2 at 13, Pg. ID 129.) The
content can also be accessed “through a smartphone app” which offers “identical”
content to the Post’s website. (Id. at ¶42, ECF #14-2 at 13, Pg. ID 129.)
The Post’s website contains a link that allows visitors to subscribe to home
delivery of the paper (where such delivery is available). (See id. at ¶12, ECF #14-2
at 5, Pg. ID 121.) The website also contains a link to the “NYP Store” where
readers can purchase “merchandise related to the Post,” such as t-shirts and coffee
mugs with the Post’s logo. (Id. at ¶46, ECF #14-2 at 15, Pg. ID 131.) Finally,
visitors to the website may sign up “to receive one of four different email
newsletters” that the Post publishes and makes available free of charge. (Id. at ¶47,
ECF #14-2 at 15, Pg. ID 131.) The only information the Post requires from readers
who sign up for an email newsletter is a valid email address. (See id.) The Post
“does not collect information about the residence of readers who sign up for email
The print edition of the Post is not distributed for sale at retail locations in
the State of Michigan. (See id. at ¶10, ECF #14-2 at 5, Pg. ID 121.) Nor can
readers in Michigan subscribe to home delivery of the print edition. (See id. at ¶13,
ECF #14-2 at 5, Pg. ID 121.) Because the Post does not offer home delivery of its
print edition in Michigan, “[i]f a reader in Michigan attempted to order home
delivery through the Post’s website, the site would state that ‘Paper delivery is not
available in your area.’” (Id.)
Michigan residents who wish to subscribe to the Post have only two options:
they may sign up for mail delivery of the print edition or purchase the digital
edition through a third party vendor. Only ten Michigan residents subscribe to
mail delivery of the Post’s print edition, and the Post estimates that 227 Michigan
residents subscribe to the digital edition (through various third-party vendors). (See
id. at ¶¶ 20, 38, ECF #14-2 at 7, 12, Pg. ID 123, 128.)
Readers of the Post in Michigan may also visit the Post’s website. The Post
approximates that for the months of April, May, and June 2016 (the time period
relevant here), about 2.9% (or 771,400) of the visitors to its website were from the
State of Michigan, and these visitors accounted for 1.8% (or 2,700,000) of its total
page views during that time period. (See ECF #18-9 at 3, Pg. ID 253.) And while,
as noted above, visitors to the website may purchase Post-related products, “there
has only ever been one sale of an item through the [NYP Store] to a Michigan
resident, which took place in 2013.” (Racano Decl. at ¶46, ECF #14-2 at 15, Pg. ID
131; emphasis removed.) Finally, approximately 1.6-percent of the people who
“open” the Post’s email newsletters are located in Michigan. (ECF #18-9 at 3, Pg.
The Biggest Loser is a reality-television show on which contestants compete
to lose weight under the supervision of various doctors and celebrity trainers. The
show is “produced and filmed in California, and ... contestants [on the show] live
on a ‘ranch’ in California during production of the show.” (Maureen Callahan
Decl. at ¶11, ECF #14-3 at 4-5, Pg. ID 138-39.) Dr. Huizenga acts as a medical
consultant on the program. (See Compl. at ¶16, ECF #1 at 6, Pg. ID 6.)
In 2016, the Post began investigating the The Biggest Loser. As part of the
investigation, Post reporter Maureen Callahan (“Callahan”) contacted six former
Biggest Loser contestants from across the country, including Michigan resident
Defendant Joelle Gywnn (“Gwynn”). (See Callahan Decl. at ¶¶ 7, 9, ECF #14-3 at
3-4, Pg. ID 137-38; see also Compl. at ¶2, ECF #1 at 3, Pg. ID 3). A second
reporter at the Post, Danika Fears (“Fears”), also spoke with Gwynn. (See Fears
Decl. at ¶5, ECF #14-4 at 3, Pg. ID 154.) The Post reporters asked Gwynn a series
of questions via telephone, e-mail, and text message, and in response Gwynn
provided information about her experience as a Biggest Loser contestant. (See id.;
see also Callahan Decl. at ¶¶ 8-9, ECF #14-3 at 4, Pg. ID 138). Gwynn supposedly
told the reporters that an employee of the show gave her and other contestants “an
illicit yellow and black pill” that made her feel “jittery and hyper.” (Compl. at
¶24(f), ECF #1 at 9, Pg. ID 9.) Gwynn said that she then told Dr. Huizenga about
the pills, and he offered “some lame explanation of why they got added to our
regimen and [said] that it was ‘up to us to take [the pills].’” (Id.) According to
Gwynn, her experience with the pills made her “feel” as if she had been
Other former contestants apparently made similar statements to the Post’s
They told the reporters that contestants had “passed out” in Dr.
