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Covington Students Lose Bid to Sue Twitter Users for Harassment

Feb. 23, 2021, 9:25 PM

Kentucky high school students who found themselves the subject of intense media scrutiny after an encounter with an American Indian man at the 2019 March for Life in Washington, D.C., lost their Sixth Circuit appeal Tuesday to sue two Twitter users from New Jersey and California for harassment and invasion of privacy.

Courts in Kentucky don’t have jurisdiction over Twitter users Sujana Chandrasekhar and Kathy Griffin under due-process principles because there’s no evidence they “posted the tweets hoping to reach Kentucky specifically as opposed to their Twitter followers generally,” the appeals court said. And the underlying events took place in Washington, it said.

Another student from the Covington Catholic High School group that visited Washington, Nicholas Sandmann, has sued several major media outlets and settled with CNN and the Washington Post. Sandmann isn’t a participant in either of the suits the Sixth Circuit addressed here.

Several Covington students and the parents of several others alleged Chandrasekhar and Griffin caused them harm through tweets about a confrontation involving a group of Covington students and “a self-described Native American Elder.” They asserted claims for harassment, menacing, terroristic threatening, and invasion of privacy.

They sued Chandrasekhar and Griffin separately in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky, which dismissed both cases for lack of personal jurisdiction.

Neither Kentucky’s long-arm statute nor the due process clause allows for jurisdiction over Chandrasekhar and Griffin, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit said in the consolidated appeal. The pair didn’t engage in “acts” in Kentucky, even if there were consequences in Kentucky—a significant distinction in the state’s jurisdictional law, the court said.

And although they argued that due process allows for jurisdiction, the students didn’t “point to a single case in which a court extended personal jurisdiction based on a defendant’s allegedly tortious postings on social media,” the court said.

The court also sorted out a persistent procedural problem within the Sixth Circuit. An attorney’s notice to a federal court in the circuit that he or she is appearing for a client doesn’t, on its own, show consent to jurisdiction and waive the client’s jurisdictional defenses, the appellate panel clarified.

Judge Julia Smith Gibbons wrote the opinion, which Judges Eugene E. Siler Jr. and Raymond M. Kethledge joined.

Poston, Seifried & Schloemer PC represented the students. Faruki PLL represented Chandrasekhar. Greenberg Traurig LLP and Graydon Head & Ritchey LLP represented Griffin.

The case is Blessing v. Chandrasekhar, 6th Cir., No. 20-5850, 2/23/21.

To contact the reporter on this story: Martina Barash in Washington at mbarash@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Rob Tricchinelli at rtricchinelli@bloomberglaw.com; Steven Patrick at spatrick@bloomberglaw.com

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