A U.S. district judge in Nebraska has ruled that his court “clearly lacks” jurisdiction over a federal lawsuit filed there by NCAA basketball referee John Higgins last October against Kentucky Sports Radio. The lawsuit went after KSR, founder Matt Jones and managing editor Drew Franklin, arguing that they harmed Higgins and his family by discussing him and his Nebraska-based business online and on the radio, which led to negative reviews and threats.
As per a story from Jason Riley at Louisville Fox affiliate WRDB, U.S. district judge Robert Rossiter’s ruling transferred the lawsuit to an Eastern Kentucky district, which will have to rule if it can proceed:
Attorneys on behalf of KSR, Jones and Franklin argued they have no contacts in Nebraska and did not target any “activities towards readers or listeners in the state.”
In his ruling, Rossiter noted that Jones and Franklin do not live in Nebraska and while KSR is available in the state, that is not enough to satisfy the requirements for jurisdiction.
In addition, Rossiter seemed to indicate that Higgins’ case was not solid. He wrote that “most, if not all, of the damaging actions stated in the Complaint were not performed by any of the defendants but by third parties.”
…The judge wrote that while Higgins has claimed KSR incited UK fans, posting news and describing it as “amusing, no matter how much it may be in poor taste or have caused harm, is not the same as actively soliciting such behavior.”
“While the anonymous actions are, at best, reprehensible and cowardly, none of those actors are parties to this lawsuit,” according to Rossiter.
Mike Stunson of the Lexington Herald-Leader has further specifics from Rossiter’s ruling:
“While Nebraska does have an interest in providing a forum for the plaintiffs and is a more convenient forum for the plaintiffs because it is where the claimed damages occurred, these secondary factors are not the primary focus of the requisite personal jurisdiction analysis, nor can they alone satisfy due process,” Rossiter said. “Unless there are additional reasons for specific jurisdiction, the Court lacks personal jurisdiction over the defendants.”
Rossiter’s comments don’t necessarily mean much, though, as it will be the Kentucky court that decides on whether this proceeds or not (presuming Higgins doesn’t drop the lawsuit now that it’s moved out of state). But this ruling appears beneficial for Jones and Franklin; after the lawsuit was filed in November, they filed a petition arguing that the suit should be dismissed or transferred to Kentucky and citing a lack of jurisdiction. They got the transferrence, and while that may lead to a possible longer legal battle than if Rossiter had decided to dismiss the lawsuit himself, that might be a better outcome for KSR and other online outlets in the long run.
A dismissal would seemingly acknowledge that Nebraska was the proper place to file this lawsuit, and while this case itself wouldn’t proceed, it could open up KSR and other outlets for similar lawsuits from out-of-state based on online and on-air comments.
What exactly is the lawsuit about? It’s over actions Jones and Franklin took after Higgins officiated Kentucky’s loss to North Carolina in last March’s NCAA South Regional Final, which Higgins blames for harassment he and his business received. Stunson’s piece has more details how this led to a lawsuit:
Higgins filed the lawsuit in October and accused Jones and Franklin of sharing Higgins’ contact information and enticing fans to use it, according to court documents. Higgins’ roofing company, Weatherguard, allegedly received 3,000 phone calls the two days after the game, with 75 percent originating from Kentucky area codes, according to court documents.
The Google star rating for Weatherguard plummeted from 4.8 out of 5 to 1.2 out of 5 following the game. Some individuals left false reports against Weatherguard at the Better Business Bureau, court documents show.
But Rossiter says the only alleged actions taken directly by Jones and KSR were simply criticizing Higgins’ officiating, mentioning Weatherguard and sharing a video on its website consisting primarily of Higgins’ officiating.
Higgins’ complaints against Jones and Franklin and their alleged involvement in that harassment didn’t prove enough to get too far in the court in Nebraska, though. We’ll see where this goes from here.