Huizenga’s office before scheduled weigh-ins, that Dr. Huizenga knew contestants
were using “illegal drugs to lose weight rapidly” and “never tried to stop it,” and
that Dr. Huizenga refused to help former contestants who re-gained weight after
leaving the show. (Id. at ¶20, ECF #1 at 7-8, Pg. ID 7-8.)
On May 19, 2016, Callahan contacted a representative for Dr. Huizenga and
sought a response to the statements made about him. (See Compl. at ¶20, ECF #1
at 7, Pg. ID 7.) On May 20, 2016, an attorney for Dr. Huizenga informed Callahan
that all of the statements made about Dr. Huizenga were false. (See id. at ¶21, ECF
#1 at 8, Pg. ID 8.) Dr. Huizenga’s counsel told Callahan that the statements
“constitute[d] defamation” and, if published, would cause Dr. Huizenga
“substantial damages.” (Id.)
On May 22 and 23, 2016, the Post published three separate articles about
The Biggest Loser. (See Callahan Decl. at ¶¶ 3-5, ECF #14-3 at 2-3, Pg. ID 13738.) The stories were available in both the print and digital editions of the Post and
were also posted on the Post’s website. (See id.) The stories focused on the
treatment of the contestants both during and after their appearances on The Biggest
The first article, published on May 22, “was by far the longest and most
involved of the [a]rticles.” (Id. at ¶6, ECF #14-3 at 3, Pg. ID 137.) It appeared on
the front page of the Post under the headline “‘Biggest Loser Drugged Me[:]’ New
shock revelations behind show.” (See ECF #18-4.) Gwynn was also pictured on
the front page wearing a Biggest Loser shirt. (See id.) All three articles generally
contended that show staffers provided drugs to contestants and encouraged
contestants to lose weight in unsafe ways.
In addition, the stories contained
specific statements about Dr. Huizenga, including that:
he “urged contestants to take meds and go hungry;”
the show “provid[ed] illicit drugs to contestants and [made them
submit to] questionable medical exams by the show’s resident doctor,
he told some disfavored contestants to ingest baking soda (in the hope
that they would not lose weight and thus be “eliminate[d]” from the
he “encouraged contestants to take street drugs while starving
themselves and to lie about how much weight they were losing.”
(Compl. at ¶24, ECF #1 at 9-10, Pg. ID 9-10.) Two of the articles also included
Gwynn’s statement that Dr. Huizenga told her that it was “up to [her] to take” the
illicit pill that the show’s producers had given her. (Id. at ¶24(f), ECF #1 at 9, Pg.
ID 9.) The stories never mention the State of Michigan nor that Gwynn is a
resident of Michigan. (See ECF ## 1-1, 1-2, and 1-3.)
On June 2, 2016, Dr. Huizenga filed this action against the Post and Gwynn.
(See Compl., ECF #1.)
His Complaint includes three counts brought jointly
against the Defendants: libel, libel per se, and interference with business
relationships and expectancies. (See id.)
According to Dr. Huizenga, the Post’s stories about The Biggest Loser
contained the “false and defamatory statements” quoted above. (See id., ECF #1 at
2, Pg. ID 2.) Dr. Huizenga insists that “[t]his lawsuit became necessary to protect
[his] hard-earned reputation and stature in the medical community … which cannot
be allowed to be destroyed within seconds by Defendants’ false statements.” (Id. at
3, Pg. ID 3.) Specifically, Dr. Huizenga contends that the articles harmed his
relationships with his current patients, with potential patients, and with numerous
television networks, including “ABC, NBC, Bravo, MTV, Oxygen, Spike TV,
FOX, CW Network, Discovery Network, Univision, CBS, WE TV, KTLA,
National Geographic, Netflix, and TLC.” (Id. at ¶53, ECF #1 at 19, Pg. ID 19.)
On August 1, 2016, the Post moved to dismiss for lack of personal
jurisdiction. (See ECF #14.) The Post also moved, in the alternative and under 28
U.S.C. § 1404(a), to transfer this action to the United States District Court for the
Central District of California (where Dr. Huizenga resides). (See id. at 26-29, ECF
#14 at 37-40, Pg. ID 110-113.) On August 2, 2016, Gwynn filed a “limited
joinder,” joining the Post’s alterative request to transfer this action to California
under 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a). (ECF #15.)
The Court held a hearing on the Motion to Dismiss on November 14, 2016.
The Post brings the Motion to Dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil
Under this rule, “[t]he plaintiff bears the burden of
establishing through specific facts that personal jurisdiction exists over the nonresident defendant, and the plaintiff must make this demonstration by a
preponderance of the evidence.” Conn v. Zakharov, 667 F.3d 705, 711 (6th Cir.
