20 F.3d 644 (5th Cir. 1994), 93-1907, Wilson v. Belin

Docket Nº:93-1907
Citation:20 F.3d 644
Party Name:Thomas W. WILSON, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. David W. BELIN and G. Robert Blakey, Defendants-Appellees.
Case Date:May 13, 1994
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit

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20 F.3d 644 (5th Cir. 1994)

Thomas W. WILSON, Plaintiff-Appellant,


David W. BELIN and G. Robert Blakey, Defendants-Appellees.

No. 93-1907

United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit

May 13, 1994

Rehearing Denied June 9, 1994.

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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D. Bradley Kizzia, Strasburger & Price, Dallas, TX, for plaintiff-appellant.

Thomas C. McGraw, Alan R. Richey, and Robert D. Sack, Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, Dallas, TX, for Belin.

Kirte M. Kinser, McGuire, Craddock, Strother & Lutes, Dallas, TX, for Blakley.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas.

Before JOLLY, WIENER, and EMILIO M. GARZA, Circuit Judges.

E. GRADY JOLLY, Circuit Judge:

The question presented in this case is whether a federal district court sitting in Texas has personal jurisdiction over two out-of-state defendants. In fact, none of the parties are Texas residents. The plaintiff, a Pennsylvania resident, filed this defamation suit in Texas state court against an Indiana resident and an Iowa resident. The genesis of this lawsuit is in a speech the plaintiff made in Dallas concerning the Kennedy assassination. A Dallas reporter telephoned the defendants in Indiana and Iowa, respectively, for a response to the speech. The reporter then purportedly quoted the defendants' reactions in a newspaper article. The plaintiff claims that the defendants' negative remarks libeled him in Texas. After removal, the federal district court dismissed the case for lack of personal jurisdiction. We affirm.


The plaintiff, Thomas W. Wilson, is a Pennsylvania resident, who used photographic image processing technology in his job as an engineer for U.S. Steel Corporation. Wilson began applying certain imaging technology--on his own time--to photographs of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Wilson claimed that his computer enhancements revealed a second gunman on the "grassy knoll" and revealed that a photograph of Lee Harvey Oswald with a rifle had been tampered with. On November 15, 1991, Wilson spoke at a symposium in Dallas, Texas, on the Kennedy assassination and presented his "revelations."

During the symposium, Mark Potok, a reporter for the Dallas Times Herald, telephoned Robert Blakey, who served as chief counsel and staff director of the House Select Committee on Assassinations, to discuss Wilson's conclusions. The reporter also called David Belin, who served as assistant counsel to the Warren Commission to discuss Wilson's comments. Both Blakey and Belin received the calls in their respective states of residence--Indiana and Iowa.

On November 16, 1991, the Dallas Times Herald published an article written by Mr. Potok that quoted Mr. Blakey as saying, "You know the saying among computer people, 'Garbage in, garbage out?' This is garbage." The article quoted Mr. Belin as saying, "It's a series of massive lies. The man is basically making an outrageous claim."


On September 3, 1992, Wilson filed a bill of discovery in Texas state court to depose Potok to determine if he misquoted Blakey and Belin before instituting suit against them. On November 13, Wilson filed a defamation suit against Blakey and Belin in Texas state court. The suit and the original petition were received by the Texas Secretary of State, as agents for the nonresidents, on November 23. On December 22, Blakey and Belin filed a joint notice of removal citing diversity of citizenship.

On September 2, 1993, the district court granted Blakey and Wilson's motion to dismiss the case on the grounds that the court lacked specific and general personal jurisdiction over them. Wilson filed this appeal.


In a diversity suit, a federal court has personal jurisdiction over a nonresident defendant to the same extent that a state court in that forum has such jurisdiction. Bullion v. Gillespie, 895 F.2d 213, 215 (5th Cir.1990); Fed.R.Civ.P. 4(e). The reach of this jurisdiction is delimited by: (1) the state's long-arm statute; and (2) the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment

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to the federal Constitution. Bullion, 895 F.2d at 215. Because the Texas long-arm statute extends to the limits of federal due process, 1 our two-step inquiry is reduced to an analysis of whether requiring Blakey and Belin to defend a defamation suit in Texas would impinge on their individual liberty interests--not to be subjected to suits in a distant forum with which they have little connection--that are protected by the Due Process Clause. 2 See Insurance Corp. of Ireland v. Compagnie des Bauxites de Guinee, 456 U.S. 694, 702 n. 10, 102 S.Ct. 2099, 2104 n. 10, 72 L.Ed.2d 492 (1982) (stating that the restriction on state power to subject a nonresident to suit is "ultimately a function of the individual liberty interest preserved by the Due Process Clause").

