The United States District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky recently granted a motion to dismiss a complaint brought by a group of Covington Catholic High School students relating to the 2019 events at the Lincoln Memorial. Faruki attorneys Steve Weigand and Jason Palmer successfully argued that a federal court sitting in Kentucky lacked personal jurisdiction over a non-resident private citizen who did nothing more than tweet about then-current events.
On January 19, 2019, the national news media publicized an encounter between a group of Covington Catholic students and a Native American man. The actual circumstances of those events have been thoroughly litigated in the media, and continue to be litigated in the courts. Immediately after the events, however, they received a variety of reactions from the news media, government officials, and private individuals.
In this case, a group of students filed a lawsuit against a New Jersey resident who posted, and then quickly deleted, a tweet about the news. The students brought a number of claims. Each was dismissed, however, as the Court determined that it could not exercise personal jurisdiction over a private citizen engaging in private speech in New Jersey.
The Court rejected the plaintiffs’ arguments that the Court had jurisdiction because the plaintiffs are Kentucky residents, finding that argument contrary to Supreme Court caselaw. In addition, the Court rejected plaintiffs’ argument that a court in Kentucky has personal jurisdiction in any case where a Kentucky resident alleges that he has been threatened. The Court said that even if the plaintiffs had been threatened, “which the Court doubts, it was not an ‘act’ in Kentucky for purposes of personal jurisdiction.” (Emphasis added.) The Court characterized the plaintiffs’ arguments as based on “flawed logic,” and with “no support in Kentucky law.” The Court held that personal jurisdiction over the defendant would violate both Kentucky law and the defendant’s Due Process rights under the United States Constitution.