2012) (internal quotation marks omitted). Where, as here, a court does not hold an
evidentiary hearing, “the plaintiff need only make a prima facie case that the court
has personal jurisdiction.” Id. (internal quotation marks omitted). The Court does
“not weigh the facts disputed by the parties but instead consider[s] the pleadings in
the light most favorable to the plaintiff.” Id. The Court may, however, “consider
the defendant's undisputed factual assertions.” Id. “[A]lso where, as here, ... there
does not appear to be any real dispute over the facts relating to jurisdiction, the
prima facie proposition loses some of its significance.” Id. (internal quotation
Personal jurisdiction may be either general or specific. See Air Products and
Controls, Inc. v. Safetech Int’l, Inc., 503 F.3d 544, 549-50 (6th Cir. 2007). General
jurisdiction “depends on continuous and systematic contact with the forum state,”
whereas specific jurisdiction “grants jurisdiction only to the extent that a claim
arises out of or relates to a defendant's contacts in the forum state.” Miller v. AXA
Winterthur Ins. Co., 694 F.3d 675, 679 (6th Cir. 2012) (citing Kerry Steel, Inc. v.
Paragon Indus., Inc., 106 F.3d 147, 149 (6th Cir. 1997)). Dr. Huizenga contends
primarily that the Court has specific jurisdiction over the Post.2
In order to for a court to exercise specific personal jurisdiction over a
defendant in a diversity case, “the defendant must be amenable to suit under the
forum state’s long-arm statute and the due process requirements of the Constitution
must be met.” CompuServe, Inc. v. Patterson, 89 F.3d 1257, 1262 (6th Cir. 1996).
Dr. Huizenga briefly argues in a footnote that the Court may exercise general
jurisdiction over the Post pursuant to M.C.L. § 600.711. (See Dr. Huizenga Br. at
16-17 n.6, ECF #18 at 25-26, Pg. ID 202-03.) That statute provides that general
jurisdiction over a defendant exists where the defendant carries on “a continuous
and systematic part of its general business within the state.” M.C.L. § 600.711(3).
Dr. Huizenga insists that the statute is satisfied because “the Post’s Michigan
customers include  millions of Michigan [visitors] per month [to the Post’s
website].” (Dr. Huizenga Br. at 17 n.6, ECF #18 at 26, Pg. ID 203.) But the Sixth
Circuit has expressly rejected the proposition that the maintenance of a “website
that is accessible to anyone over the Internet is sufficient to justify general
jurisdiction.” Bird v. Parsons, 289 F.3d 865, 874 (6th Cir. 2002). See also E & M
Properties, Inc. v. Razorgator, Inc., 2008 WL 1837261, at *3 (E.D. Mich. 2008)
(same). Dr. Huizenga further contends that general personal jurisdiction exists
over the Post because it “gets revenues from numerous Michigan mail and digital
subscribers.” (Dr. Huizenga Br. at 17 n.6, ECF #18 at 26, Pg. ID 203.) But he has
not cited any case in which a court has deemed a publisher subject to general
personal jurisdiction in a forum in which it sold the small number of copies that the
Post sells here. More importantly, under M.C.L. § 600.711(3), “[a] foreign
corporation must actually be present within the forum state on a regular basis,
either personally or through an independent agent, in order to be subjected to
general personal jurisdiction” in Michigan. Kircos v. Lola Cars, Ltd., 296 N.W.2d
32, 35 (Mich. Ct. App. 1980); see also Children’s Legal Serv. v. Shor Levin and
Derrita, P.C., 850 F.Supp.2d 673, 680 (E.D. Mich. 2012) (same). And here, it is
undisputed that the Post has no such presence in Michigan. (See Racano Decl. at ¶¶
5-6, ECF #14-2 at 3, Pg. ID 119.) Dr. Huizenga has not persuaded the Court that
the Post maintains the kind of continuous and systematic contacts with the State of
Michigan that would subject the Post to general personal jurisdiction here.
Here, because “Michigan’s long-arm statute extends to the limits imposed by
federal constitutional due process requirements … the two questions become one.”
AlixPartners, LLP v. Brewington, 836 F.3d 543, 549 (6th Cir. 2016). Thus, the
Court must only “determine whether the exercise of personal jurisdiction over [the
Post] comports with constitutional due process.” Id.
Constitutional due process requirements are satisfied when an out-of-state
defendant has “minimum contacts” with the forum state “such that maintenance of
the suit does not offend traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice.”
Int’l Shoe, 326 U.S. at 316 (internal citations omitted). In Southern Machine Co. v.
Mohasco Industries, Inc., 401 F.2d 374 (6th Cir. 1968), the Sixth Circuit
established a three-part test to guide this determination:
First, the defendant must purposefully avail himself of
the privilege of acting in the forum state or causing a
consequence in the forum state. Second, the cause of
action must arise from the defendant’s activities there.
Finally, the acts of the defendant or consequences caused
by the defendant must have a substantial enough
connection with the forum state to make the exercise of
jurisdiction over the defendant reasonable.
Id. at 381. For the reasons explained below, the Court concludes that Dr. Huizenga
has failed to satisfy this test.
