Fourth Circuit refuses to exercise jurisdiction over Chicago website

In CareFirst of Maryland v CareFirst Pregnancy Centres, the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit has held that an out-of-state organization's use of a semi-interactive website was insufficient reason to confer personal jurisdiction.

Chicago-based CareFirst Pregnancy Centres (CPC) - a pregnancy counselling service - contracted with Maryland web hosting company NetImpact in 1988 to purchase several domain names, including two incorporating the CAREFIRST mark. The CPC website asserts that its geographic focus is the Chicago area.

CareFirst of Maryland (CareFirst) - an insurance company - initiated an action against CPC in the District of Maryland alleging that it infringed and diluted CareFirst's trademark and service mark rights in CAREFIRST. The trial court granted CPC's motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction, finding that its contact with Maryland was insufficient to confer jurisdiction. CareFirst filed a motion for reconsideration, which was denied. CareFirst appealed to the Fourth Circuit appeals court.

Although the Fourth Circuit deemed relevant the fact that CPC maintained an interactive website, it found that the only "concrete" exchange between CPC and Marylanders was a single online donation made by CareFirst's counsel. The court also noted that CPC's website had a strongly local character, with an emphasis on helping Chicago-area women.

CPC's relationship with Maryland-based NetImpact also failed to provide CareFirst with a basis for the court to exert specific jurisdiction over CPC. The court found that CPC's contact with NetImpact was minimal, as it merely facilitated the purchase of CPC's domain names and rented space on servers not located in Maryland.

The Fourth Circuit affirmed the trial court's decision to dismiss CareFirst's action based on a lack of personal jurisdiction.

Savalle Sims, Arent Fox Kintner Plotkin & Kahn PLLC, Washington DC

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