In a decision handed down last Friday, the Texas Supreme Court held that Texas courts have jurisdiction over Mexican television network TV Azteca, along with two other defendants, in a suit by defamation suit filed in Hidalgo County by Mexican pop star Gloria Trevi. This is an important case in the development of the law of personal jurisdiction in media cases in Texas and, perhaps, the country.
In TV Azteca, S.A.B. de C.V. v. Trevino Ruiz, Gloria de Los Angeles Trevino Ruiz, better known by her stage name, Gloria Trevi, along with her husband and child, all of whom currently live in McAllen, Texas, filed a libel suit in Texas state court in Hidalgo County against TV Azteca, TV Azteca news anchor and producer Patricia Chapoy, and Publimax, the owner of two Monterrey TV stations, over a series of stories aired in the late 2000s on the Spanish-language entertainment news show Ventaneando. The stories concerned Trevi’s 2000 arrest in Brazil for kidnapping and sexual assault, charges of which she was ultimately acquitted in 2004 after spending more than four months in prison. Trevi asserted that the stories included several false and defamatory statements about the charges and her time in prison.
TV Azteca and the other defendants filed a “special appearance,” a procedure in Texas courts by which a nonresident defendant can challenge the court’s jurisdiction over them. The defendants argued that Texas courts lacked personal jurisdiction because none of them reside or are located in Texas, because the suit was over broadcasts that were aired only on Mexican television (though their signals reach South Texas), and because the stories concerned Mexican citizens and events that did not occur in Texas.
There are two components to a court’s jurisdiction: subject matter jurisdiction, which concerns what type of case the court can hear, and personal jurisdiction, which concerns what defendants are subject to the court’s authority. TV Azteca’s and the other defendants complaint regarded personal jurisdiction.
The U.S. Supreme Court has held that the Due Process Clauses of the 5th and 14th Amendments allow American courts to exercise jurisdiction over nonresident defendants-that is, individuals who do not live in the state or businesses that are not incorporated in or principally located in the state-only in suits that arise from contacts created by the defendant’s “purposeful availment of the benefits of conducting activities in the forum state,” and then only where jurisdiction comports with “traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice.” These broad concepts, first articulated by the U.S. Supreme Court in the 1945 case International Shoe Co. v. Washington, have spawned a long line of state and federal cases concerning the limits of personal jurisdiction.
Personal jurisdiction becomes particularly complicated in media cases, where the effects of broadcasts, newspapers, and, now, internet posts reach across state and national borders. The U.S. Supreme Court has found in the past that courts have jurisdiction over nonresident media defendants when the defendant intentionally made use of the forum state’s market:
In Keeton v. Hustler Magazine, the U.S. Supreme Court held that a nonresident magazine that had defamed a nonresident plaintiff had minimum contracts where the magazine had “‘continuously and deliberately exploited'” the forum state’s market by distributing thousands of copies of its magazine in the forum state.
In Calder v. Jones, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the a nonresident reporter and editor had minimum contacts where they defamed a resident plaintiff in a tabloid article that concerned the plaintiff’s activities in the forum state, was drawn from sources in the forum state, and caused the plaintiff to suffer “‘the brunt of the harm'” in the forum state. Also, as in Keeton, the editor and publisher knew that the thousands of copies of the tabloid were distributed in the forum state.
In TV Azteca, the Texas Supreme Court held that it was not enough that the defendants defamed a Texas resident, nor was it enough that the broadcasts happened to reach Texas. However, because the defendants actively promoted their broadcasts in Texas to Texas viewers, and because the brunt of the harm was felt in Texas, Texas courts had jurisdiction over them.