Permission to Appeal Denied by Supreme Court March 27, 2006.
W. FRANK CRAWFORD, P.J., W.S., delivered the opinion of the court, in which DAVID R. FARMER, J. and HOLLY M. KIRBY, J., joined.
Plaintiff/Appellant owner of jet ski customizing business brought defamation action against defendants alleging libel, civil
Kerry Hibdon ("Hibdon," "Plaintiff," or "Appellant") operates a television repair business in McMinville, Tennessee. An interest in riding jet skis, and in modifying jet skis to increase their speed, led Hibdon to start a jet ski customizing business called The Jet Shop. This business was also located in McMinville. Hibdon advertised his jet ski business on the Internet. He also published descriptions of the speeds his customized jet skis were achieving on the Internet news group rec.sport.jetski.
A "Source Box" appeared below the article providing the name of Hibdon's business, along with mailing address, phone number and e-mail address.
In March of 2001, SPLASH Magazine published another article reporting that Hibdon had modified a jet ski that successfully reached the speed of eighty miles per hour. This article was highlighted on the magazine's cover with a photo of Hibdon. Hibdon was mentioned two additional times in SPLASH editorials. Following the publication of the articles in SPLASH, the Defendants (also jet ski enthusiasts) published numerous remarks on rec.sport.jetski. Many of these remarks were critical of Hibdon's jet ski modifications and questioned the authenticity of the speed Hibdon's modified jet skis had achieved. The Defendants also criticized Hibdon's skills as a jet ski mechanic, and made negative personal comments about Hibdon. Additionally, Defendant Grabowski, who operates a competing jet ski customizing business in Paducah, Kentucky, HPT Sports USA, published statements about Hibdon on Grabowski's business website under a category called "Chop Shop."
On June 21, 2001, Kerry Hibdon filed a Complaint against George J. Grabowski, HPT Sport USA, Fagan Pace, Pace Tech, Ben Pennington, Ronnie Reels, Larry Talley, David Haynes and James Mehaffey (together the "Defendants") for libel and civil conspiracy.
Between August 9, 2001 and November 5, 2001, Defendants Grabowski, Pace Reels, Talley and Pennington filed Rule 12.02 motions to dismiss asserting that venue in Warren County was improper. In addition, the non-resident Defendants Grabowski and Pace asserted that they were not subject to personal jurisdiction in the state of Tennessee. Defendants Grabowski, Pennington and Reels also asserted that the Complaint failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted and moved for dismissal pursuant to Rule 12.02(6). On September 10, 2002, the trial court entered an Order denying Defendants' motions to dismiss, which reads, in pertinent part, as follows:
On January 14, 2003, Defendants Grabowski, Pace, Pennington, Reels and Talley filed an Answer and Counterclaim that denied the material allegations of the Complaint and asserted a separate counterclaim by Defendants Reels, Pennington and Talley for breach of contract and breach of warranty based upon Hibdon's allegedly deficient work performed on the Defendants' jet skis.
In addition to the affirmative defense of unclean hands, Defendants also assert a lack of liability based upon the alternative arguments that the statements are truthful, that the statements are merely opinion, or that the statements are protected
On July 31, 2003, Defendants Grabowski, Pace, Pennington, Reels and Talley filed a Motion for Summary Judgment along with a Statement of Undisputed Material Facts, depositions, and affidavits in support thereof. In these documents, the Defendants assert that Hibdon is a public figure and that he is unable to prove that the Defendants' statements were made with actual malice or with reckless disregard for their truth as required under Tennessee law. The Motion for Summary Judgment further argues that Hibdon was unable to prove the element of actual damages stemming from the alleged defamation as required under Tennessee law. On November 12, 2003, Hibdon filed "Plaintiff's Memorandum in Opposition to Motion for Summary Judgment," along with "Plaintiff's Responses to Defendants' Statement of Material and Undisputed Facts," and Affidavits in support thereof. In these documents, Hibdon argued that this is not a public controversy, and that he is not a public figure for purposes of this libel action. In the alternative, Hibdon asserts that, if he is found to be a public figure, then there was sufficient evidence to support a finding, by clear and convincing evidence, that not only the Defendants acted with actual malice but also that Hibdon suffered actual injury and damages. Finally, Hibdon argues that the Defendants relied upon a deposition given by Hibdon in a previous case, which involved a different set of defendants and concerned an entirely different set of libelous publications. Hibdon argues that the testimony given in that deposition is misleading and not relevant in the present case.
On December 19, 2003, the trial court entered an Order granting Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment. The Order reads, in pertinent part, as follows:
Mr. Hibdon appeals from the grant of summary judgment and raises three issues for review as stated in his brief:
Appellees present twelve issues for review; however, we perceive their dispositive issues to be whether the trial court should have dismissed the Plaintiff's Complaint for improper venue, and/or whether the trial court should have dismissed the Plaintiff's complaint against non-resident Defendants Grabowski and Pace for lack of personal jurisdiction. We will discuss Appellees' issues following our discussion of Mr. Hibdon's specific issues surrounding the trial court's grant of Summary Judgment.