“Purposeful availment … is present where the defendant’s contacts with the
forum state proximately result from actions by the defendant himself that create a
substantial connection with the forum State and where the defendant’s conduct
and connection with the forum are such that he should reasonably anticipate being
haled into court there.” Neogen Corp. v. Neo Gen Screening, Inc., 282 F.3d 883,
889 (6th Cir. 2002) (internal citation and punctuation omitted; emphasis added).
“This ‘purposeful availment’ requirement ensures that a defendant will not be
haled into a jurisdiction solely as a result of ‘random,’ ‘fortuitous,’ or ‘attenuated’
contacts, or of the ‘unilateral activity of another party or a third person.” Burger
King Corp. v. Rudzewicz, 471 U.S. 462, 475 (1980). “In the Sixth Circuit, the
emphasis in the purposeful availment inquiry is whether the defendant has engaged
in some overt actions connecting the defendant with the forum state.” Fortis
Corporate Ins. v. Viken Ship Mgmt., 450 F.3d 214, 218 (6th Cir. 2006) (citations
and quotation marks omitted).
There is reason to believe that the Post purposefully availed itself of the
privilege of doing business in Michigan.
Indeed, purposeful availment exists
where a defendant manifests its intent to maintain “continuing relationships and
obligations” within a forum state, Burger King, 471 U.S. at 476, and that is
arguably what the Post did when it “chose to contract with [ten or more] customers
from Michigan” for delivery of the Post’s print edition via U.S. mail. Neogen, 282
F.3d at 892 (finding purposeful availment where defendant contracted with roughly
fifteen Michigan residents per year).
Even though the Post’s subscription
agreements with Michigan residents constitute an “insignificant percentage of” the
Post’s overall customer relationships, these contracts may amount to purposeful
availment because they allowed the Post to conduct “predictable yearly business”
in this forum. Id. at 891-92 (holding that roughly fifteen transactions per year with
Michigan residents is “predictable yearly business” in this forum, is not a random
or fortuitous connection, and thus amounts to purposeful availment).
United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit has concluded, “mailing to
regular subscribers, even though few,” may amount to purposeful availment
because such mailing “is not random or fortuitous and is not even necessarily
isolated.” Gordy v. Daily News, L.P., 95 F.3d 829 (9th Cir. 1996).3
In Gordy, the Ninth Circuit held that an out-of-state publication was subject to
personal jurisdiction under the so-called “effects test” recognized by the United
States Supreme Court in Calder v. Jones, 465 U.S. 783 (1984). See Gordy, 95 F.3d
at 832 (explaining that Calder is the “closest case to the present one”). As
explained below in section IV(C), the Calder “effects test” differs from the
traditional personal jurisdiction analysis set forth above. But the referenced quote
from the Ninth Circuit is nonetheless relevant here because the court made that
statement in response to the publication’s argument that its small circulation in
California was “random, isolated, or fortuitous.” Id. at 833-34.
But there is also some force to the argument that the Post’s small number of
subscription agreements with Michigan residents falls short of purposeful
availment because – since the Post does not solicit subscriptions here – those
agreements did not “proximately result from [Michigan-directed] actions by” the
Post. Burger King, 471 U.S. at 475. And the Post’s limited number of print
subscription agreements with Michigan readers (ten) could, perhaps, reasonably be
viewed as “isolated” connections to Michigan, and, thus, insufficient to constitute
purposeful availment of this forum. See Pickens v. Hess, 573 F.2d 380, 385 (6th
Cir. 1978) (explaining that “isolated acts of [a] defendant” do not constitute
sufficient “minimum contacts” to support assertion of personal jurisdiction).
Moreover, even if the Court were to consider the amount of both print subscribers
and readers who receive the Post’s digital edition from third-party providers in
Michigan – approximately 237 readers – such a low level of circulation may be too
attenuated a connection to this forum to constitute purposeful availment. As the
United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit has explained, while
“widespread circulation of a publication indicates deliberate action, thin
distribution may indicate a lack of purposeful contact” within a forum. Noonan v.
Winston Co., 135 F.3d 85, 91 (1st Cir. 1998).
