The Maryland court decided that the Daily Mail, a UK-based publication, had insufficient connections to Maryland to permit a lawsuit against it there. Therefore, there was a lack of personal jurisdiction.
Personal jurisdiction is often the opening skirmish in a defamation claim. Plaintiffs like to bring claims either in libel-friendly jurisdictions, or at least in jurisdictions close to home. In the United States, plaintiffs try to avoid states with Anti-SLAPP laws, for example. Or, they just try to burden the defendant with long-distance litigation.
When a plaintiff brings a case in the defendant's home state, there is no question about jurisdiction. But, when the plaintiff picks a fight elsewhere, the court has to look at whether the defendant has enough contact with that state. Insufficient contacts mean no jurisdiction. Sometimes, however, it is enough for a plaintiff to argue that they should be able to sue in their home state, because they live there, the defamer knew they lived there, and the effects of the defamation were felt there. Other times, that just isn't enough.
In this case, I wasn't ever quite sure why Melania chose to sue in Maryland. She lives in New York, which has no Anti-SLAPP law. Further, the UK has very plaintiff-friendly defamation laws. Essentially, that "open up the libel laws" thing that Donald said? That's already how it is in the United Kingdom.
Now, we need to ask whether Melania gives up, re-files in New York, or re-files in London. If I were her attorney, I'd say to bring it to the front doors of the Daily Mail. The UK lets celebrity plaintiffs stand on the same footing as anyone else. On the other hand, in New York, she's going to have to overcome the "actual malice" standard as laid out by New York Times v. Sullivan.
Marc Randazza is the national president of the First Amendment Lawyers Association
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