(CN) – A Virginia man can be sued in Ohio for allegedly defaming an Ohio auto parts maker on three auto-racing websites and eBay, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled.
Ohio-based Kauffman Racing Equipment makes engine blocks and high-performance auto equipment. Scott Roberts of Virginia ordered an engine block from Kauffman on behalf of Central Virginia Machine.
Roberts complained after eight months that the engine block was defective. Kauffman offered to buy it back if it agreed that the engine was defective, but Kauffman found that Roberts had modified the engine and blamed those changes for the engine problems.
Roberts proceeded to criticize Kauffman on three auto-racing websites and eBay: “[T]he service you would get from Steve Kauffman of K&M performance is less than honorable,” he wrote. “I brought the issues to his attention and he basically gave me the middle finger salute.” In another post he wrote, “Now, I have and have had since the day the block was delivered a USELESS BLOCK.”
Kauffman Racing Equipment sued Roberts for defamation and lost, as the trial court said it lacked jurisdiction over Roberts, a Virginia resident. The appeals court reversed, and the Ohio Supreme Court agreed that Ohio courts have jurisdiction over this case.
“Roberts contends that the Ohio long-arm statute does not confer personal jurisdiction because he did not direct the alleged tortious statements to Ohio or publish them here,” Justice Paul Pfeifer wrote. “Despite the fact that Roberts’ publication of his comments did not emanate from Ohio, those comments were received in Ohio. KRE submitted evidence that at least five Ohio residents had seen the comments posted by Roberts.”
The court added: “We decline to allow a nonresident defendant to take advantage of the conveniences that modern technology affords and simultaneously be shielded from the consequences of his intentionally tortious conduct.”
Justice Terrence O’Donnell dissented, joined by Justice Judith Lanzinger.
“By merely posting to general websites, Roberts neither deliberately engaged in significant activities within Ohio nor purposefully directed his activities at an Ohio resident sufficient to establish minimum contacts and satisfy due process — regardless of his intent,” O’Donnell wrote.