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Gilmore v. Jones

United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Charlottesville Division

March 29, 2019

Brennan M. Gilmore, Plaintiff
v.
Alexander (“Alex”) Jones, ET AL., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          NORMAN K. MOON SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Brennan Gilmore was among hundreds of individuals who gathered in Charlottesville, Virginia on August 12, 2017 to protest various white supremacist and neo-Nazi groups participating in the “Unite the Right” rally. As Gilmore recorded footage of protestors that afternoon, he captured James Alex Fields, Jr. driving into a crowd, killing Heather Heyer and injuring approximately thirty-six others. Gilmore posted this footage on Twitter, and the video quickly went viral. Gilmore alleges that, in the days after August 12, Defendants published articles and videos falsely portraying him as a “deep state” operative who conspired to orchestrate violence in Charlottesville for political purposes. Gilmore brought suit in this Court against Defendants for defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress (IIED).

         Defendants move to dismiss on multiple grounds. Various defendants move to dismiss pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1), arguing that the Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction. All defendants move to dismiss under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(2), asserting that this Court cannot exercise personal jurisdiction over any defendant. All defendants contend under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) that Gilmore fails to state claims against them for either defamation or IIED.

         The Court holds that it can exercise diversity jurisdiction over this action pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332, and that it can exercise specific personal jurisdiction over all defendants except Defendant Allen B. West, who will be dismissed. The Court further holds that Gilmore has adequately pled defamation against Defendants but has not adequately pled IIED. Thus, Gilmore's defamation claims will survive, but his IIED claims will be dismissed.

         Parties

         Gilmore brings claims for defamation and IIED against eleven defendants. The parties' alleged identities and roles are outlined below.

         I. Plaintiff Brennan Gilmore (“Gilmore”)

         Gilmore is domiciled in Albemarle County, Virginia. (Am. Comp.[1] ¶ 13). In 2017, Gilmore took leave from the U.S. State Department, where he is employed as a Foreign Service Officer. (Id.). Gilmore served as chief of staff for Tom Perriello during Perriello's 2017 Virginia gubernatorial campaign. (Id.). He now serves as a business consultant for an information technology company. (Id.).

         II. Defendant Scott Creighton (“Creighton”)

         Creighton is domiciled in Tampa, Florida, and is the owner and author of the website American Everyman.[2] (Am. Comp. ¶ 19; dkt. 47-2 at 2). On August 13, 2017, Creighton wrote and published an article entitled “Charlottesville Attack, Brennan Gilmore and . . . the STOP KONY 2012 Pysop? What?”. (Id.). Creighton also allegedly published a video entitled “Charlottesville Attack: Brennan Gilmore - Witness or Accessory?” on the same day on the since-suspended American Everyman YouTube channel. (Am. Comp. ¶ 19).

         III. Defendant James Hoft (“Hoft”)

         Domiciled in St. Louis, Missouri, Hoft is the owner and author of the website Gateway Pundit. (Am. Comp. 20; dkt. 47-3 at 2). On August 14, 2017, Hoft wrote and published an article entitled “Random Man at Protests Interviewed by MSNBC, NY Times Is Deep State Shill Linked to George Soros” on the Gateway Pundit website. (Id.).

         IV. Defendant Lee Stranahan (“Stranahan”)

         On August 15, 2017, Stranahan appeared alongside Defendant Lee Ann McAdoo in a video posted on InfoWars.com entitled “Bombshell Connection Between Charlottesville, Soros, CIA.” (Am. Comp. 17; dkt. 29-6). A former employee of Breitbart News, Stranahan currently operates The Populist, a “political journalism” website. (Am. Comp. 17). Stranahan is also allegedly an employee of RT, a Russian television network that recently registered with the Department of Justice as a foreign agent. (Id.). Gilmore alleges that Stranahan is domiciled in Dallas, Texas but temporarily lives and works in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area, “conducting] business” from a “shared workspace in Arlington, Virginia.” (Id.). Stranahan is the only defendant who disputes that he is domiciled outside of Virginia. (Dkt. 47 at 8-9).

         V. Defendant Lee Ann Fleissner, a.k.a. Lee Ann McAdoo (“McAdoo”)

         McAdoo is domiciled in Sarasota, Florida, and works as an independent contractor and reporter for Free Speech Systems, LLC, in which capacity she “produce[s] content for Infowars.” (Am. Comp. 18; dkt. 57-3 at 1). On August 15, 2017, McAdoo authored an article posted on the InfoWars website entitled “Bombshell Connection Between Charlottesville, Soros, CIA.” (Am. Comp. 18; dkt. 29-6). The article included a video “produced” by McAdoo of the same title, featuring McAdoo interviewing Stranahan. (Am. Comp. 18; dkt. 57-3 at 1).

