July 23, 2007 10:42 Age: 7 yrs

Professor Freer Presents Comparative Study at International Conference in Greece

Professor Richard D. Freer

Richard D. Freer, the Robert Howell Hall Professor of Law, recently presented a paper on comparative civil procedure at the fourth annual International Conference of Law at Athens University in Greece. The conference, sponsored by the Athens Institute for Education and Research, draws scholars from around the world to discuss current research. These research papers will be published in two volumes later this year. 

In his presentation, Professor Freer compared the laws of the United States and the European Union (EU) concerning the exercise of personal jurisdiction over a defendant based on Internet contact. The law of personal jurisdiction determines what states or countries may enter a binding judgment against a civil defendant. Without personal jurisdiction over the defendant, a court is powerless to act. 

While principles of personal jurisdiction are well established in the United States and the EU, these principles were developed before the widespread use of the Internet, and according to Freer, neither the Supreme Court nor the European Court of Justice has spoken on how the established principles apply in the context of the Internet. 

Freer pointed out that American law provides that a “defendant cannot be sued in a state with which her connection is accidental or fortuitous,” meaning a defendant is subject to suit only in a forum with which she has established purposeful ties. In contrast, the EU grants personal jurisdiction where the injury occurred, regardless of whether the defendant purposefully availed itself of that place. 

The difference in approach will prove to be most important, Freer said, in cases involving relatively passive Web site use. “Suppose a defendant posts something on a Web site in State A, which is accessible around the world. If a plaintiff is hurt in some way by that posting in State B, for example, because the posting defamed her or infringed on her copyright – may the plaintiff sue the defendant in State B? EU law should provide a positive answer, because their focus is on accessibility and where the harm occurs."

In the United States, lower courts have reached inconsistent results, mainly, in Freer’s view, because of the Supreme Court’s failure to resolve an important jurisdiction question in a 1987 case involving the “stream of commerce.” In Freer’s opinion, the Web site case is the “modern technological iteration of the stream of commerce which the Court failed to resolve in 1987.”

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