The exercise of personal jurisdiction over a nonresident will not violate due process principles if two requirements are met. First, the nonresident defendant must have purposefully availed himself of the benefits and protections of the forum state by establishing "minimum contacts" with that forum state. International Shoe Co. v. Washington, 326 U.S. 310, 316, 66 S.Ct. 154, 158, 90 L.Ed. 95 (1945); Bullion, 895 F.2d at 216. And second, the exercise of jurisdiction over the nonresident defendant must not offend "traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice." Asahi Metal Indus. Co. v. Superior Court, 480 U.S. 102, 113, 107 S.Ct. 1026, 1033, 94 L.Ed.2d 92 (1987) (citing International Shoe, 326 U.S. at 316, 66 S.Ct. at 158).

The "minimum contacts" prong of the inquiry may be further subdivided into contacts that give rise to "specific" personal jurisdiction and those that give rise to "general" personal jurisdiction. Specific jurisdiction is appropriate when the nonresident defendant's contacts with the forum state arise from, or are directly related to, the cause of action. Helicopteros Nacionales de Colombia, S.A. v. Hall, 466 U.S. 408, 414 n. 8, 104 S.Ct. 1868, 1872 n. 8, 80 L.Ed.2d 404 (1984); Bullion, 895 F.2d at 216. General jurisdiction, however, will attach, even if the nonresident defendant's contacts with the forum state are not directly related to the cause of action, if the defendant's contacts with the forum state are both "continuous and systematic." Helicopteros, 466 U.S. at 414 n. 9, 104 S.Ct. at 1872 n. 9; Bullion, 895 F.2d at 216.

If a nonresident defendant has sufficient related or unrelated minimum contacts with the forum, we must then consider whether the "fairness" prong of the jurisdictional inquiry is satisfied. See Asahi, 480 U.S. at 105, 107 S.Ct. at 1033; Bullion, 895 F.2d at 216. The Supreme Court has stated that the "fairness" of requiring a nonresident to defend a suit in a distant forum is a function of several factors, including the "interests of the forum State." 3 Asahi, 480 U.S. at 113, 107 S.Ct. at 1033.


When the facts are not in dispute, we review de novo a district court's determination

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that its exercise of personal jurisdiction over a nonresident defendant is proper. Bullion, 895 F.2d at 216. "When a nonresident defendant presents a motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction, the plaintiff bears the burden of establishing the district court's jurisdiction over the nonresident." Stuart v. Spademan, 772 F.2d 1185, 1192 (5th Cir.1985). When the district court rules on the motion without an evidentiary hearing, the plaintiff may bear his burden by presenting a prima facie case that personal jurisdiction is proper. Thompson v. Chrysler Motors Corp., 755 F.2d 1162, 1165 (5th Cir.1985). "Moreover, on a motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction, uncontroverted allegations in the plaintiff's complaint must be taken as true, and conflicts between the facts contained in the parties' affidavits must be resolved in the plaintiff's favor for purposes of determining whether a prima facie case for personal jurisdiction exists." Bullion, 895 F.2d at 217 (quoting D.J. Investments, Inc. v. Metzeler Motorcycle Tire Agent Gregg, Inc., 754 F.2d 542, 545 (5th Cir.1985)).


Wilson first argues that the district court had specific personal jurisdiction over Blakey and Belin because each of them spoke with a Texas newspaper reporter and thus reasonably could foresee that their defamatory comments would be published in Texas and injure Wilson's reputation in Texas. Wilson argues that Calder v. Jones, 465 U.S. 783, 789, 104 S.Ct. 1482, 1487, 79 L.Ed.2d 804 (1984) clearly stands for the proposition that whenever the effects of libel by a nonresident are felt in the forum state, specific jurisdiction exists. We believe Wilson reads Calder too broadly. 4

In Calder, 465 U.S. at 788-90, 104 S.Ct. at 1486-87, a reporter for a Florida publication researched a story in California, wrote a story about a California resident whose career was centered in California, and provided that story to his (the defendant reporter's) employer, which had a substantial portion of its national circulation in California. The Court stated that the defendants' (the reporter's and his editor's) "actions were expressly aimed at California" because they wrote and edited "an article that they knew would have a potentially devastating impact upon [the plaintiff in California]." Id. at 789, 104 S.Ct. at 1487. In the instant case, however, neither Blakey nor Belin did any preparation for a story to defame the plaintiff. They did not even write or devise a story. They did no research regarding Wilson's theory in Texas or elsewhere. Furthermore, there is no indication that these defendants were paid for their comments, that their comments were part of a planned business venture, or that such unsolicited comments served any role in advancing their business careers. Finally, the plaintiff, Wilson, is not a Texas resident and his career is not centered there. Thus, the dispositive facts in...

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