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Friday, May 18, 2012
Thoughts on Vilma v. Goodell: Personal Jurisdiction and Sports

Having read through Jonathan Vilma's defamation complaint against Roger Goodell, my first thought (Mike's thoughts are here) is that there is an interesting potential personal jurisdiction issue here. And its resolution may depend, ironically, on Roger Clemens' defamation action against Brian McNamee.

Vilma sued in Louisiana, where he works but does not live, over comments that Goodell made in several press releases written and issued in New York about the bounty program, which largely took place or came out of Louisiana, statements that Goodell intended and expected to be disseminated publicly and, presumably, nationally. In Clemens, Clemens sued McNamee in Texas over statements McNamee made to the Mitchell Commission and Sports Illustrated in New York about conduct occurring in New York and Toronto. The Fifth Circuit (which also includes Louisiana) held there was no personal jurisdiction over McNamee because he did not target his statements at Texas. He was speaking in New York about non-Texas events and had no control over where the statements ultimately were disseminated. The majority never really considered whether he knew or intended his statements would be published in Texas.

If Goodell does challenge jurisdiction, Vilma must overcome Clemens. A few distinctions leap out, suggesting there is jurisdiction here, accepting the facts in the complaint as true. First, Goodell's statements, although made in New York, concern conduct occurring in Louisiana, so his statements were "directed" at Louisiana more than McNamee's were at Texas. Second, it could be argued that Goodell was more in control of the ultimate dissemination of his statements (since he knows national media, including media in Louisiana, will report his every word) than McNamee was in talking to a reporter from Sports Illustrated. Third, the lawsuit targets not only Goodell's press releases, but also reports he sent to all 32 teams about the investigation and findings; one of the teams to receive that report, of course, is the Saints, in Louisiana. Goodell had more affirmative control over the publication of his comments, including their entering the forum state.

Still, it is another nice Civ Pro hypo jumping from the world of sport.


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