It is well settled in Tennessee that a motion for summary judgment should be granted when the movant demonstrates that there are no genuine issues of material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law. See Tenn. R. Civ. P. 56.04. The party moving for summary judgment bears the burden of demonstrating that no genuine issue of material fact exists. See Bain v. Wells, 936 S.W.2d 618, 622 (Tenn.1997). On a motion for summary judgment, the court must take the strongest legitimate view of the evidence in favor of the nonmoving party, allow all reasonable inferences in favor of that party, and discard all countervailing evidence. Id. In Byrd v. Hall, 847 S.W.2d 208 (Tenn.1993), our Supreme Court stated:
Id. at 210-11 (citations omitted) (emphasis in original).
Summary judgment is only appropriate when the facts and the legal conclusions drawn from the facts reasonably permit only one conclusion. See Carvell v. Bottoms, 900 S.W.2d 23, 26 (Tenn.1995). Since only questions of law are involved, there is no presumption of correctness regarding a trial court's grant of summary judgment. See Bain, 936 S.W.2d at 622. Therefore, our review of the trial court's grant of summary judgment is de novo on the record before this Court. See Warren v. Estate of Kirk, 954 S.W.2d 722, 723 (Tenn.1997).
The Tennessee Supreme Court has stated that the summary judgment procedure was designed to provide a quick, inexpensive means of concluding cases, in whole or in part, upon issues as to which there is no dispute regarding the material facts. Evco Corp. v. Ross, 528 S.W.2d 20, 24 (Tenn.1975). Where a dispute does exist
Libel and slander are both forms of defamation; libel being written defamation and slander being spoken defamation. Quality Auto Parts Co., Inc. v. Bluff City Buick Co., Inc., 876 S.W.2d 818, 820 (Tenn. 1994). To establish a prima facie case of defamation, the plaintiff must prove that (1) a party published a statement; (2) with knowledge that the statement was false and defaming to the other; or (3) with reckless disregard for the truth of the statement or with negligence in failing to ascertain the truth of the statement. Sullivan v. Baptist Mem'l Hosp., 995 S.W.2d 569, 571 (Tenn.1999) (relying on Restatement (Second) of Torts § 580 B (1977)). If the plaintiff in a case of libel is a public official or public figure, they must also prove that the libelous statements were made with "`actual malice'—that is, with knowledge that it was false or with reckless disregard of whether it was false or not." New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, 376 U.S. 254, 279-80, 84 S.Ct.710, 11 L.Ed.2d 686 (1964). The public figure must demonstrate evidence of actual malice with "convincing clarity." Id. at 285-86, 84 S.Ct. 710. However, the basis for an action for defamation, whether it be slander or libel, is that the defamation has resulted in an injury to the person. Quality Auto Parts Co., Inc., 876 S.W.2d at 820.
The "actual malice" requirement does not apply to Mr. Hibdon unless it is first determined that Mr. Hibdon is a "public figure" within the meaning of New York Times v. Sullivan. New York Times v. Sullivan, supra, at 279-80, 84 S.Ct. 710. Tennessee has adopted the standards in § 580A and 580B of the Restatement (Second) of Torts (1977), which establish the distinction between defamation as to a public official or public figure and defamation of a private person. Press, Inc. v. Verran, 569 S.W.2d 435, 442 (Tenn.1978). As to a public figure, one can only be held liable if he or she knows that the statement is false and that it defames another person, or if he or she acts in reckless disregard of such matters. Id. at 442. As to a private person, he or she may be held liable if he or she knows that the statement is false and that it defames the person, or if he or she acts in reckless disregard of these matters, or acts negligently in failing to ascertain them. Id. at 442.
In order to determine whether the trial court erred in granting summary judgment to the Defendants, this Court must first determine whether the trial court erred in finding that Mr. Hibdon is a public figure for purposes of the controversy that is the basis of this lawsuit. In determining the "public figure" status of Appellant, we are again guided by our Supreme Court in Press, Inc.:
Press, Inc. v. Verran, 569 S.W.2d at 441. More commonly, those classed by the courts as public figures have thrust themselves to the forefront of a particular public
Id. at 25-26 (quoting Gertz v. Robert Welch, Inc., 418 U.S. at 342, 94 S.Ct. 2997.)
In the instant case, Hibdon entered into the jet ski business and voluntarily advertised on the news group rec.sport.jetski, an Internet site that is accessible worldwide. On the Internet news group, Hibdon claimed that his modified jet skis had reached record-setting speeds of more than seventy-four miles per hour while running on regular pump gasoline. Hibdon claimed, on rec.sport.jetski, that he was "builder of some of the fastest jet skis on planet Earth." The significance of Hibdon's claims brought him to the attention of an editor at SPLASH Magazine, which was then a nationally circulated publication in the jet ski trade. Hibdon submitted to an interview and agreed to and have his modified jet skis tested by representatives of SPLASH. Again in 2001, Hibdon's jets ski modifications were featured in a SPLASH article promoting the quality of services Hibdon provided and the record-breaking speeds that his modified jet skis had achieved. The second time Hibdon was featured in SPLASH, he appeared on the cover of the magazine. Hibdon was mentioned two additional times in SPLASH editorials. Following the initial SPLASH article, Hibdon's jet ski modification business increased sharply. Hibdon received calls from potential customers both regional and from Canada and Guadeloupe. Shortly after the news of Hibdon's success with jet ski modifications appeared in SPLASH, the Defendants began posting comments on rec.sport.jetski challenging Hibdon's success and the quality of his workmanship. In response, Hibdon himself posted many comments on rec.sport.jetski expressing his own opinions on the jet ski business, and countering comments made by the Defendants on the site. Hibdon admitted that the news group rec.sport.jetski was a public forum. Over 2,000 individual postings relating to this controversy appeared on the rec.sport.jetski. SPLASH published a positive editorial responding to the criticisms of Hibdon that appeared on rec.sport.jetski.