         VI. Defendants Alex Jones (“Jones”), InfoWars, LLC (“InfoWars”), and Free Speech Systems, LLC (“Free Speech Systems”)

         Domiciled in Austin, Texas, Jones is the owner and publisher of the InfoWars website, as well as the host of associated radio and web-based shows. (Am. Comp. 14; dkt. 57-1 at 1). InfoWars is a Texas limited liability company (LLC) operating as the website InfoWars.com. (Am. Comp. 15). InfoWars “presents itself as a news media outlet” and “funds its work by the sale of various dietary supplements on its online store.” (Id. ¶¶ 123-24). Free Speech Systems is a related Texas LLC that operates InfoWars.com and The Alex Jones Channel on YouTube.[3](Id. ¶ 16; dkt. 57-2 at 1). Jones allegedly owns Free Speech Systems. (Am. Comp. ¶ 16). Infowars.com is labeled a “Free Speech Systems, LLC website, ” and purchases of InfoWars dietary supplements “may result in a billing entry on the purchaser's credit card as Free Speech Systems, LLC or Magnolia Management.” (Id.).

         Gilmore alleges that these defendants published defamatory statements about him in the August 15, 2017 article authored by McAdoo and the accompanying video featuring McAdoo and Stranahan. (Id. ¶¶ 16, 83). Jones allegedly posted the article text and video on his YouTube channel and Twitter account. (Id. ¶¶ 87-88). Gilmore asserts that these defendants also published defamatory statements in a video Jones produced entitled “Breaking: State Department / CIA Orchestrated Charlottesville Tragedy.” (Id. ¶ 102; dkt. 57-1). This video was posted on InfoWars.com and The Alex Jones Channel on YouTube. (Am. Comp. ¶ 102).

         VII. Defendants Allen B. West (“West”), Derrick Wilburn (“Wilburn”), Michele Hickford (“Hickford”), and Words-N-Ideas, LLC (“Words-N-Ideas”)

         West, a former congressman and regular contributor to Fox News, is domiciled in Dallas, Texas. (Am. Comp. ¶ 21; dkt. 59-1 at 1). Gilmore alleges that West owns the Allen B. West website, [4] which published an allegedly defamatory article entitled “BOMBSHELL: New evidence suggests Charlottesville was a complete SET-UP.” (Am. Comp. ¶ 21). Wilburn, domiciled in Colorado Springs, Colorado, authored that article. (Id. ¶ 22; dkt. 47-5). Words-N-Ideas, an allegedly inactive Florida LLC, is identified by Gilmore as the “purported owner” of the Allen B. West website. (Am. Comp. ¶ 24). Hickford, also domiciled in Florida, is the managing member, registered agent, and self-described “President” of Words-N-Ideas, (id. ¶ 23; dkt. 47-4 at 2), as well as the alleged “editor-in-chief” of the Allen B. West website. (Am. Comp. ¶ 23). West contends that Hickford and Words-N-Ideas owned and operated the Allen B. West website when Wilburn's article was published, and that he had “no involvement with operating the website” or publishing the article. (Dkt. 59-1 at 1-2).

         Facts As Alleged

         Gilmore, in “his personal capacity, ” was among the many “peaceful counter-protestors” who gathered in Charlottesville, Virginia on August 12, 2017 “in opposition” to the Unite the Right rally. (Am. Comp. ¶ 27). The rally was organized by various white supremacist and neo-Nazi groups as a response to the Charlottesville City Council's decision to remove a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee from a city park and change that park's name from “Lee Park” to “Emancipation Park.” (Id. ¶¶ 25-26). Gilmore captured footage of James Alex Fields, Jr. driving into a crowd of protestors, and shared this video on Twitter to show that the attack was “deliberate” and “to help convince the public to stay off the streets.” (Id. ¶¶ 29-32).

         Soon after sharing this footage, Gilmore received interview requests from local, national, and international media outlets. (Id. ¶ 33). Between August 12 and 13, 2017, Gilmore spoke with multiple outlets “to provide an eyewitness account.” (Id. ¶ 34). Gilmore did not solicit these interview requests “or ask media outlets to share his video.” (Id. ¶ 35). Defendants published articles and videos containing statements about Gilmore between August 13, 2017 (the publication date of Creighton's article and video) and August 21, 2017 (the publication date of Jones's video). (Id. ¶¶ 37-144). Gilmore alleges that these publications falsely portray him as “a ‘Deep State operative' who helped orchestrate the violence in Charlottesville.” (Id. ¶ 150).

         After Defendants' publications appeared online, Gilmore allegedly “became the subject of a barrage of harassing and threatening messages that made him fear for his personal safety as well as the safety of his family members.” (Id.). Gilmore describes disturbances such as attempted hacks into his online accounts, the posting of his parents' address online, a confrontation with a disgruntled stranger on the street, and the mailing of an unknown chemical substance to his parents' home. (Id. ¶¶ 154, 157-63). As a result of stress related to these disturbances, Gilmore has been diagnosed with a medical condition causing a loss of vision in his right eye, and has experienced “exacerbated” symptoms of depression. (Id. ¶¶ 181-83).