In the end, “[w]hether [the Post’s] contacts with Michigan are sufficient to
satisfy the ‘purposeful availment’ requirement is not clear.” Beydoun v. Watanyia
Restaurants Holding, Q.S.C., 768 F.3d 499, 506 (6th Cir. 2014). But the Court
“need not decide” that thorny question because, as explained below, the third
prong of the Southern Machine test – whether the assertion of personal jurisdiction
would be reasonable – is not satisfied. Id. (declining to decide purposeful
availment question where plaintiffs “failed to satisfy the other two prongs” of the
Southern Machine test).4
While the purposeful availment question here is a difficult one, the analysis
of under second prong of the Southern Machine test – whether “the cause of action
arise from the defendant’s activities” in the forum state, Southern Machine, 401
F.2d at 381 – is much more straightforward, and that prong is easily satisfied. A
cause of action arises from the defendant’s contacts with the forum when it has “a
substantial connection with the defendant’s in-state activities.” Dean v. Motel 6
Dr. Huizenga insists that when analyzing the purposeful availment question, the
Court should also consider the number of Michigan residents who visit the Post’s
website. (See, e.g., Dr. Huizenga Resp. Br. at 4-5, ECF #18 at 13-14, Pg. ID 19091.) Dr. Huizenga argues that these website visits are relevant to purposeful
availment under Zippo Mfg. Co. v. Zippo Dot Com, Inc., 952 F. Supp. 1119 (W.D.
Pa. 1997). In that case, the United States District Court for the Western District of
Pennsylvania developed a sliding scale to assist in the assessment of whether a
defendant’s operation of a website amounts to purposeful availment. See Zippo
Mfg. Co., 952 F. Supp. at 1124. The Sixth Circuit has applied that scale in
assessing purpose availament. See Neogen, 282 F.3d at 890. Because the Court is
not definitively ruling on the purposeful availment question, and because the Court
would decline to assert personal jurisdiction over the Post even if the Post had
purposefully availed itself of the privilege of doing business in Michigan, the Court
need not undertake a Zippo analysis of the Post’s website.
Operating, L.P., 134 F.3d 1269, 1275 (6th Cir. 1998) (quotation marks omitted).
Dr. Huizenga alleges just such a connection. He alleges that on three separate
occasions, the Post sent libelous articles about him to its Michigan print
subscribers. Quite simply, he alleges that the Post libeled him in Michigan, and his
claims seek recovery for, among other things, injuries that he suffered here. Dr.
Huizenga’s libel claim thus arises out of the Post’s contacts with this forum.
Dr. Huizenga has failed to satisfy the third prong of the Southern Machine
test because he has not shown that the Post has a “substantial enough connection
with [Michigan] to make the exercise of jurisdiction … reasonable.” Southern
Machine, 401 F.2d at 381. “This [third] requirement exists because minimum
requirements inherent in the concept of fair play and substantial justice may defeat
the reasonableness of jurisdiction even if the defendant has purposefully engaged
in forum activities.”
Air Products and Controls, 503 F.3d at 554 (internal
quotation marks omitted). That is true here.
“Generally, when considering whether it is reasonable to exercise personal
jurisdiction over a non-resident defendant, a court must consider several factors
including the following: (1) the burden on the defendant; (2) the interest of the
forum state; (3) the plaintiff’s interest in obtaining relief; and (4) other states’
interest in securing the most efficient resolution of the controversy.” Intera Corp.
v. Henderson, 428 F.3d 605, 618 (6th Cir. 2005). While these four factors are
important guides (which the Court applies below), in a libel/defamation case
against a publication, the reasonableness analysis “must start with Keeton v.
Hustler Magazine, Inc., 465 U.S. 770 (1984).” Basile v. Prometheus Global Media,
LLC, 2016 WL 2987004, at *3 (N.D. Ill. May 24, 2016).
In Keeton, a New York plaintiff brought a defamation action in a New
Hampshire court against Hustler Magazine, Inc. (“Hustler”), an Ohio corporation
that had its principal place of business in California. The Supreme Court held that
Hustler was subject to personal jurisdiction in New Hampshire because it regularly
sold “thousands of magazines” – between 10,000-15,000 per month – in that state.
Keeton, 465 U.S. at 774. The court found it reasonable to subject Hustler to
personal jurisdiction in New Hampshire given that the magazine had a national
focus and was widely sold in New Hampshire:
Where, as in this case, respondent Hustler Magazine,
Inc., has continuously and deliberately exploited the New
Hampshire market, it must reasonably anticipate being
haled into court there in a libel action based on the
contents of its magazine. And, since respondent can be
charged with knowledge of the ‘single publication rule,’
it must anticipate that such a suit will seek nationwide
damages. Respondent produces a national publication
aimed at a nationwide audience. There is no unfairness
in calling it to answer for the contents of that publication
wherever a substantial number of copies are regularly
sold and distributed.
Id. at 781 (internal citation omitted; emphasis added).
The Courts of Appeals have uniformly concluded that “Keeton jurisdiction
demands substantial circulation,” Fielding v. Hubert Burda Media, Inc., 415 F.3d
419, 425 (5th Cir. 2005) (emphasis added), and they have consistently rejected
efforts to assert personal jurisdiction over libel defendants in forums where their
circulation falls well below the 10,000-15,000 copies that Hustler distributed in
Keeton. For instance, in Fielding, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth
Circuit held that Keeton jurisdiction was “lacking” over two magazine publishers
who distributed sixty and seventy issues per week, respectively, in the forum. Id.
