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Japanese Paper Ducks ‘Comfort Women’ Suit

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - A federal judge on Tuesday dismissed class action claims against a Japanese newspaper accused of defaming World War II comfort women by calling them "voluntary prostitutes."

U.S. District Judge William Alsup found one of Japan's largest media companies, Sankei Shimbum, lacks personal jurisdiction to be sued in California for allegedly defamatory articles printed in its Tokyo-based newspaper.

Hee Nam You and Kyng Soon Kim, two elderly Korean women who say they were kidnapped and made to serve as comfort women during the war, sued 19 defendants including the Japanese government and its prime minister in July.

The judge refused to rule on whether Sankei was properly served with notice of the lawsuit.

The newspaper claimed that an assistant manager who was served at Sankei's Washington D.C. office is not a managing agent and therefore could not be served with notice of the suit.

"It would be troubling to conclude that an overseas company could send employees to work in the United States and yet be immune to service of process here," Alsup stated in his 7-page ruling. "This prospect seems so unfair that this order will decline to rule on the service-of-process issue and will instead proceed to the personal jurisdiction challenge."

During a Nov. 19 hearing, Sankei attorney Stacie Kinser argued the plaintiffs cannot establish jurisdiction because Sankei has no significant presence in the United States.

Sankei employs six reporters at three news bureaus in the United States, including one in Los Angeles, according to Kinser and Alsup's ruling.

The plaintiffs argued that Sankei distributes 21 subscriptions of its newspaper through third parties in the United States and sells licensing rights to reprint articles to U.S.-based Japanese community newspapers.

In its 1996 ruling Gordy v. Daily News, the Ninth Circuit found the distribution of 13 copies of a newspaper in California was sufficient to establish jurisdiction to sue the publisher for printing defamatory statements about a California resident.

However, Alsup found the targets of alleged defamation in this case are residents of Korea and therefore lack jurisdiction to sue the newspaper in California.

Alsup said the fact that Sankei offers subscriptions over the Internet falls short of the standard to establish jurisdiction.

"'Mere advertisement or solicitation for sale of goods and services on the Internet' is not sufficient to subject a party to personal jurisdiction," Alsup wrote, citing the 1997 Ninth Circuit case Cybersell Inc. v. Cybersell Inc.

The plaintiffs also pointed to a report claiming Sankei's Washington office generates between $500,000 to $1 million per year, but the plaintiffs offered no evidence to show was a reliable source, Alsup stated.

He said the report, while hearsay, could have been used to justify a request for discovery to establish personal jurisdiction. However, during a Nov. 19 hearing, plaintiffs' attorney Hume Joseph Jung declined to request discovery.

The judge dismissed the claims against Sankei, the second defendant dismissed from the class action thus far.

Earlier this month, Alsup also dismissed a Japanese company Mitsui's U.S.-based subsidiary from the suit, finding the claims were barred by the statute of limitations and involved a "nonjusticiable" political question.

Other corporate defendants in the suit include Nissan, Toyota, Mitsubishi Group, Nippon Yusen Kabushiki Kaisha and their American subsidiaries.

The class action also lays blame on the Japanese government; its prime minister Shizno Abe; the former Japanese empire's minister of munitions, Nobuke Kishi; former Japanese Emperor Hirohito; and Hirohito's heir, Akihito.


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