         Defendants' publications have also allegedly harmed Gilmore professionally. Gilmore claims that his company has lost potential clients and partners, and that he “may need to remove himself altogether from the company's client-facing work” to prevent harm to the business. (Id. ¶ 187). Gilmore asserts that it will be “difficult” for him to serve as a diplomat if he returns to the State Department due to the reputational harm inflicted by Defendants' publications, and claims that “government officials who have endorsed Defendants' lies” would “likely” seek to “oust him from government service entirely.” (Id. ¶¶ 188-89).

         Analysis

         Defendants move to dismiss on three grounds. First, some defendants move to dismiss pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1), arguing this Court cannot exercise diversity jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1332. (Dkts. 46; 58). Second, all defendants move to dismiss pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(2), arguing that the Court cannot exercise personal jurisdiction over any defendant. (Dkts. 46; 56; 58). Third, all defendants move to dismiss pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), arguing that Gilmore fails to state claims for either defamation or IIED. (Id.). The Court addresses each argument in turn.

         I. Rule 12(b)(1) - The Court's Subject Matter Jurisdiction

         Gilmore invokes this Court's diversity jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a), which requires complete diversity between the parties and an amount in controversy exceeding $75, 000. Defendants Creighton, Hoft, Stranahan, Wilburn, Hickford, and Words-N-Ideas move to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1), arguing that (1) the parties are not completely diverse because Stranahan, like Gilmore, is a citizen of Virginia; and (2) Gilmore fails to adequately allege that the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000.[5] (Dkt. 47 at 7-21).

         A motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1) tests a district court's subject matter jurisdiction. Typically, the Court must accept as true all material factual allegations in the complaint and construe the complaint in the plaintiff's favor. See Warth v. Seldin, 422 U.S. 490, 501 (1975). But where a defendant challenges the factual basis for subject matter jurisdiction, “the plaintiff bears the burden of proving the truth of such facts by a preponderance of the evidence.” U.S. ex rel. Vuyyuru v. Jadhav, 555 F.3d 337, 347-48 (4th Cir. 2009). “Unless the jurisdictional facts are intertwined with the facts central to the merits of the dispute, ” the district court may “go beyond the allegations of the complaint and resolve the jurisdictional facts in dispute by considering evidence outside the pleadings.” Id. at 348. “The moving party should prevail only if the material jurisdictional facts are not in dispute and the moving party is entitled to prevail as a matter of law.” Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac R.R. Co. v. United States, 945 F.2d 765, 768 (4th Cir. 1991).

         A. Complete Diversity

         Defendants first contend that the parties are not completely diverse because Stranahan, like Gilmore, is a citizen of Virginia, rather than of Texas as Gilmore asserts. (Dkts. 47; 59). To satisfy § 1332(a)'s complete diversity requirement, “the citizenship of every plaintiff must be different from the citizenship of every defendant.” Cent. W.Va. Energy Co., Inc. v. Mountain State Carbon, LLC, 636 F.3d 101, 103 (4th Cir. 2011). “[R]esidency is not sufficient to establish citizenship.” Johnson v. Advance Am., 549 F.3d 932, 937 n.2 (4th Cir. 2008). “To be a citizen of a State, a person must be both a citizen of the United States and a domiciliary of that State.” Id. “Domicile requires physical presence, coupled with an intent to make the State a home.” Id. In evaluating complete diversity, the relevant unit of analysis is the party's domicile “at the time the complaint is filed.” Martinez v. Duke Energy Corp., 130 Fed.Appx. 629, 634 (4th Cir. 2005) (citing Grupo Dataflux v. Atlas Glob. Grp. L.P., 541 U.S. 567, 571 (2004)).

         When a party's citizenship “is questioned, a court must make an individualized inquiry relying on certain factors such as voter registration; current residence; the location of real and personal property; location of bank and brokerage accounts; membership in clubs, churches, or other associations; place of employment or business; driver's license and automobile registration; and the state to which a person pays taxes.” Scott v. Cricket Commc'ns, LLC, 865 F.3d 189, 195 (4th Cir. 2017). “No single factor is dispositive.” Id.

         In support of their position that Stranahan was domiciled in Virginia at the time this action was filed,[6] Defendants present declarations by Stranahan stating that, although he previously resided in Texas, he has rented an apartment in Virginia since March 2017, had no home or property in Texas in 2017, has had no family living in Texas since November 2016, has no Texas driver's license, has not voted in Texas since 2012, and intends to live in Virginia “for the foreseeable future.”[7] (Dkts. 47-1; 91-1). Stranahan also presents W-2 forms indicating his employer withheld Virginia income taxes in 2017. (Dkt. 91-2).

         Gilmore counters with evidence that Stranahan is actively registered to vote in Texas, (dkts. 70-1; 70-7); a “skip tracing” report indicating that Stranahan at one point resided at a Texas address and had a Texas driver's license, [8] (dkt. 70-2); a screenshot of Stranahan's Facebook page stating that he lives in Dallas, Texas, (dkt. 70-3); records indicating that Stranahan's wife is registered to vote in Texas, (dkt. 70-4); and an assertion that Stranahan solicited payments and donations “via a Pay-Pal account belonging to Stranahan Strategies, ” (dkt. 70 at 9), which Texas Comptroller records indicate is an inactive Texas LLC. (Dkt. 70-5).