Likewise, in Chaiken v. VV Pub. Corp., 119 F.3d 1018, 1029 (2d Cir. 1997), the
United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit held under Keeton that a
libel defendant’s circulation of 183 issues per week did not “constitute the
‘substantial number of copies’ that ma[de] it fair to exercise jurisdiction over [the]
non-resident publisher.” Finally, in Noonan, supra, the United States Court of
Appeals for the First Circuit said that a publisher’s circulation of 305 magazines in
the forum state was not “sufficient to support jurisdiction” under Keeton. Noonan,
135 F.3d at 91.
Here, the Post’s circulation in Michigan falls far below Keeton’s
substantiality requirement. The Post has only ten print subscribers in Michigan,
and approximately 227 additional Michigan residents purchase a digital edition of
the Post from third party providers. This entry into the Michigan market is de
minimis and closely resembles the publication levels deemed insufficient to satisfy
Keeton’s fairness threshold in Fielding, Chaiken, and Noonan. See also Scherr v.
Abrahams, 1998 WL 299678 (N.D. Ill. May 29, 1998) (holding that sixty
subscribers did not satisfy Keeton’s requirement of substantial circulation).
Dr. Huizenga has not cited a single case in which any federal court has held
that Keeton permits the assertion of personal jurisdiction over a publication with
the small number of subscribers and/or sales in the forum state that the Post has
here. When asked during the hearing to identify the most similar case in which a
court has found the assertion of personal jurisdiction over an out-of-state
publication to be reasonable, counsel for Dr. Huizenga identified Keeton, itself.
Counsel further implied that the case for asserting personal jurisdiction over the
Post here is actually stronger than the case for jurisdiction over Hustler in Keeton
because the Post’s articles arose, in part, from its contact with a Michigan resident
The Court does not share Dr. Huizenga’s view of Keeton. That decision is
materially distinguishable. Hustler sold its magazine to at least 10,000 readers in
New Hampshire; the Post is sold to less than 250 subscribers in Michigan.5 And
One could argue that because the Supreme Court in Keeton considered the
number of Hustler copies sold in New Hampshire each month, this Court should
likewise tally up the number of copies of the Post sold in Michigan each month.
That number would be roughly 7,000 (10 print editions each day and 227 digital
editions each day), and it would begin to approach the 10,000 copies per month
the Supreme Court in Keeton added that Hustler’s status as a “national publication
aimed at a nationwide audience” made it reasonable to require Hustler “to answer
for the contents of [its] publication wherever a substantial number of copies are
regularly sold and distributed.” Keeton, 465 U.S. at 781. The Post, in contrast, is
not a national publication.6 It covers subjects that “appeal to the Post’s primarily
New York-based readership.” (Racano Decl. at ¶7, ECF #14-2 at 2, Pg. ID 119.)
that the Supreme Court found sufficient to support jurisdiction in Keeton. But this
Court does not read Keeton as rigidly requiring lower courts to use copies-permonth as the relevant metric. The Supreme Court in Keeton used the monthly
sales figure because Hustler was a monthly publication, and in that circumstance,
the number of copies sold per month was a fair proxy for Hustler’s intentional
penetration into the New Hampshire market. Here, in contrast, the Post is a daily
publication, and the more relevant metric for measuring the Post’s intentional
penetration into the Michigan market is the number of copies sold per day.
Finally, the Court declines Dr. Huizenga’s invitation to consider as part of its
Keeton reasonableness analysis the number of visits to the Post’s website by
Michigan residents. Keeton is focused on the extent to which the defendant
publication intentionally enters the forum market, and the Post does not
intentionally enter the Michigan market when Michigan residents visit its web
page. Dr. Huizenga has not cited any case in which any court has considered page
views from a website as part of a Keeton analysis.
The decision in Basile, supra, illustrates the important role that a publication’s
target audience may play in the Keeton reasonableness analysis. The Illinois
federal court in Basile held that Keeton permitted the assertion of personal
jurisdiction over a California publisher that distributed 1,300 copies of an
allegedly-libelous article in Illinois. The court stressed that it could reasonably
assert jurisdiction over the publisher because the publisher touted its efforts to
reach “industry moguls, A-list celebrities and consumer[s] influential in
metropolitan areas from coast to coast.” Basile, 2016 WL 2987004 at *4 and n. 1
(emphasis added). The court deemed the assertion of jurisdiction to be a
reasonable “quid pro quo” for the publisher’s intentional targeting of influential
readers in Chicago. Id. at *4. Here, the Post’s target audience is not in Michigan,
and the Post nowhere touts its successful entry into the Michigan market.
