The US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit affirmed a district court’s grant of a motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction, finding that a single online sale did not establish minimum contacts to support personal jurisdiction. Kendall Hunt Publishing Company v. The Learning Tree Publishing Corporation, Case No. 22-1885 (8th Cir. July 24, 2023) (Smith, Wollman, Loken, JJ.)
Kendall Hunt Publishing filed a copyright infringement lawsuit against The Learning Tree Publishing in the District of Iowa. Before founding Learning Tree, Frank Forcier and John Coniglio worked remotely for Kendall Hunt from their homes in California. Both individuals traveled to Iowa for work, had regular contact with Iowa co-workers during their tenures and accessed files on an Iowa-based server. Nicholas Baiamonte teaches in California, where he wrote an online ethics textbook. Forcier negotiated with Baiamonte on behalf of Kendall Hunt from 2014 to 2016, and as a result, Baiamonte entered into contracts with Kendall Hunt to publish his textbook as Course Pack 4: Ethics. Baiamonte assigned publication rights to Kendall Hunt.
In 2019, Forcier and Coniglio incorporated Learning Tree in California to sell online textbooks to post-secondary students. Learning Tree targeted its advertising to California professors and educational institutions, as well as some limited sales to Colorado and Oklahoma. One of these textbooks was an ethics textbook that included some copyrighted portions of Baiamonte’s ethics textbook.
Kendall Hunt’s lawsuit alleged that a single purchase of the ethics textbook by an Iowa-based Kendall Hunt employee established the requisite minimum contacts with Iowa to support personal jurisdiction. Kendall Hunt also alleged that the prior contacts Forcier and Coniglio established with Iowa through their employment with Kendall Hunt should be attributed to Learning Tree. These contacts included Coniglio regularly traveling to Iowa from 1995 to 2006 and Forcier traveling to Iowa in 2005 and 2006. The district court rejected Kendall Hunt’s jurisdictional arguments and dismissed the complaint. Kendall Hunt appealed.
Reviewing de novo, the Eighth Circuit set out the factors to analyze Iowa’s long-arm statute, which is permissive up to the extent of due process. These factors include the nature and quality of Learning Tree’s contracts with Iowa, the quantity of the contacts, the relation of the cause of action to the contacts, the interest of the forum state and the convenience of the parties. They also include the additional factors for intentional torts: the intentionality of the acts; whether the contacts were uniquely or expressly aimed at the forum; and whether the contacts caused harm, or the defendant knew they were likely to cause harm, of which the majority occurred in the forum state.
The Eighth Circuit concluded that Learning Tree did not expressly aim at or target Iowa because it did not advertise in Iowa. The Court found that Kendall Hunt’s litigation-based purchase was the only sale, and the infringing conduct occurred in California. Based on this fact and the Court’s 2022 decision in Brothers & Sisters in Christ v. Zazzle, which was decided under similar facts, the Court found that Learning Tree’s single sale was not enough to establish minimum contacts to support personal jurisdiction in Iowa.
The Eighth Circuit did not analyze the remaining factors in detail, finding that they did not tip the balance into Kendall Hunt’s favor and that Learning Tree’s connections with Iowa were not enough that Learning Tree should have reasonably expected to be brought to court in Iowa.