         The Court finds that Gilmore has established by a preponderance of the evidence that Stranahan was domiciled in Texas at the time this action was filed. Although Stranahan currently rents an apartment in Virginia, (dkt. 47-1), “residency is not sufficient to establish citizenship.” Johnson, 145 F.3d at 937, n.2. Similarly, although Stranahan's declaration states that he “intend[s] to live in Virginia for the foreseeable future, ” (dkt. 47-1), such self-serving statements are entitled to “little weight” to the extent that they “conflict with the facts.” Peterson for Peterson v. Paddy, No. 3:16-cv-00026, 2017 WL 2655854, at *3 (W.D. Va. June 19, 2017). See also Manning v. Alamance Cty., N. Car., No. 1:15-cv-290, 2016 WL 843309, at *3 (M.D. N.C. Mar. 1, 2016) (noting that “a party's own statements of his intended domicile are not conclusive” and should be “accepted with considerable reserve”).

         The most compelling evidence of Stranahan's domicile is his place of voter registration. Records from the Secretary of State of Texas show that, at the time this action was filed, Stranahan was actively registered to vote in Texas.[9] (Dkt. 70-1). Indeed, Stranahan concedes this point, stating only that it “never occurred” to him to remove himself from Texas's voter rolls because he has “not been an active voter” since 2012. (Dkt. 47-1 at 3). In assessing a party's domicile, voter registration is of “great importance, ” as voting practices “raise a presumption that the voter is a citizen in the state in which he votes.” Am. Heartland Port, Inc. v. Am. Port Holdings, Inc., No. 5:11-cv-50, 2014 WL 1123384, at *5 (N.D. W.Va. Mar. 21, 2014).[10] This presumption “must be rebutted by evidence showing a clear intention” that the party's “citizenship is otherwise.” Id.

         Here, evidence of Stranahan's active voter registration in Texas is particularly weighty because to remain active on Texas's voter rolls, Texas law requires that voters be capable of receiving a non-forwardable renewal certificate mailed by the registrar to the Texas address listed on the voter's last registration application.[11] See Tex. Elec. Code Ann. §§ 14.001(a), 14.002(a)-(b). If the renewal form is returned as undeliverable to the registrar, the voter is placed on the “suspense list.” Id. § 14.021. Stranahan's voter registration records indicate that he remained actively registered in Texas following a “change / audit date” of December 5, 2017. (Dkt. 70-1 at 2). Under Texas law, Stranahan was almost certainly capable of receiving mail at a Texas address in December 2017. Otherwise, the renewal certificate mailed to the address he previously listed on his voter registration application would have been returned to the registrar as undeliverable, and the registrar would have placed Stranahan on the suspense list. The evidence Stranahan offers of Virginia domicile-including statements that he intends to reside in Virginia for the “foreseeable future, ” (dkt. 47-1 at 1), and a W-2 form indicating that his employer withheld Virginia income taxes in 2017, (dkt. 91-2)-is insufficient to rebut the presumption of Texas domicile created by his active voter registration in Texas.

         Four additional factors weigh in favor of finding that Stranahan was domiciled in Texas at the time Gilmore filed this action. First, although Stranahan presents W-2 forms indicating his employer withheld Virginia income taxes in 2017, (dkt. 91-2), his statement that he had not actually “filed a Virginia Income Tax Return” but rather “filed for an extension” diminishes the significance of this evidence. (Dkt. 47-1 at 1). Second, Stranahan does not dispute Gilmore's allegation that he solicited payments “via a Pay-Pal account belonging to Stranahan Strategies, ” which Texas Comptroller records indicate is an inactive Texas LLC.[12] (Dkts. 70 at 20; 70-5).

         Third, Stranahan currently rents an apartment in a “We Live/We Work complex” in Arlington, Virginia.[13] Gilmore alleges that this complex is a “temporary shared housing community where patrons are able to utilize living and office space without a long-term commitment.” (Dkt. 70 at 20-21). Although Stranahan's residence in such a housing complex does not necessarily preclude him from establishing domicile in Virginia, it suggests he has not made a permanent home in Virginia. Fourth, Stranahan has been evasive about where his family, specifically his wife, resided at the time this action was filed. Gilmore alleges that Stranahan's wife is actively registered to vote in Texas and that she voted there as recently as 2016. (Id. at 20). Although Stranahan avers in his declarations that he had “no immediate family” in Texas in 2017, (dkt. 47-1), and that “to the best of [his] knowledge, no one related to [him] by blood or marriage has lived in Texas since November 2016, ” (dkt. 91-1), Stranahan does not assert that his wife or any other family member lived in Virginia when this action was filed.[14] Indeed, Stranahan has never revealed where his wife resided when this action was filed, and his counsel could not answer questions on this subject at oral argument.[15]

         In sum, the Court finds that Gilmore has established by a preponderance of the evidence that Stranahan was domiciled in Texas at the time this action was filed.[16] Thus, § 1332(a)'s requirement of complete diversity is satisfied.

