California Has Jurisdiction Over Texan Based on His Social Media Posts

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Andrew Ackerman lives in Texas. He has never lived in California and has no assets or contacts in the state. But he did post false and derogatory messages on social media about Akisha Petties, a Los Angeles model. They were enough to give California jurisdiction over him in a case that reaffirmed his two-year-old domestic violence restraining order (DVRO) and denied his motion to quash service of process for lack of jurisdiction. This month, an appeals court affirmed jurisdiction and kept the previous orders concerning Ackerman in effect.

In October 2022, Petties, who gave her mailing address as Plano, Texas, filed a DVRO against Ackerman because she claimed he had been harassing her for months. Among other things, he created a website on which he posted pictures of her without her permission, and he made disparaging comments about her on several social media platforms for 11 months. Petties claimed the defendant made her fearful and anxious and she was afraid her employers would see the false posts and cause her to lose work because of the harm he was causing to her reputation. At the time she requested the DVRO, she was living in California.

Los Angeles County Superior Court Commissioner Laura Streimer granted Petties’ DVRO that ordered Ackerman to stay 100 years away from the model, her home, her job, and her car. Ackerman then filed a motion to quash his service of process because California had no jurisdiction over him. He said all his contacts with the plaintiff had been in Texas and he had no connections in California. The court, however, said that all of Ackerman’s posts were targeted at her while she was in California and that he knew she was in California because he had purchased a plane ticket to visit her there. These actions gave Streimer personal jurisdiction over the matter, and she denied Ackerman’s motion to quash personal service.

A trial was held in 2023. A female friend of Petties testified that she received a comment on her TikTok account that said she was in a relationship with Petties. He used several names when he posted his messages. Ackerman admitted to writing the inappropriate and untrue comment. There was also evidence that he contacted other friends of Petties with claims that the model had plastic surgery, and he placed similar messages on Instagram and his YouTube channel. All of these acts disturbed her state of mind. She reported him to her local police, who forwarded her report to law enforcement in Texas.

The trial court granted the restraining order. Streimer concluded that Ackerman had “at least seven accounts of various social media platforms about Petties that “disturbed her peace” because they contained lies regarding her sexuality, her alleged venereal disease, and her paying men for sex. The trial court ruled that Petties “was not the kind of public figure that should expect criticism or abuse from followers.” Streimer found Ackerman’s conduct deplorable and “exactly the type of conduct a Domestic Violence Restraining Order was designed to protect victims from enduring.” The Commissioner also said that in addition to postings from Texas, there had been direct contact between the parties via texts.

Ackerman appealed, and a unanimous 3-0 panel from Division Five of the Second District of California affirmed Streimer’s rulings on May 24. In an unpublished opinion, written by Acting Presiding Judge Carl H. Moor, the court discussed Ackerman’s claim that there was insufficient evidence to rule on whether the trial court had personal jurisdiction over the defendant. That said, he still wrote, “there is clearly substantial evidence to support the trial court’s findings.” Concurring opinions were given by Associate Justice Dorothy C. Kim and San Bernardino County Judge Corey Lee, sitting by designation.

Judge Moor said the U.S. Code of Civil Procedure, § 410.10 gives California the “right to exercise jurisdiction on any basis” not inconsistent with the U.S. or California constitutions. He clarified that the “sole issue in this case” is whether Ackerman is subject to “specific jurisdiction.” This would occur, according to precedents, if: (1) Ackerman had availed himself of forum benefits; (2) if the controversy arose from his “forum-related contact;” and (3) if the assertion of jurisdiction “comports with fair play and substantial justice.”

The test supported jurisdiction because Ackerman “purposefully sent tortious communications into a forum and thereby injured its residents,” California was the place and the “focal point” of the harm suffered, and California had an “important interest as expressed by state statute.”

Moor then discussed the standard of review that was required for the appellate court ruling. He said that would be determined by a mixture of law and fact and here, where the facts are undisputed and “resolved by the court in favor of the prevailing party,” the appellate court could make a legal determination warranting our independent review.”

He also said it would be Ackerman’s burden to “provide a record which overcomes the presumption of correctness.” The Justice wrote that “Ackerman is subject to specific jurisdiction in California because he purposefully directed conduct at California to disturb Petties’ peace of mind.” Specifically, he knew Petties moved to California in 2020, and that she worked in and had a career in the state. Thus, he affirmed that the trial court properly denied the defendant’s motion to quash service of the complaint.

The judge also found Ackerman’s complaint that the DVRO restricted his First Amendment right to Freedom of Speech unpersuasive. Moor wrote, “…abuse is not the type of “speech” that is afforded constitutional protection.” He concluded, “…the court’s protective order does not violate Ackerman’s right to free speech…The order denying the motion to quash and the restraining order are affirmed.”

Maureen Rubin
Maureen Rubin
Maureen is a graduate of Catholic University Law School and holds a Master's degree from USC. She is a licensed attorney in California and was an Emeritus Professor of Journalism at California State University, Northridge specializing in media law and writing. With a background in both the Carter White House and the U.S. Congress, Maureen enriches her scholarly work with an extensive foundation of real-world knowledge.
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