Ohio Supreme Court On Wrong Track?
The Ohio Supreme Court decided an online defamation case yesterday. It found that an Ohio company can bring a defamation suit in Ohio against a disgruntled customer who posted negative comments on three general auto racing sites and an auction site about an engine block he’d purchased from the Ohio company. I respectfully dissent . I know I’m not on the court, so that really doesn’t count. But it felt good to get it off my chest. Here’s the problem as I see it. Ordinarily, a non-resident of Ohio can’t be sued in Ohio unless he has “minimum contacts” with Ohio, or unless he engages in conduct in Ohio that causes harm to an Ohio resident. So if you get rear ended by a New Yorker who is driving through Cincinnati, you can sue in Ohio (and by all means do, especially if he’s a Yankees fan). But if you get rear ended by the same New Yorker in some other state, you can’t sue him in Ohio. In this case, the Supreme Court decided that, since the customer posted his comments on the World Wide Web, and since people in Ohio would have access to those postings, he caused harm in Ohio. But the customer never set foot in Ohio (he purchased the engine block via the Ohio company’s Web site). And his comments were no more likely to be read in Ohio than anywhere else. In short, it’s hard for me to see how Ohio has jurisdiction. And from a policy perspective, it seems to me that it could really chill speech. If I know that I might get hauled in to some distant court for expressing my opinion about a product online, I might just opt to not express my opinion. And that is not a good result.