         B. Amount in Controversy

         Defendants Creighton, Hoft, Stranahan, Wilburn, Hickford, and Words-N-Ideas argue that Gilmore fails to allege an amount in controversy in excess of $75, 000. (Dkt. 46).

         “When a plaintiff invokes federal-court jurisdiction, the plaintiff's amount-in-controversy allegation is accepted if made in good faith.” Dart Cherokee Basin Operating Co., LLC v. Owens, 135 S.Ct. 547, 553 (2014). “If the plaintiff claims a sum sufficient to satisfy the statutory requirement, a federal court may dismiss only if it is apparent, to a legal certainty, that the plaintiff cannot recover the amount claimed.” JTH Tax, Inc. v. Frashier, 624 F.3d 635, 638 (4th Cir. 2010). Parties seeking dismissal for an insufficient amount in controversy “shoulder a heavy burden” of demonstrating that the “legal impossibility” of the claimed recovery is “so certain as virtually to negative the plaintiff's good faith in asserting the claim.” Id.

         Here, Gilmore alleges defamation per se against Defendants, and seeks “an amount greater than $75, 000” from each defendant for “presumed damages, as well as actual, reputational, emotional, and professional injuries” suffered as a “direct and proximate” result of Defendants' publications. (See, e.g., Am. Comp. ¶¶ 214-15, 232). Gilmore also seeks damages “in an amount greater than $75, 000” from each defendant for his IIED claims, for the “severe emotional distress, ” physical ailments, and “irreparable damage to his professional reputation” he has experienced as a “result of Defendants' actions.” (Id. ¶¶ 289, 293).

         With respect to Gilmore's defamation claims, Defendants assert that Gilmore impermissibly “includes harms caused by the wrongful conduct of third parties” (i.e., individuals not named as defendants who allegedly harassed Gilmore because of Defendants' publications) in his calculation of damages. (Dkt. 47 at 23, 25). Defendants argue that Virginia law does not permit “the wrongful actions of third parties to be included in the calculation of damages at all.” (Id. at 23). With respect to Gilmore's IIED claims, Defendants contend that the essence of the harm Gilmore alleges is the “distress” caused by “third parties who are not named as defendants, ” but that Gilmore fails to allege Defendants “incited” these third parties to harm him under Brandenburg v. Ohio, 395 U.S. 444 (1969). (Id.).

         Defendants fail to shoulder their “heavy burden” of establishing the “legal impossibility” of Gilmore's claimed recovery. JTH Tax, 624 F.3d at 638. Defendants do not adequately support either of their arguments with binding precedent.[17] Moreover, Defendants' arguments are substantively without merit. With respect to Gilmore's defamation claims, Defendants mischaracterize Gilmore's damages calculation as “always” including the “wrongful conduct of third parties, ” (dkt. 47 at 25), as the complaint plainly alleges that Defendants' publications themselves were the cause of Gilmore's alleged injuries. (Am. Comp. ¶ 215). With respect to Gilmore's IIED claims, consideration of any First Amendment defense is inappropriate at this stage. See Zulveta v. State Auto. Mut. Ins. Co., No. 6:15-2880, 2015 WL 9286698, at *4 (D. S.C. Nov. 30, 2015) (“[W]here the plaintiff makes his claim in obvious good faith, it is sufficient for jurisdictional purposes” even where the defendant may have “a valid defense.” (quoting McDonald v. Patton, 240 F.2d 424, 425 (4th Cir. 1957))). Moreover, to the extent that Defendants' argument concerning third parties is essentially a claim that Gilmore fails to adequately plead the causation element of IIED, such arguments are cognizable under Rule 12(b)(6), not Rule 12(b)(1).

         In sum, the Court finds that it can exercise diversity jurisdiction over this action. Defendants' motions to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1), (dkts. 46; 58), will be denied.

         II. Rule 12(b)(2) - Personal Jurisdiction over Defendants

         All Defendants except Stranahan[18] move to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(2), arguing that this Court cannot exercise personal jurisdiction over them. (Dkts. 46; 56; 58).

         The standard of review for personal jurisdiction issues “varies according to the posture of the case and the evidence that has been presented to the court.” Grayson v. Anderson, 816 F.3d 262, 268 (4th Cir. 2016). Where, as here, a district court “considers a question of personal jurisdiction based on the contents of a complaint and supporting affidavits, the plaintiff has the burden of making a prima facie showing in support of its assertion of jurisdiction.” Universal Leather, LLC v. Koro AR, S.A., 773 F.3d 553, 558 (4th Cir. 2014). In conducting its analysis, the court “must construe all relevant pleading allegations in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, assume credibility, and draw the most favorable inferences for the existence of jurisdiction.” Id.

