Bensusan Restaurant Corp. v. King

126 F.3d 25 (1997)

Quick Summary

Bensusan Restaurant Corp. (plaintiff) owned a jazz club in New York named “Blue Note,” while Richard B. King (defendant) owned a Missouri cabaret with the same name. A legal dispute emerged over trademark rights after King referenced Bensusan’s club on his website.

The primary issue was whether New York had jurisdiction over King based on his website activities. The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit upheld the lower court’s decision that it did not, citing lack of a tortious act within New York and insufficient interstate commerce revenue from King’s business.

Facts of the Case

Bensusan Restaurant Corporation (plaintiff), owner of the renowned New York City jazz club “Blue Note.” Richard B. King (defendant), operates a small cabaret in Columbia, Missouri, also under the name “The Blue Note.” After Bensusan claimed trademark rights over the name and demanded that King stop using it, a dispute arose when King created a website for his venue, referencing the New York club.

Bensusan subsequently filed a lawsuit seeking damages and an injunction against King’s use of the name. King’s attorney initially resisted Bensusan’s cease and desist request. It wasn’t until King’s establishment went online that Bensusan took legal action, alleging trademark infringement and unfair competition. The case pivoted on whether King’s online presence subjected him to jurisdiction in New York.

Procedural Posture and History

  1. Bensusan Restaurant Corporation filed a lawsuit against Richard B. King for trademark infringement and unfair competition.
  2. The United States District Court for the Southern District of New York dismissed the complaint due to lack of personal jurisdiction.
  3. Bensusan appealed the dismissal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

I.R.A.C. Format

Issue

Whether the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York has personal jurisdiction over Richard B. King, a Missouri resident, based on his internet activities related to a Missouri cabaret that shares a name with Bensusan’s New York jazz club.

Rule of Law

New York’s long-arm statute requires that a non-domiciliary commit a tortious act within the state or engage in substantial revenue from interstate commerce to establish personal jurisdiction. Additionally, due process must be satisfied.

Reasoning and Analysis

The Court of Appeals affirmed the district court’s dismissal by applying New York’s long-arm statute and precedents on personal jurisdiction. The Court determined that King’s internet activities did not constitute a tortious act within New York because all actions related to the creation and maintenance of the website occurred in Missouri.

Moreover, the Court found that King’s cabaret did not derive substantial revenue from interstate commerce, as it was primarily a local operation despite hiring bands of national stature and serving students from various states. Thus, without physical presence or significant interstate commerce revenue, the Court concluded that personal jurisdiction over King could not be established in New York based on his Missouri-based internet activities.

Conclusion

The Court of Appeals affirmed the judgment of the district court, holding that there was no personal jurisdiction over King in New York.

Key Takeaways

  1. Personal jurisdiction based on internet activity is limited and requires that a tortious act be committed within the state or that substantial revenue from interstate commerce be shown.
  2. The mere existence of a website accessible in a state does not automatically grant that state jurisdiction over an out-of-state defendant.
  3. Local businesses primarily serving local customers are unlikely to meet the threshold for substantial revenue from interstate commerce necessary for establishing jurisdiction under New York’s long-arm statute.

Relevant FAQs of this case

What factors must be present for a court to exercise personal jurisdiction over an out-of-state defendant in the context of Internet activity?

To establish personal jurisdiction over an out-of-state defendant based on Internet activity, the defendant must have purposefully directed their activities at the forum state, and the litigation must result from alleged injuries that arise out of or are related to those activities. A ‘purposeful availment’ test is often applied, where the court assesses if the defendant could reasonably anticipate being hauled into court there.

  • For example: An online retailer specifically targets customers in a particular state by offering state-specific discounts or shipping options.

How does a website's level of interactivity impact a court's assessment of personal jurisdiction in cyberspace?

Courts evaluate a website’s level of interactivity to determine if it establishes sufficient minimum contacts with the forum state. The Zippo test differentiates between passive websites (merely providing information) and interactive websites (allowing users to conduct business and exchange information), with greater interactivity increasing the likelihood of personal jurisdiction.

  • For example: A forum state may assert jurisdiction over an out-of-state business if its website allows local customers to order products and services directly online, compared to a static site providing only contact information.

In what ways can a business be said to derive 'substantial revenue from interstate commerce' for purposes of establishing personal jurisdiction?

A business derives ‘substantial revenue from interstate commerce’ when it engages in activities that reach beyond its home state, thereby participating in national or international markets. The revenue doesn’t need to be a majority but must be significant enough relative to the business’s overall income or stem from deliberate targeting of interstate customers.

  • For example: A company may be subject to personal jurisdiction in multiple states if it conducts a notable portion of sales through a nationwide e-commerce platform, even if headquartered in one state.

References

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