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Vachani v. Yakovlev

United States District Court, N.D. California, San Francisco Division

July 5, 2017

STEVEN SURAJ VACHANI, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
ARTHUR YAKOVLEV, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER DENYING DEFAULT JUDGMENT & CLOSING CASE RE: ECF NO. 52

          LAUREL BEELER United States Magistrate Judge.

         INTRODUCTION

         This internet-defamation case is before the court on the plaintiffs‘ renewed motion for default judgment.[1] This is the plaintiffs‘ fourth such motion. The court denied their first three motions because the plaintiffs had not shown that this court could constitutionally exercise personal jurisdiction over the defendants, who appear to be residents of Brazil.[2] The court has also expressed doubt about whether the plaintiffs could establish either of their claims (for libel and false light) against defendant Peres.[3] Under Eitel v. McCool, 782 F.2d 1470, 1471-72 (9th Cir. 1986), the latter failing would hamper the plaintiffs‘ bid to obtain a default judgment against Ms. Peres.[4] The court can decide this motion without oral argument. See Civil L.R. § 7-1(b).

         The court again denies the plaintiffs‘ motion. The court‘s previous analysis stands - and, with the additional comments made below, the court again adopts its earlier reasoning here.[5] (The court assumes that the reader is familiar with those prior orders.) The plaintiffs still have not shown that the defendants "purposefully directed" their conduct toward this forum within the meaning of governing jurisdictional doctrine. More specifically, they have not adequately shown that the defendants "expressly aimed" their conduct toward a known resident of California within the meaning of the "effects test" derived from Calder v. Jones, 465 U.S. 783 (1984). If the facts do show "purposeful direction, " they do so only minimally; the court still concludes that asserting personal jurisdiction over the defendants "would not comport with fair play and substantial justice." See Schwarzenegger v. Fred Martin Motor Co., 374 F.3d 797, 801-02 (9th Cir. 2004) (quoting Int'l Shoe Co. v. Washington, 326 U.S. 310, 316 (1945)). This is especially true with respect to defendant Peres. For that ultimate reason the court would still deny the default-judgment motion.

         Furthermore - considering the "merits of [their] substantive claims" and the "sufficiency of the complaint, " Eitel, 782 F.2d at 1471-72 - the plaintiffs still seem unlikely to prove libel or false light against Ms. Peres. This too cuts against granting a default judgment against her. See id.

         ANALYSIS

         The plaintiffs‘ latest motion puts a new emphasis on the defendants‘ knowledge. Specifically, the plaintiffs again point out that, as their former employee, defendant Yakovlev would likely know that Mr. Vachani resides in California. It is therefore reasonable (the plaintiffs say) to conclude both that Mr. Yakovlev "expressly aimed" his online gripes at someone whom he knew to be a California resident, and that he knew that he would likely cause harm in this state.[6]

         The court has already mostly addressed this issue. It has found Mr. Yakovlev‘s inferred knowledge too lonely and slim a reed on which to hang transnational personal jurisdiction. In their latest motion, though, the plaintiffs point with new clarity and force to a Ninth Circuit decision that they say decides the issue in their favor. That case is CollegeSource, Inc. v. AcademyOne, Inc., 653 F.3d 1066 (9th Cir. 2011). The Ninth Circuit there wrote: "[T]he ‗express aiming‘ requirement [of Calder] . . . is satisfied when ‗the defendant is alleged to have engaged in wrongful conduct targeted at a plaintiff whom the defendant knows to be a resident of the forum state.‘" Id. at 1077 (emphasis added) (quoting Bancroft & Masters, Inc. v. Augusta Nat'l, Inc., 223 F.3d 1082, 1087 (9th Cir. 2000)).[7] That, in the plaintiffs‘ view, seals the jurisdictional analysis.

         The court understands the plaintiffs‘ argument. The court nevertheless concludes that it cannot apply CollegeSource so broadly.

         First, other appellate and district-court decisions in this circuit have read CollegeSource, and have applied the "express aiming" test, more restrictively. These cases cast doubt on whether CollegeSource enunciated quite so broad a rule. A court in this district has thus explained:

Despite [its] seemingly broad formulation, . . . CollegeSource did not give the defendant's knowledge of the plaintiff's residence dispositive weight, but rather concluded that [defendant] Academy One - a company that competed with CollegeSource "in the market to assist students and educational institutions with the college transfer process, " [CollegeSource] at *1 - had expressly aimed its conduct at the forum due to its alleged individual targeting of CollegeSource's California business and the fact that "CollegeSource and AcademyOne were direct competitors in a relatively small industry." Id. at *9.

Lang v. Morris, 823 F.Supp.2d 966, 973 (N.D. Cal. 2011) (emphases added). "Thus, " the Lang court concluded, "the full analysis in CollegeSource" is "entirely consistent" with earlier Ninth Circuit decisions that had taken a more stringent approach to "express aiming." Lang, 823 F.Supp.2d at 972-73 (discussing Love v. Associated Newspapers, Ltd., 611 F.3d 601 (9th Cir. 2010) and Brayton Purcell LLP v. Recordon & Recordon, 606 F.3d 1124 (9th Cir. 2010)). This court basically agrees with this aspect of Lang.

         Second, CollegeSource is factually different from this case. In CollegeSource there were more factual pillars on which to rest a firm decision that the defendant had expressly aimed at a known California resident. Thus, in distinguishing CollegeSource, a sister district usefully described CollegeSource's operative facts:

In CollegeSource, one website offering college referral services copied material from a [California] competitor‘s website and posted it on its own site. Prior to posting the material, the defendant made phone calls and sent emails and letters to the plaintiff seeking to purchase the copied material. The court found that these communications were a part of the defendant‘s efforts to obtain and make commercial use of the plaintiff‘s copyrighted material ...

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