         For a court to “assert personal jurisdiction over a nonresident defendant, two conditions must be satisfied: (1) the exercise of jurisdiction must be authorized under the state's long-arm statute; and (2) the exercise of jurisdiction must comport with the due process requirements of the Fourteenth Amendment.” Carefirst of Md., Inc. v. Carefirst Pregnancy Ctrs., Inc., 334 F.3d 390, 396 (4th Cir. 2003). “Because Virginia's long-arm statute extends personal jurisdiction to the outer bounds of due process, the two-prong test collapses into a single inquiry when Virginia is the forum state.” Tire Eng'g & Distrib., LLC v. Shandong Linglong Rubber Co., Ltd., 682 F.3d 292, 301 (4th Cir. 2012). “A Virginia court thus has jurisdiction over a nonresident defendant if the exercise of such jurisdiction is consonant with the strictures of due process.” Id.

         “A court's exercise of jurisdiction over a nonresident defendant comports with due process if the defendant has ‘minimum contacts' with the forum, such that to require the defendant to defend its interests in the state ‘does not offend the traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice.'” Carefirst, 334 F.3d at 397 (quoting Int'l Shoe Co. v. Wash., 326 U.S. 310, 316 (1945)). The standard for determining whether personal jurisdiction over a nonresident defendant exists varies “depending on whether the defendant's contacts with the forum state also provide the basis for the suit.” Id. If a defendant's contacts form the basis for the suit, those contacts may establish “specific jurisdiction.” Id. “If, however, the defendant's contacts with the state are not also the basis for the suit, then jurisdiction over the defendant must arise from the defendant's general, more persistent but unrelated contacts with the state.” Id.

         A. General Personal Jurisdiction

         “To establish general jurisdiction, the defendant's activities in the state must have been ‘continuous and systematic.'” Carefirst, 334 F.3d at 397. Gilmore presents no argument that the Court can exercise general personal jurisdiction over Creighton, Hoft, McAdoo, Stranahan, Wilburn, Hickford, Words-N-Ideas, or West, and the Court sees no indicia that these defendants have “general, “persistent, ” “continuous[, ] and systematic” contacts with Virginia.[19] Id.Gilmore presents two arguments why the Court can exercise general personal jurisdiction over Jones, InfoWars, and Free Speech Systems. Both fail. First, Gilmore contends that these defendants have “sold and delivered [InfoWars-branded] dietary supplements to persons residing in Virginia” through their online stores, and “a substantial portion of this revenue is the result of transactions with individuals in Virginia.” (Am. Comp. ¶ 10; dkt. 70 at 25-26). But “mere purchases, even if occurring at regular intervals . . . are not enough to warrant a [s]tate's assertion of in personam jurisdiction over a nonresident corporation in a cause of action not related to those purchase transactions.” Daimler AG v. Bauman, 571 U.S. 117, 131 (2014).

         Second, Gilmore contends that these defendants “engage in significant reporting activities in Virginia, ” citing coverage of a book banning in a Virginia school, events in Chantilly, Virginia, and the Unite the Right rally. (Am. Comp. ¶ 11; dkt. 70 at 25-26). But such “single or isolated items of activities in a state” are not sufficient to subject a defendant to the state's general jurisdiction.[20] Pharmabiodevice Consulting, LLC v. Evans, No. GJH-14-00732, 2014 WL 3741692, at *7 (D. Md. July 28, 2014) (quoting Int'l Shoe Co., 326 U.S. at 317). See also Daimler AG, 571 U.S. at 133, n.11 (“[G]eneral jurisdiction requires affiliations so continuous and systematic as to render the foreign corporation essentially at home in the forum State.”). Thus, the Court cannot exercise general personal jurisdiction over any defendant.

         B. Specific Personal Jurisdiction

         Specific personal jurisdiction is “confined to adjudication of issues deriving from, or connected with, the very controversy that establishes jurisdiction.” Goodyear Dunlop Tire Operations, S.A. v. Brown, 564 U.S. 915, 919 (2011). To warrant the exercise of specific personal jurisdiction, a “defendant must have purposefully established minimum contacts in the forum State such that [it] should reasonably anticipate being haled into court there.” Perdue Foods LLC v. BRF S.A., 814 F.3d 185, 189 (4th Cir. 2016). The Fourth Circuit employs “a three-part test to determine whether the exercise of specific personal jurisdiction over a nonresident defendant” comports with due process, examining “(1) the extent to which the defendant purposefully availed itself of the privilege of conducting activities in the forum state; (2) whether the plaintiff's claims [arose] out of those activities; and (3) whether the exercise of personal jurisdiction is constitutionally reasonable.” Universal Leather, 773 F.3d at 559. In deciding whether it can exercise specific personal jurisdiction over a defendant, “a court must weigh the totality of the facts before it.” Perdue Foods, 814 F.3d at 189. The court “should not merely . . . count [a defendant's] contacts [with the forum state] and quantitatively compare this case to other preceding cases.” Carefirst, 334 F.3d at 397. “Even a single contact may be sufficient to create jurisdiction when the cause of action arises out of that single contact, provided that the principle of fair play and substantial justice is not thereby offended.” Id.

