ST. LOUIS (CN) – The 8th Circuit gave an Arkansas law professor who once worked for former Sen. Mike DeWine the opportunity to make his case that the Arkansas courts had jurisdiction over his defamation claim against publisher Hyperion Books over a sexually explicit novel based on the Web diary of fellow staff member, Jessica Cutler. more
Her blog, called “The Washingtonienne,” chronicled Cutler’s sexual encounters with plaintiff Robert Steinbuch, now a law professor at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, and other lovers. She never named Steinbuch, but referred to him by the initials “RS,” and at least once called him “Rob.” She also identified where he worked and wrote that she thought he “looks just like George Clooney when he takes his glasses off,” according to the ruling.
About a year after she launched the blog – which gained “particular notoriety” in Washington – Cutler wrote a novel based on its content, also called “The Washingtonienne.” The fictionalized account, published by Hyperion, “describes a young woman’s trysts with numerous men in Washington, D.C., including a Congressional committee staff member,” the ruling states.
In 2006 Steinbuch filed an invasion-of-privacy suit against Cutler, Hyperion, parent company Disney Publishing Worldwide, Time Warner and HBO, which secured an option to turn the book into a television series.
Steinbuch acknowledged that he had a sexual relationship with Cutler, but objected to her description of “some of his alleged sexual preferences and practices, including spanking and use of handcuffs,” the opinion states.
U.S. District Judge Bill Wilson Jr. dismissed the lawsuit for lack of jurisdiction, saying defendants did not have adequate ties to Arkansas.
The 8th Circuit affirmed the court’s dismissal order, except as it applied to Hyperion. The publisher argued that it doesn’t have a bank account, registered agent, corporate office or real estate in Arkansas, while Steinbuch produced a list of about 30 different Hyperion books available in one Arkansas bookstore and an affidavit declaring that Cutler’s novel is available at all major bookstores in the state, as well as the public library system.
Wilson’s dismissal emphasized the relatively small number of sales of “The Washingtonienne” in Arkansas and the lack of any substantial advertising there. But the appeals court, after reviewing “Hyperion’s general presence” in the state, ruled that the lower court should not have dismissed Steinbuch’s action against the publisher without allowing him to take some “jurisdictional discovery to establish whether general personal jurisdiction would be justified.”