In Internet Solutions Corporation v. Tabatha Marshall (SC09-272), the Florida Supreme Court answered a certified question from the Eleventh Circuit relating to personal jurisdiction. Ultimately, the court concluded that a person that posts statements on a website is subject an action for defamation in Florida under Florida's long arm statute. However, the Florida Supreme Court did not address whether subjecting the person to personal jurisdiction would violate due process. The question, as amended by the Florida Supreme Court, was:
DOES A NONRESIDENT COMMIT A TORTIOUS ACT WITHIN FLORIDA FOR PURPOSES OF SECTION 48.193(1)(b) WHEN HE OR SHE MAKES ALLEGEDLY DEFAMATORY STATEMENTS ABOUT A COMPANY WITH ITS PRINCIPAL PLACE OF BUSINESS IN FLORIDA BY POSTING THOSE STATEMENTS ON A WEBSITE, WHERE THE WEBSITE POSTS CONTAINING THE STATEMENTS ARE ACCESSIBLE AND ACCESSED IN FLORIDA?
"According to Internet Solutions Corporation (ISC), Marshall made posts on her website in which she accused ISC, an employment and recruiting firm, of ongoing criminal activity. ISC, whose principal place of business is in Florida, sued Marshall for defamation in a federal district court in Florida." Marshall moved to dismiss the lawsuit for lack of personal jurisdiction and the district court agreed. Internet Solutions Corp. v. Marshall, No. 6:07-cv-1740-Orl-22KRS, 2008 WL 958136 (M.D. Fla. Apr. 8, 2008). The Florida Supreme Court stated:
In this case, the Eleventh Circuit recognized that, under Wendt, Marshall would be subject to jurisdiction under section 48.193(1)(b) if her allegedly defamatory posts on her website constituted electronic communications "into Florida." Internet Solutions Corp., 557 F.3d at 1296. The determination of whether certain acts constitute communications into Florida is straightforward when the case concerns telephonic communications, written communications, or electronic communications in the form of e-mails or facsimiles, because those communications are directed to reach a specific recipient in a specific forum; in other words, it is clear that the nonresident defendant‘s communications were made into Florida.
Courts have also held that electronic communications over the Internet in the form of e-mails and chat room conversations into Florida give rise to personal jurisdiction under section 48.193(1)(b) on the basis of Wendt.
The question of whether a posting on a website, which is located on the World Wide Web, constitutes an electronic communication into Florida is a more difficult one than telephone calls, e-mails, chat rooms, and facsimiles because the posting is typically accessible from any state and is not directed by the alleged tortfeasor into a particular forum in the same way as a phone call, letter, e-mail, chat room, or facsimile.
At the outset, it is important to note that the Internet and the World Wide Web are not synonymous. The Internet is the world‘s largest computer network...There are multiple ways to transmit and receive information across the Internet, including e-mails, chat rooms, and the World Wide Web..."[T]he Web constitutes the body of information available, and the Internet refers only to the means by which one can access that information."..."Individuals commonly access the Internet through a commercial Internet Service Provider (ISP) and then use a browser to access resources and information on the World Wide Web."
We conclude that allegedly defamatory material about a Florida resident placed on the Web and accessible in Florida constitutes an "electronic communication into Florida" when the material is accessed (or "published") in Florida. In the context of the World Wide Web, given its pervasiveness, an alleged tortfeasor who posts allegedly defamatory material on a website has intentionally made the material almost instantly available everywhere the material is accessible. By posting allegedly defamatory material on the Web about a Florida resident, the poster has directed the communication about a Florida resident to readers worldwide, including potential readers within Florida. When the posting is then accessed by a third party in Florida, the material has been "published" in Florida and the poster has communicated the material "into" Florida, thereby committing the tortious act of defamation within Florida. This interpretation is consistent with the approach taken regarding other forms of communication.
Applying this approach, Marshall's posting of allegedly defamatory material about a Florida company that was accessible in Florida constitutes committing a tortious act within Florida, provided that the material was accessed—and thus published—in Florida.
Marshall asserts that her acts were completed in the State of Washington and nothing on the website could be published to a Florida computer "unless (and until) the reader reached up into Washington and retrieved it." We reject this argument because it ignores the nature of the Web, which is fundamentally different from a telephone call, an e-mail, or a letter—by posting on her website, Marshall made the material accessible by anyone with Internet access worldwide. Thus, once the allegedly defamatory material is published in Florida, Marshall has committed the tortious act of defamation within Florida for purposes of Florida's long-arm statute. We emphasize that we are only asked to address the first step of the inquiry—whether section 48.193(1)(b) applies to confer personal jurisdiction. The second step is a more restrictive one, precluding suit in any situation where the exercise of jurisdiction over the nonresident defendant would violate due process. This question is not before us in the certified question and we do not deem it necessary to broaden the question in order to address the due process inquiry.