Tuesday, November 24, 2009

LTVN Holdings, LLC v. Odeh (Maryland U.S.D.C.)

Filed: November 5, 2009.
Opinion by: Judge Catherine C. Blake

Held: A non-resident defendant's assent to a forum selection clause in an Internet "clickwrap" agreement, alone, is sufficient to justify the exercise of personal jurisdiction over such a defendant and constitutes a waiver of any objection to venue.

Facts: Defendant LLC and its principal, citizens of Louisiana, obtained access to Plaintiff's Internet-based video content by registering on Plaintiff's website and accepting Plaintiff's on-line terms of use. The terms included a forum-selection clause, requiring that "any action to enforce this agreement shall be brought in the federal or state courts located in the State of Maryland." Plaintiff sued both the LLC and its principal in Maryland, alleging that they improperly tampered with Plaintiff's video content and passed it off on their website as the Defendant LLC's property. Defendants never visited Maryland and conducted no business there.

Analysis: The forum-selection clause in the Network Affiliate Agreement is valid, mandatory, and enforceable. Courts have routinely upheld such clauses where defendants clicked only once on a button indicating their assent to an on-line agreement containing those terms, even if they have not read the agreements. Defendant did not meet its "heavy burden" of showing that the forum-selection clause was "unreasonable, unfair, or unjust" in order to justify a judicial refusal to enforce it. As a result, Defendants' consent to the forum-selection clause, standing alone, is sufficient to confer personal jurisdiction in Maryland and makes venue in this district proper. Assent to the clause constitutes a waiver of objections to both personal jurisdiction and venue.

The plaintiff had previously prevailed in two other cases challenging the same type of contract provisions, Costar Realty Information, Inc. v. Field, 612 F.Supp. 2d 660 (2009) and Costar Realty Information, Inc. v. Meissner, 604 F.Supp. 2d 757 (2009).

Practice Pointer: Corporate principals, like the President of the Defendant LLC here, may be exposing themselves to personal liability merely by "clicking" their assent to an on-line service-provider's terms of use, even if the entity is the intended user of the on-line content. Such agreements may not distinguish between a user acting in his personal capacity and a user acting as agent for a corporate principal.

The full opinion is available in PDF.

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