holding that defamation claim brought by university football coach against a former student did not "arise out of" that student's earlier decision to pursue a college degree in New YorkSummary of this case from Segal v. Bitar
Argued February 3, 1988
Decided March 17, 1988
Appeal from the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court in the Third Judicial Department, Thomas J. Murphy, J.
S. Paul Battaglia for appellants.
Nancy L. Pontius for defendants-respondents.
The order of the Appellate Division should be affirmed, with costs.
Leon Talbot and Jane Talbot commenced a defamation action against Stuart MacLaren, his daughter Patricia MacLaren, and Johnson Newspaper Corp. (as well as several individual media defendants), seeking damages for injury to his reputation as a coach at St. Lawrence University, caused by two letters written by Stuart MacLaren. The letters dealt with two incidents recounted by Patricia MacLaren to her father, which occurred in May 1982, allegedly involving Leon Talbot. In the first, a St. Lawrence student was struck and killed by a vehicle driven by a second student shortly after he left a party at the Talbots' home; he was charged with operating a vehicle while his condition was impaired by alcohol, a charge that was eventually dismissed. Patricia MacLaren, then a St. Lawrence senior, assisted in identifying the body and notifying the deceased's roommates. The second incident occurred approximately two weeks later at a fraternity party where MacLaren observed an individual she believed to be Leon Talbot in a severely intoxicated state.
More than two years after his daughter's graduation, Stuart MacLaren, a California resident, wrote from there to the university president and board of trustees criticizing the handling of the student's death, describing his daughter's account of the coach's behavior at the campus party, and questioning the propriety of university requests for contributions from alumni in light of these events. In October 1984, defendant newspaper featured the letter (which had been sent to it by a trustee) in an article. The article quoted from the letter as well as a telephone interview with Patricia MacLaren, also in California, in which she said, "I have no doubt in my mind that I saw the coach guzzling beer at the party." Talbot insisted that the individual she saw must have been a look-alike. Four days later, the newspaper published a second article entitled "Coach's Double Fell Asleep on Frat Sofa," which reported that a man bearing an uncanny resemblance to Talbot was the person described in the MacLaren letter. A subsequent letter written by Stuart MacLaren reiterated that his daughter still maintained that the man on the sofa was Leon Talbot.
The MacLarens — both California residents who conducted no business in New York — moved to dismiss the action against them for want of personal jurisdiction. Special Term denied the motion, concluding that the requirements of CPLR 302 (a) (1) were satisfied by Patricia MacLaren's pursuit of a college degree here and by both MacLarens' interest in maintaining the value of that degree, and that there was a substantial relationship between the business transaction and the cause of action: "[a]bsent the four-year educational contract, the MacLarens would not even have been in New York at the time of the basketball coach's alleged intoxication". The Appellate Division reversed and dismissed the complaint against the MacLarens.
We agree with the Appellate Division that CPLR 302 (a) (1) — the section that governs the issue in this defamation action — does not support the exercise of personal jurisdiction over the MacLarens. Essential to the maintenance of this action against the MacLarens are some "purposeful activities" within the State and a "substantial relationship" between those activities and the transaction out of which the cause of action arose (McGowan v Smith, 52 N.Y.2d 268, 272). Even if Patricia MacLaren's previous enrollment and attendance at a New York university satisfied the requirement of purposeful activities in New York, there was no showing that — years after termination of that relationship — there was the required nexus between the MacLarens' New York "business" and the present cause of action. While appellants urge that jurisdiction may constitutionally be premised on broader standards articulated by the United States Supreme Court (see, e.g., Asahi Metal Indus. v Superior Ct., 480 U.S. 102, ___, 107 S Ct 1026, 1033), the New York long-arm statute (CPLR 302) does not provide for in personam jurisdiction in every case in which due process would permit it (Banco Ambrosiano v Artoc Bank Trust, 62 N.Y.2d 65, 71).
Chief Judge WACHTLER and Judges SIMONS, KAYE, ALEXANDER, HANCOCK, JR., and BELLACOSA concur; Judge TITONE taking no part.
Order affirmed, with costs, in a memorandum.