What Happens on Social Media May Not Stay on Social Media

Social Media posts and jurisdiction in the State of California

Social media platforms such as Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat have drastically changed the way we communicate. Today, an estimated 1.96 billion people worldwide interact in increasingly varied ways across a rising number of social media platforms. It is imperative that the law, as well as the interpretation of the law, adapt to this constantly changing dynamic.

In Marla Gwen Hogue v. Jerry Dean Hogue, Super. Ct. No. 16-DV-00352, a recent case out of the Third Appellate District in the California Court of Appeal, the Court ruled that California had personal jurisdiction over Jerry, an estranged husband, after he sent his wife, Marla, a video message through social media. The video, sent in December 2015, contained a mock suicide where Jerry pretended to shoot himself in the mouth with a shotgun. This social media message was subsequent to a 20-year history of domestic violence perpetrated by Jerry against Marla.

Background Facts

Marla moved to California to escape Jerry. She filed a request for a domestic violence restraining order in California, seeking protection for herself, her mother (with whom she lived), and her two dogs, which she contended Jerry had also abused. In her request, Marla contended that Jerry had kicked, punched, strangled and raped her during their relationship. She described an incident where Jerry choked her into unconsciousness and described abuse that resulted in bruised ribs. She gave details of an incident where Jerry threatened to kill them both.

Jerry specially appeared and filed a motion to quash the domestic restraining order for lack of personal jurisdiction. He claimed he lived in Georgia and had not had any contact with California for two years and therefore California had no power to make a decision in Marla’s request for a restraining order against him. The trial court granted Jerry’s motion, and Marla appealed.

Marla’s Appeal

In her appeal, Marla invoked a “species of a specific jurisdiction in which a defendant, acting elsewhere, causes effects in California” that are exceptional in nature, and subject to special regulation. The Court agreed with Marla’s position that Jerry’s act of sending such a horrific video directly to Marla was sufficient for California to exercise personal jurisdiction over Jerry.

The Court found that the “very existence of the Domestic Violence Protection Act bespeaks California’s concern with an exceptional type of conduct that subjects it to special regulation.” The Court compared Jerry’s act to “shooting a gun into the state” and found that Jerry’s act of intentionally sending a video of his mock suicide, from Georgia to Marla in California, was, “indisputably,” conduct that would disturb Marla’s peace of mind and be the basis for granting a restraining order.

What Does the Court’s Decision Mean?

The Court of Appeal vacated the trial court’s order and sent the case back to the trial court for further proceedings.  While we do not know if Marla was indeed successful in her request for the restraining order against Jerry, what we do know is that the Court held that, due to the exceptional nature of Jerry’s conduct, California did have jurisdiction concerning the restraining order against Jerry, even though he lived in another state.

The online abuse sent across a social media platform from Jerry to Marla was taken into consideration by the Court when determining whether the California had jurisdiction to protect a resident of the state.

Marla Gwen Hogue v. Jerry Dean Hogue is a win in the domestic violence context. It creates stronger legal authority for potential victims of domestic violence to seek orders against their abusers when the abuse is happening online via social media.

*1.96 billion stat comes from https://www.statista.com/statistics/273476/percentage-of-us-population-with-a-social-network-profile/