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Shirlington Limousine & Transportation, Inc., et al. v. The San Diego Union-Tribune, et al.

The district court granted the defendant newspaper’s motion to dismiss a defamation claim for lack of personal jurisdiction, finding that the San Diego newspaper’s Washington, D.C., office existed solely for newsgathering and applying the newsgathering exception to the jurisdictional analysis.

The defendant reported in two articles that the plaintiff limousine company transported a congressman to meetings with prostitutes. The plaintiff sued for libel in federal court in the District of Columbia, claiming that the articles were false and that its business suffered after publication of the articles. The defendant argued that the court lacked jurisdiction over them because they did not conduct business in the District of Columbia and because its web site was geared to its San Diego readers.

The court first noted that the articles were researched and written entirely in San Diego and that only a single issue of the Tribune is mailed to an address in Washington, D.C. (to the Library of Congress). The defendant’s only physical presence in Washington, D.C., is an office that exists solely for newsgathering purposes. The court stated that courts in the District of Columbia have long recognized a newsgathering exception to ordinary methods of personal jurisdiction. This exception applies to agencies “whose presence in Washington consists of ‘mere collection of news material for use in subsequent publication elsewhere.’” The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit explained the need for a newsgathering exception: “As the seat of national government, Washington is the source of much news of national importance, which makes it desirable in the public interest that many newspapers should maintain vigilant correspondents here. If the employment of a Washington correspondent, the announcement of his address, and the payment of his office rent, subjects a nonresident newspaper corporation to legal process in Washington for matter appearing in its paper at home, it would bring in nearly every important newspaper in the nation, and many foreign publishing corporations.”

The court also held that it did not have general jurisdiction over the defendant by virtue of its web site because the site is geared towards San Diego residents: it provides local weather forecasts, reporting on local events, and web cams showing scenes in San Diego.