A Texas doctor, who’s part of a physicians’ group that promotes using hydroxychloroquine to treat Covid-19, brought her defamation suit against Cable News Network Inc. in the wrong federal district, a federal judge said.
But rather than dismiss Stella Immanuel’s suit, Judge Amos L. Mazzant III of the US District Court for the Eastern District of Texas transferred it to the US District Court for the Southern District of Texas. Any alleged damage to Immanuel’s reputation would have occurred in the Houston area where she practiced, not the eastern-most part of the state, Mazzant said.
Immanuel belongs to America’s Frontline Doctors, a group that gathered in front of the US Supreme Court building in 2020 to express support for HCQ and discuss Covid-19 treatments. Her speech about her experiences with Covid-19 patients went viral.
CNN allegedly accused Immanuel of spreading conspiracy theories and promoting an unproven drug, Immanuel said. It also disparaged Immanuel’s religious beliefs, she said in her suit. The gist of its statements—that she wasn’t qualified to be a medical doctor—was false and defamatory, she said.
CNN moved to dismiss the suit on the ground that it was brought in the wrong district, known in the federal courts as the venue.
The company is incorporated in Delaware and has its principal place of business in New York. A Texas venue is therefore improper unless CNN is subject to its personal jurisdiction, the court said. This is a district-specific inquiry, it said.
CNN wasn’t subject to general personal jurisdiction in the Eastern District because it didn’t have “continuous and systematic” contacts rendering it “at home” there, the court said.
In defamation cases, a defendant can be subject to a court’s specific personal jurisdiction only if the allegedly defamatory statements were purposefully directed at the forum district, the court said.
Merely broadcasting allegedly defamatory statements into the state or district isn’t enough—the contact must be such that the defendant knew it could be brought into court there, the court said. Immanuel’s evidence didn’t meet that test, it said.
But the harm to Immanuel’s reputation allegedly occurred in the Southern District, where she lives and practices, the court said Tuesday. Venue in that district therefore was proper, it said.
Madhu Sekharan of Cypress, Tex., represents Immanuel. Jackson Walker LLP and Davis Wright Tremaine LLP represents CNN.
The case is Immanuel v. Cable New Network, Inc., E.D. Tex., No. 21-cv-587, 5/31/22.