         In assessing whether Defendants' contacts with Virginia support specific personal jurisdiction, three decisions are particularly salient. In Calder v. Jones, 465 U.S. 783, 788-89 (1984), the Supreme Court held that a California court could exercise personal jurisdiction over two Florida newspapermen in a libel action arising out of a National Enquirer article written in Florida but “concern[ing] the California activities” of Shirley Jones, a Hollywood actress and California resident. The Court noted that the “article was drawn from California sources, and the brunt of the harm, in terms both of [Jones's] emotional distress and the injury to her professional reputation, was suffered in California.” Id. Because “California [was] the focal point both of the story and of the harm suffered, ” jurisdiction was “proper in California based on the ‘effects' of [defendants'] Florida conduct in California.” Id. at 789.

         The Fourth Circuit has adapted the Calder “effects” test for cases involving online activity in two important decisions.[21] In ALS Scan, Inc. v. Dig. Serv. Consultants, Inc., 293 F.3d 707, 714 (4th Cir. 2002), the Fourth Circuit held that “a State may, consistent with due process, exercise judicial power over a person outside of the State when that person (1) directs electronic activity into the State, (2) with the manifested intent of engaging in business or other interactions within the State, and (3) that activity creates, in a person within the State, a potential cause of action cognizable in the State's courts.” Applying this standard, the Fourth Circuit found that a Maryland court could not exercise specific personal jurisdiction over a Georgia-based Internet service provider (ISP) whose only role in the alleged trademark infringement was “provid[ing] bandwidth” that allowed another company “to create a website and send information over the Internet.” Id. at 714-15 (noting that the ISP-defendant “did not select or knowingly transmit infringing photographs” or “direct its electronic activity specifically at any target in Maryland”).

         In Young v. New Haven Advocate, 315 F.3d 256, 263 (4th Cir. 2002), the Fourth Circuit refined the ALS Scan test for cases where “the Internet activity” at issue involves “the posting of news articles on a website.” In such cases, the test “works more smoothly when parts one and two” are “considered together, ” such that courts ask “whether the [defendants] manifested an intent to direct their website content . . . to a Virginia audience.” Id. The fact that a defendant's website can “be accessed anywhere, including Virginia, does not by itself demonstrate that the [defendant was] intentionally directing their website content to a Virginia audience.” Id. “Something more than posting and accessibility is needed”-the “general thrust and content” of the online publications must “manifest an intent to target and focus on Virginia readers.” Id.

         Applying this standard in Young, the Fourth Circuit determined that a Virginia court could not exercise specific personal jurisdiction over Connecticut newspapers that published online articles commenting on conditions at a Virginia prison and allegedly defaming Young, a warden at the prison, in the midst of reporting on the “Connecticut prison transfer policy.” Id. at 263-64. The Fourth Circuit reasoned that (1) the “content of the websites [was] decidedly local, and neither newspaper's website contain[ed] advertisements aimed at a Virginia audience, ”[22] and (2) “Connecticut, not Virginia, was the focal point of the articles.” Id.

         In deciding whether to exercise specific personal jurisdiction over Defendants, the Court must ask whether (1) each defendant “manifested an intent to direct their website content” to a “Virginia audience, ” Young, 315 F.3d at 263, such that the defendant “should reasonably anticipate being haled into court” in Virginia, Perdue Foods, 814 F.3d at 189; and (2) whether each defendant's activity “creates, in a person within the State, a potential cause of action” under Virginia law. ALS Scan, 293 F.3d at 714. Below, the Court undertakes this inquiry for each of the eleven defendants by examining each of the allegedly tortious publications at issue.

         1. Creighton's American Everyman Article & Video

         On August 13, 2017, Creighton published an article on the American Everyman website entitled “Charlottesville Attack, Brennan Gilmore and . . . the STOP KONY 2012 Pysop? What.” (Dkt. 29-1).[23] In the article, Creighton asked readers to “look at the video Brennan Gilmore posted of the Charlottesville attack” to see “[s]omething very odd and OBVIOUS.” (Id. at 2 (emphasis in original)).[24] Noting Gilmore's “rather suspicious positioning, ” Creighton wrote that Gilmore “filmed Fields's car “heading all the way down the street into the crowd of protestors . . . almost as if he knew it would run into them rather than simply brake and sit and wait like the cars in front of it.” (Id. at 4-5). Creighton wrote that Gilmore is a “former State Department employee” and “was also part of” Tom Perriello's 2017 Virginia gubernatorial campaign, describing Perriello's record and ideological views at length. (Id. at 6-8). Creighton questioned whether it is “possible” that Gilmore, a “convenient witness” with “links to Special Ops and CIA and various other black ops kinds of actors[, ] just HAPPENED to be there” at the “particular moment” of Fields's attack. (Id. at 9). Stating that he is “not into” such “coincidence theories, ” Creighton wrote that “Gilmore, like Tom [Perriello], seem[s] particularly invested in undermining the ‘alt-right' in the lead-up to the next round of elections.” (Id.).