Finally, that the Post obtained information from Gwynn does not make the
assertion of jurisdiction over the Post any more reasonable under Keeton. Nothing
in Keeton suggests that a publication subjects itself to personal jurisdiction in a
forum in which it has de minimis circulation by gathering information from a
source in that forum. And here, Gwynn’s Michigan residence adds nothing to the
reasonableness analysis because it is fortuitous. The Post did not contact Gwynn
because she resided here, and, indeed, her state of residence was immaterial to the
Post. Simply put, the Post could not reasonably anticipate being haled into a
Michigan court on the ground that it spoke to a source who happened to live in
Michigan. Keeton does not support the assertion of personal jurisdiction over the
In addition to failing to satisfy Keeton’s reasonableness standard, Dr.
Huizenga has failed to show that the assertion of jurisdiction over the Post would
be reasonable under the Sixth Circuit’s four-part test set forth above.7 Indeed, the
The Court recognizes that where the first two prongs of the Southern Machine
test are satisfied, “an inference arises” that it would be reasonable to assert
personal jurisdiction over the defendant. See CompuServe, 89 F.3d at 1268.
Because this Court has not found that the Post purposefully availed itself of the
privilege of doing business in Michigan, the inference of reasonableness does not
arise. But even if this inference arose, the Court would still find the assertion of
personal jurisdiction over the Post to be unreasonable – both because the Keeton
reasonableness test is not satisfied and because the four reasonableness factors
applied above weigh heavily against the assertion of personal jurisdiction.
balance of these factors weigh against a finding that it would be reasonable to
subject the Post to personal jurisdiction here.
First, litigating in Michigan would impose a meaningful burden on the Post.
It has no offices and no employees here. (See Racano Decl. at ¶5, ECF #14-2 at 3,
Pg. ID 119.) Its lead counsel is not here. The bulk of its evidence and witnesses
are not here. And its home base is several hundred miles away. For these reasons,
it would be inconvenient, costly, and inefficient for the Post to litigate here, and
those burdens weigh against a finding of reasonableness.8 See Intera Corp., 428
F.3d at 618 (holding that defendant “would be substantially burdened” if forced to
litigate in a state in which he did not reside).
The obvious question here is: how can the Court find that litigating in Michigan
would impose a substantial burden on the Post in light of the fact that the Post has
asked the Court, as an alternative to dismissal, to transfer the case to California?
Stated another way: Isn’t the Post’s willingness to litigate this dispute in the United
States District Court for the Central District of California – which is over 2,000
miles further from its home base than is this Court – a clear indication that
litigating here would not unduly burden the Post? There are two answers to these
questions. First (and most importantly), the Post’s request to transfer this case to
California is not an admission that litigating in California would not be
burdensome. Rather, it is an acknowledgement that under Calder, supra, the Post
could reasonably be required to bear the burdens of litigating in California because,
among other things, the Post’s stories concerned the California activities of a
California resident; allegedly injured that California resident in his home state; and
were arguably aimed, at least to some extent, toward California. (See discussion of
Calder, infra at Section IV(C)). Second, although California is further from New
York than Michigan, there appears to be a substantial likelihood that much of the
relevant evidence and many of the key witnesses are located in California, and the
proximity of those witnesses and location of that evidence, at least in some
respects, makes California a more convenient (and less burdensome) forum for the
Second, while Michigan may have some interest in adjudicating Dr.
Huizenga’s claims, it is not an especially strong interest. For instance, Michigan
may have an interest in protecting non-residents from reputational harm here, see
Keeton, 465 U.S. at 776-77, but Dr. Huizenga’s reputation is centered in California
and that is where he suffered the “brunt” of his alleged injuries. See Calder, 465
U.S. at 789. Likewise, Michigan may have an interest in protecting its citizens
from being misled by libelous falsehoods, see Keeton, 465 U.S. at 776, but the Post
directed the allegedly-false statements to a very small number of Michigan
On balance, this factor weighs slightly in favor of a finding of
Third, Dr. Huizenga has not shown that his interest in obtaining relief in
Michigan weighs in favor of asserting jurisdiction over the Post here. If this Court
were to decline to assert jurisdiction over the Post, Dr. Huizenga could sue the Post
in his home state and his home town. Dr. Huizenga has not persuaded the Court
that a federal court in California is any less capable than this Court of awarding
any and all relief to which he may be entitled. This factor weighs against a
conclusion that asserting personal jurisdiction over the Post here is reasonable.
Finally, California has a far stronger interest than Michigan in resolving the
controversy between the Post and Dr. Huizenga because the primary alleged
injuries suffered by Dr. Huizenga occurred in California. Indeed, Dr. Huizenga
claims that he suffered serious reputational damage with numerous key players in
the entertainment industry, and California is widely recognized as the “center” of
that industry. Sinatra v. National Enquirer, Inc., 854 F.2d 119, 1202 (9th Cir.
1988). Likewise, he claims that the Post injured his relationship with current and
potential patients whom he treats or would treat at his clinic in California. This
final factor supports a finding that asserting personal jurisdiction over the Post here
would be unreasonable.
