Too often defendants with a national presence fail to assert a personal jurisdiction defense to class actions. A decision from the Eastern District of Missouri demonstrates why all defendants—even those with a national presence—should take care to consider personal jurisdiction as a first line of defense. See Jones v. Papa John’s Int’l, Inc., 2023 WL 7155562 (E.D. Mo. Oct. 31, 2023) (Clark, C.J.).

In Jones v. Papa John’s, plaintiffs brought a putative class action challenging the pizza chain’s use of “session replay code” that helps improve user experience on the company’s website by monitoring user activity. Plaintiffs claimed the tracking violated a variety of federal and state statutes protecting consumer privacy. The pizza chain moved for dismissal under Rule 12(b)(2) for lack of personal jurisdiction.

Chief Judge Clark’s opinion is a systematic guide to evaluating personal jurisdiction within the Eighth Circuit. Although the plaintiff bears the burden of establishing a prima facie case of jurisdiction when a defendant challenges personal jurisdiction at the pleading stage, she may use affidavits and exhibits, and the evidence is generally viewed in a light most favorable to the plaintiff.

Where jurisdiction is premised on state law or on federal statutes that do not expressly authorize nationwide personal jurisdiction, “‘the existence of personal jurisdiction depends on the long-arm statute of the forum state and the federal Due Process Clause.’” Id. at *2 (citation omitted).

Many state long-arm statutes extend personal jurisdiction as far as due process allows. Due process, in turn, exists ‘“‘only if the contacts between the defendant and the forum state are sufficient to establish that the defendant has purposefully availed himself of the benefits and protections of the forum state.’”” Id. (citing Johnson v. Arden,  614 F.3d 785, 794 (8th Cir. 2010). The Eighth Circuit uses five factors to determine whether a defendant’s contacts are sufficient to confer jurisdiction:

“(1) The nature and quality of the contacts with the forum state; (2) the quantity of the contacts; (3) the relationship of the cause of action to the contacts; (4) the interest of [the forum state] in providing a forum for its residents; and (5) the convenience or inconvenience of the parties.”

The first three factors are “primary factors.” The Eighth Circuit also uses an additional factor in the context of intentional torts: the “effects test” from Calder v. Jones, 465 U.S. 783 (1984) (evaluating whether the defendant’s acts were intentional, expressly aimed at the forum state, and caused harm that was suffered in—and the defendant knew would be suffered in—the forum state).

Chief Judge Clark first considered whether Papa John’s was subject to general jurisdiction in Missouri. Ordinarily, general jurisdiction exists only where the defendant is “at home,” i.e., its principal place of business or its place of incorporation. Daimler AG v. Bauman, 571 U.S. 117, 137 (2014) (the exception to this rule is where a company’s forum contacts are “so substantial and of such a nature as to render the corporation at home in that State”). Chief Judge Clark distinguished pre-Daimler “substantial and continuous contacts” cases, holding that Papa John’s is not “at home” in Missouri. He also denied jurisdictional discovery on the issue because plaintiff offered only “speculation and conclusory assertions” about what such discovery would show.

Chief Judge Clark then considered specific jurisdiction, cautioning that the court “must only look to those contacts of [the defendant] that relate to Plaintiff’s claims.” 2023 WL 7155562, at *4 (relying on Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. v. Superior Ct., 582 U.S. 255, 264 (2017)). He rejected the notion that marketing and sales activity in Missouri had anything to do with the specific jurisdiction analysis. Rather, plaintiff’s claim was based on the defendant’s use of session replay code, and plaintiff failed to allege that “Papa John’s website and app are specifically tailored to Missouri consumers or that Papa John’s made special efforts to market its website and app in Missouri. Plaintiff’s threadbare allegation that Papa John’s has ‘targeted’ Missouri does not alter this fact. Nothing in the record suggests Papa John’s ‘directed’ its website and app at Missouri any more than any other state.” Id. at *7 (emphasis added).

In reaching this conclusion, the court relied on decisions like Zippo Mfg. Co. v. Zippo Dot Com, Inc., 952 F. Supp. 1119 (W.D. Pa. 1997) (positing a sliding scale of minimum contacts relating to Internet websites), and Johnson v. Arden, 614 F.3d 785, 796 (8th Cir. 2010) (finding Zippo “instructive”). Expressly agreeing with an opinion by Judge Stephen Limbaugh, Jr., Chief Judge Clark rejected the notion that a plaintiff may sue everywhere so long as she made her purchase on an interactive website. 2023 WL 7155562, at *6 (citing Allied Ins. Co. of Am. v. JPaulJones L.P., 491 F. Supp. 3d 472 (E.D. Mo. 2020)). Where the alleged harm “would have occurred no matter the state the Plaintiffs were in” and the conduct was not “uniquely or expressly aimed at the forum state,” there is no specific jurisdiction.

Chief Judge Clark’s opinion in Jones v. Papa John’s is an excellent roadmap for defendants—even defendants who use the Internet to conduct business nationally or internationally—to use in challenging personal jurisdiction within the Eighth Circuit in class action cases.