Confirming that a half-century-old case still applies in the internet age, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court recently held that a lawsuit for defamatory statements made online can be filed almost anywhere in the state. Fox v. Smith, Nos. 39 EAP 2019, 40 EAP 2019, 41 EAP 2019, 42 EAP 2019, 2021 Pa. LEXIS 3991 (Pa., Nov. 17, 2021).
BACKGROUND OF THE CASE
In Fox, an unsuccessful candidate for mayor of a town in Delaware County, Pennsylvania, sued her opponent for allegedly defamatory statements made during the 2017 election. Although many of the comments were made online, everyone seemed to agree that the statements originated from Delaware County and were primarily targeted at individuals in Delaware County. And yet, the plaintiff filed her lawsuit not in Delaware County, but in Philadelphia, allegedly due to the fact that one of the plaintiff’s friends who had read the online statements resided there. The defendant objected, claiming venue was improper and that the suit should have been brought in Delaware County.
THE GENERAL RULES OF VENUE
In legal parlance, “venue” means the physical court where a lawsuit may actually be heard. This is related to, but distinct from, “jurisdiction,” which means whether a court has authority over a person or case. So, for example, all courts in Pennsylvania have “jurisdiction” (or authority) over a Pennsylvania corporation; but that doesn’t mean that the company may be sued in any Pennsylvania court for any lawsuit….