SPCA of Upstate N.Y., Inc. v. American Working Collie Assn. (Motion for leave granted on Dec. 16, 2010) 74 A.D.3d 1464 (3d Dep’t 2010)
This appeal addresses the almost entirely subjective issue of long-arm jurisdiction in a defamation action. New York courts construe long-arm category “transacts any business within the state” under CPLR 302(a)(1) more narrowly in defamation cases than they do in other sorts of litigation.
The defendant published writings on the American Working Collie Association’s web site about her observations about certain rescued dogs housed at the plaintiff SPCA of Upstate New York, Inc in Queensbury, New York. The SPCA and its executive director commenced an action against the AWCA claiming that they were defamed by the writings on the AWCA web site. The defendant executive director is a Vermont resident and president of the AWCA, which is an Ohio not-for-profit corporation. The president contacted the SPCA’s executive director by telephone on three occasions regarding assistance she offered to SPCA. The AWCA president visited the SPCA on two occasions within a month; the visits amounted to approximate three-and-a-half hours in total.
The Third Department observed that whether the long-arm statute applied was a close call. The Court analyzed the purpose of the defendant president’s contacts with the SPCA in New York, not that there was no evidence that any of those contacts garnered funds, yield members or generated publicity for AWCA. The Court also noted that the alleged defamatory comments were not made in New York and were placed on a Web site for AWCA members (located throughout the country) with no effort to direct the comments toward a New York audience.
Notably, the Court recognized that the contact could support long-arm jurisdiction for causes of action other than defamation. Because the Court framed the contacts as “help[ing] with a difficult situation that had developed suddenly regarding a large number of mistreated dogs,” the Court refused to assert long-arm jurisdiction over the defendants under the “transacts any business within the state” prong.
The Court of Appeals will wrestle with just how narrow it will construe contacts within a defamation context. The Court of Appeals’ decision no doubt will still leave litigants guessing whether contacts in future cases are too much or too little to assert jurisdicition.