         Gilmore alleges that Creighton posted a video entitled “Charlottesville Attack - Brennan Gilmore: Witness or Accessory” to his YouTube channel on August 13, 2017. (Am. Comp. ¶¶ 46-50). In the video, Creighton allegedly stated: “This guy happens to be on that fucking corner with his camera rolling, watching that car drive by for five seconds, and he's former State Department, and close to Tom Perriello, who is also former State Department obviously, he's got a fucking ax to grind, that's one hell of a goddamn coincidence, and you got to be a special kind of stupid to buy that.” (Id. ¶ 14). Creighton also allegedly stated that he was “suggesting” that “someone had foreknowledge[] that this event [i.e., Fields's attack] was going to happen.” (Id.).

         Considering the “general thrust” of Creighton's article and video, Young, 315 F.3d at 263, the Court concludes that both were sufficiently targeted at a Virginia audience such that Creighton should have “anticipate[d] being haled into court in” Virginia to defend his statements. Perdue Foods, 814 F.3d at 189. Although neither the American Everyman website nor YouTube channel has a Virginia-specific focus, [25] the exclusive focus of Creighton's publications was a Virginia event and a Virginia citizen. Indeed, the title of both the article and video references the “Charlottesville Attack” and “Brennan Gilmore.” (Dkt. 29-1). These publications' Virginia-specific focus is further reinforced by Creighton's discussion in both of Perriello, a Virginia gubernatorial candidate. Thus, unlike in Young, 315 F.3d at 263, the “focal point” of Creighton's publications was a Virginia event and citizen, making his publications of particular interest to a Virginia audience.[26] Additionally, Gilmore alleges that the harm he suffered as a result of Creighton's online postings occurred in Virginia, where he lives and works.[27] (Am. Comp. ¶¶ 179-88). Accordingly, as in Calder, 465 U.S. at 789, personal jurisdiction is warranted in Virginia because Virginia is “the focal point both of [Creighton's publications] and of the harm suffered.” Moreover, unlike the “passive” ISP-defendant in ALS Scan, 293 F.3d at 714, Creighton wrote the article, spoke in the video, and published both on platforms he owns and operates. (Dkt. 47-2). Lastly, Gilmore's claims against Creighton arise directly from Creighton's publications.[28] See ALS Scan, 293 F.3d at 714.

         In sum, since Creighton “manifested an intent to direct his website content” at a Virginia audience, [29] Young, 315 F.3d at 263, the Court finds that it can exercise specific personal jurisdiction over him.

         2. Hoft's Gateway Pundit Article

         On August 14, 2017, Hoft published an article on The Gateway Pundit website entitled “Random Man at Protests Interviewed by MSNBC, NY Times Is Deep State Shill Linked to George Soros.” (Am. Comp. ¶ 62, dkt. 29-5). Hoft wrote that the “random Charlottesville observer” (i.e., Gilmore) is a “deep state shill with links to George Soros, ” and that “[i]t looks like the State Department was involved in Charlottesville rioting and is trying to cover it up.” (Dkt. 29-5 at 2, 4). After noting that Gilmore was “Chief of Staff for liberal Rep. Tom Perriel[l]o, ” Hoft embedded screenshots of articles about Gilmore and Perriello from Augusta Free Press, a news-site covering Waynesboro, Staunton, and Augusta County, Virginia, and the Richmond Times Dispatch. (Id. at 5-8).

         Hoft then quoted the following statement, among others, from a Reddit thread: “So the former Chief of Staff for Tom Perriel[l]o who ran in the Virginia gubernatorial election and whose campaign received a ridiculous amount of ‘dark money', including $380k from George Soros . . . also happened to go viral and was interviewed because he just happened to be close to the Charlottesville event.” (Id. at 8). Hoft concluded by writing in his own words: “This weekend Brennan Gilmore happened to be in Charlottesville with the rioters. The media knows exactly who he is yet played it off like a casual observer. This is how the Deep State is working with the liberal media to shape [the] narrative and fool the American people.” (Id.).

         The Court finds that the “general thrust and content” of Hoft's article was sufficiently targeted at a Virginia audience to warrant the exercise of specific personal jurisdiction over Hoft. Young, 315 F.3d at 263. Although The Gateway Pundit does not have a Virginia-specific focus, Hoft's article was exclusively about a particular Virginia citizen's participation in a Virginia event. Indeed, the title makes clear that the article's focus is a “Random Man” (i.e., Gilmore) “at Protests.” (Dkt. 29-5 at 1). The Virginia-specific focus of the article is further emphasized by Hoft's discussion of Perriello, a Virginia political figure, and by Hoft's use of articles by local Virginia newspapers as sources for his assertions. See Calder, 465 U.S. at 788 (noting that the article at issue, although written in Florida, “was drawn from California sources”). Unlike in Young, the exclusive focus of Hoft's article is a Virginia event and citizen, and, unlike the ISP-defendant in ALS Scan, Hoft's involvement with this allegedly tortious article was not merely passive. Rather, Hoft authored and published the article. (Dkt. 47-3 at 2). As with Creighton's publications, Virginia was “the focal point both of” Hoft's ...


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