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Scott v. Lackey

January 20, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Christopher C. Conner United States District Judge

(Judge Conner)


Plaintiff Teresa Scott ("Scott") brings the above-captioned matter under the court's diversity jurisdiction, alleging that defendants Pamela Wellington Lackey ("Wellington") and Evan Adams ("Adams") sullied her reputation by means of electronic mail messages and public postings on internet discussion fora. Adams has moved for summary judgment on all claims and challenges the court's exercise of personal jurisdiction. (See Doc. 302.) The magistrate judge reviewed the parties' summary judgment briefing and filed a report recommending that the court deny Adams' summary judgment request and proceed to trial on the merits. (See Doc. 336.) Adams, in turn, objects to the magistrate judge's conclusions regarding personal jurisdiction. (See Doc. 337.) Following an independent review of the record, the court finds the exercise of personal jurisdiction to be inappropriate; thus, for the reasons that follow, the report of the magistrate judge will be rejected and Adams' motion for summary judgment will be granted.

I. Statement of Facts*fn1

The facts underlying this dispute are well known to the parties and are set forth in the report of the magistrate judge. (See Doc. 336 at 11-13.) The court will therefore review and supplement the facts only to the extent necessary to reach a disposition on the motion for summary judgment.

Adams is a Canadian citizen and resides in British Columbia.*fn2 (Id. at 11.) He is also an actor who has acquired a geographically diverse fan base throughout the course of his twenty-five-year acting career. Scott and Wellington were two of Adams' most devoted fans. Scott is a Maryland resident. (Id. at 11.) Wellington is currently employed in Pennsylvania and appears to be a resident of the state, as well. (See Doc. 160 ¶ 2; Doc. 161 ¶ 2.)

In the late 1990s, Adams' admirers began to network with one another through internet discussion fora and email messaging. One forum that emerged around this time was called the "Evan Adams discussion group."*fn3 (See Doc. 336 at 12; see also Doc. 304 ¶ 8; Doc. 317 ¶ 8.) The group billed itself as an online community in which "discussion centers around Evan's career, his interests, his latest projects, and any topic related to Indian Country issues." (Doc. 325, Ex. B.) The group was also public in nature; according to its online description, the forum "welcome[d] all people from all walks of life to join us for good discussion, new friends, and fun." (Id.) Approximately twenty-five individuals were members of the discussion group as of May 2001. (See Doc. 325, Ex. A.)

Wellington was a group member for six months before she became comoderator of the forum in early 2000 along with another fan, Liz Kelso ("Kelso"). (Doc. 304 ¶ 9; Doc. 304, Att. 3 at 19; Doc. 336 at 12.) As moderator, Wellington could pre-screen member messages before they were distributed group-wide or remove messages that she considered inappropriate. (Doc. 304, Att. 3 at 26.) Scott joined the Evan Adams discussion group in 2000, allegedly at Wellington's request. (See Doc. 325 ¶ 6.) Instead of using her legal name to communicate with fellow group members, however, Scott signed up with the group using the pseudonym "Talking Dreams." (Doc. 336 at 4.) The name "Talking Dreams" was Scott's internet moniker, a nickname-or 'handle'-that she almost always used to correspond with others in the online community. (See id.)

The evidence indicates that Adams and Wellington developed a friendship more intimate than the bond typically shared between celebrity and adoring fan. In fact, Wellington testified that she began regular email correspondence with Adams in 1999, before she ever joined the Evan Adams discussion group or became one of its moderators. (Doc. 304, Att. 3 at 13.) This personal correspondence continued after Wellington became co-moderator of the Evan Adams group. At times, her private conversation with Adams yielded information that pertained to Adams' career and which was not known to the public at large. Adams normally did not permit Wellington to share such information with the other members of the discussion group. (See Doc. 304, Att. 3 at 12.) According to Wellington:

I would ask [Adams] if I could share information, and he would either say yes or no. It was about things related to Sherman Alexie*fn4 and movies coming out, things like that. Occasionally he would say, yeah, go ahead, and most of the time he would say, no, Sherman doesn't want that released yet. (Id. at 14.) The parties agree that when Adams permitted Wellington to disclose details that were otherwise non-public, such disclosures typically consisted of "very general information about movies . . . related to Sherman Alexie." (Id.; Doc. 304 ¶ 16; Doc. 317 ¶ 16; Doc. 336 at 13.) Moreover, Adams stated that he "would not expect [Wellington] to share anything with the public" without his approval.*fn5 (Doc. 304, Att. 5 at 69; Doc. 323 at 70.)

For his part, Adams testified that he was not involved with, and possessed little knowledge of, the goings-on within the discussion group. (See Doc. 323 at 70-72; Doc. 304, Att. 5 at 73.) When he learned of the group's existence, Adams describes his reaction as one of indifference. (Doc. 304, Att. 5 at 73.) Wellington's testimony largely supports Adams' characterization; she states that she typically did not send him messages distributed by group members, nor did she advise him of the contents of such messages. (See Doc. 304, Att. 3 at 28.) However, Wellington claims that she would occasionally forward a group member's question, and that Adams would occasionally transmit his reply to the group in its entirety.*fn6 (Id.)

The record also contains one instance in which Adams himself corresponded with the discussion group by means of posting a message to its members. (See Doc. 327, Ex. H.) This communiqué, which was transmitted on December 1, 2000, evidences Adams' lack of familiarity with the group or the subject matter of their conversations. After thanking the members for their recent birthday wishes,*fn7 Adams' correspondence states, in pertinent part, as follows:

WHAT DO Y'ALL TALK ABOUT on this list???

My classmates-who never watch television or movies and have no idea of my other career-are quite intrigued by the notion of a discussion group. I would hope you get to discuss some of the exciting stuff I get to do, like study medicine!*fn8 The TV stuff of late is wonderful-"Buffalo Tracks" has been a steep learning curve, "These Arms of Mine" was hysterically funny (playing a ...

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