When the Court balances each of the four reasonableness factors, it
concludes that asserting personal jurisdiction over the Post would be unreasonable.
For that reason and because the assertion of personal jurisdiction over the Post
would be unreasonable under Keeton, this Court must dismiss Dr. Huizenga’s
claims against the Post.
Dr. Huizenga briefly argues in a footnote that even if the Post is not subject
to personal jurisdiction under the Keeton reasonableness standard, it is subject to
personal jurisdiction under the so-called “effects test” adopted by the Supreme
Court in Calder, supra. (See Dr. Huizenga Br. at 15-16 n. 5, ECF #18 at 24-25, Pg.
ID 201-02.) The Court disagrees.
In Calder, the actress Shirley Jones, a California resident, sued the writers
and editors of The National Enquirer magazine, who were Florida residents, for
libel in a California court. The Supreme Court concluded that the California court
had personal jurisdiction over the Florida-based defendants.
It reached this
conclusion because, among other things,
[t]he allegedly libelous story concerned the California
activities of a California resident. It impugned the
professionalism of an entertainer whose television career
was centered in California. The article was drawn from
California sources, and the brunt of the harm, in terms
both of respondent's emotional distress and the injury to
her professional reputation, was suffered in California. In
sum, California is the focal point both of the story and of
the harm suffered. Jurisdiction over petitioners is
therefore proper in California based on the “effects” of
their Florida conduct in California.
Calder, 465 U.S at 788-89.
“The Sixth Circuit, as well as other circuits, have narrowed the application
of the Calder ‘effects test.’” Air Products and Controls, 503 F.3d at 552 (citing
When applying Calder, the Sixth Circuit focuses on whether “the
defendant ‘expressly aimed’ tortious conduct at the forum in question and the
‘brunt of the harm’ is felt there.” Carrier Corp. v. Outokumpu Oyj, 673 F.3d 430,
451 (6th Cir. 2012).
Dr. Huizenga has not satisfied either of these requirements. The Post did not
“expressly aim” its stories at this forum. While its stories did include quotes from
Gwynn, a Michigan resident, the stories never mention the State of Michigan, and
they did not concern any actions by Dr. Huizenga in Michigan. Nor did Dr.
Huizenga suffer the “the brunt” of his alleged harm here. As described above, Dr.
Huizenga is a Los Angeles-based physician who, in addition to running a weightloss clinic in southern California, acts as a consultant to multiple television shows
and movies that are based in California. He has not shown that his reputation or
“career [is] centered” in this state. Calder, 465 U.S at 788-89.
circumstances, Calder does not permit the Court to assert personal jurisdiction
over the Post. See, e.g., Reynolds v. International Amateur Athletic Federation, 23
F.3d 1110, 1120 (6th Cir. 1994) (declining to exercise jurisdiction based on Calder
effects test where allegedly defamatory press release concerned conduct outside
the forum state, the plaintiff’s reputation was centered outside of the forum state,
and the forum state was not the focal point of the press release); Cadle Company v.
Schlichtmann, 123 Fed. App’x 675, 679 (6th Cir. 2005) (declining to exercise
jurisdiction under Calder where publication “did not concern … [forum state]
activities” and was not “directed at [forum state] readers, as opposed to the
residents of other states”); Revell v. Lidov, 317 F.3d 467, 473 (5th Cir. 2002)
(declining to exercise jurisdiction and finding Calder distinguishable because
allegedly defamatory article “contain[ed] no reference to [the forum state], nor
[did] it refer to the [forum state] activities of [the plaintiff], and it was not directed
at [forum state] readers as distinguished from readers in other states”).
Because the Court has concluded that it lacks personal jurisdiction over the
Post, it cannot address the Post’s alternative request to transfer this action to the
United States District Court for the Central District of California pursuant to 28
U.S.C. § 1404(a). See Pittock v. Otis Elevator Company, 8 F.3d 325, 329 (6th Cir.
1993) (“[A] transfer under section 1404(a) may not be granted when the district
court does not have personal jurisdiction over [a] defendant”). Likewise, the
Court declines to rule on Gwynn’s joinder in that request. (See ECF #15.)
For the reasons stated above, IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that the Post’s
Motion to Dismiss (ECF #14) is GRANTED.
All claims Dr. Huizenga has
brought against the Post are DISMISSED WITHOUT PREJUDICE.
IT IS SO ORDERED.
Dated: December 21, 2016
s/Matthew F. Leitman
MATTHEW F. LEITMAN
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
I hereby certify that a copy of the foregoing document was served upon the
parties and/or counsel of record on December 21, 2016, by electronic means and/or
s/Holly A. Monda
Disclaimer: Justia Dockets & Filings provides public litigation records from the federal appellate and district courts. These filings and docket sheets should not be considered findings of fact or liability, nor do they necessarily reflect the view of Justia.
Why Is My Information Online?