The first step in determining if a plaintiff is a public figure is to discern whether there is a public controversy. In his Opposition to the Motion for Summary Judgment, Hibdon argues that the controversy at hand does not rise to the level of a "public controversy," but is merely a private disagreement among the parties. A public controversy is defined as a real dispute, the outcome of which affects the general public or some identifiable segment of the public in an appreciable way. See Waldbaum v. Fairchild Productions, Inc., 627 F.2d 1287, 1296 (D.C.Cir.1980). The United States Supreme Court stated that courts may not question the legitimacy of the public's concern on a particular issue because such an approach would run
Here, the undisputed facts show that a public controversy developed over the purported success of Hibdon's jet ski modifications. Hibdon himself knowingly and consciously sought publicity for his jet ski business by his initial postings on rec.sport.jetski. The controversy began following Hibdon's posting on the news group of the success of his jet ski modifications, prior to the publishing of the defamatory statements made by the Defendants. The controversy was "public" due to the international reach of the Internet news group rec.sport.jetski, the national circulation of SPLASH Magazine, as well as the significance of the claims being asserted by Hibdon. The dispute as to the accuracy of Hibdon's claimed successes with modifying jet skis to achieve record-breaking speeds received public attention because its ramifications would be felt by persons who are not direct participants, those persons being individuals in the jet ski modification business, as well as recreational jet ski enthusiasts and purchasers of jet skis. This group includes individuals within the United States and many foreign countries. Further evidence of the breadth of the controversy is that Hibdon has also sued residents of Arizona, North Carolina, Texas and New Hampshire relating to postings those individuals made on rec.sport.jetski.
Since a public controversy does exist, we now turn to the question of whether Hibdon's role in the controversy subjects him to the burdens of proof of a "public figure" for purposes of a libel action. The majority of libel cases in Tennessee have not dealt with the question of when a private individual rises to the level of "public figure" for purposes of a defamation action. Rather, the majority of Tennessee cases have addressed the question of whether government employees or political candidates and activists are public officials or figures.
In light of the above factors, and using the criteria set forth by the Tennessee Supreme Court in Press, Inc. v. Verran, the trial court correctly identified Mr. Hibdon as a limited purpose public figure. There is no question that Mr. Hibdon injected himself into the public controversy voluntarily by boasting about his jet ski modifications and speeds thereof on rec.sport.jetski. Hibdon had access to and used effective means of communication, both through the news group and through SPLASH Magazine, in order to counteract the Defendant's statements. Furthermore, as the figure at the center of the controversy, Hibdon's role was extensive. Upon consideration of the above factors, as a matter of law, we find that the trial court correctly characterized Mr. Hibdon as a "public figure".
As a limited purpose public figure, Hibdon has the burden of proving by clear and convincing evidence that the Defendants' published statements were made with knowledge of the statement's falsity or with reckless disregard of its truth or falsity. Curtis Pub. Co. v. Butts, 388 U.S. 130, 155, 87 S.Ct. 1975, 18 L.Ed.2d 1094 (1967). In the case of In re C.W.W., 37 S.W.3d 467, 474 (Tenn.Ct.App. 2000), this Court provided the following parameters covering the "clear and convincing evidence" standard:
Id. at 474.
The concept of actual malice in defamation cases connotes more than personal ill will, hatred, spite, or desire to injure; rather, it is limited to statements made with knowledge that they are false or with reckless disregard to their truth or falsity. McWhorter v. Barre, 132 S.W.3d 354, 365 (Tenn.Ct.App.2003). Likewise, statements that cannot "reasonably [be] interpreted as stating actual facts about an individual" because they are expressed in "loose, figurative or hyperbolic language," and/or the content and tenor of the statements "negate the impression that the author seriously is maintaining an assertion of actual fact" about the plaintiff are not provably false and, as such, will not provide a legal basis for defamation. Milkovich v. Lorain Journal, 497 U.S. 1, 21, 110 S.Ct. 2695, 111 L.Ed.2d 1 (1990). In reviewing the propriety of the trial court's grant of summary judgment to the Defendants in this case, we must determine, upon taking the evidence in the light most favorable to Mr. Hibdon, whether reasonable minds must agree that malice, as defined in the context of libel suits against public figures, has not been proven by clear and convincing evidence. McCluen v. Roane County Times, Inc., 936 S.W.2d 936, 939 (Tenn.Ct.App.1996) (citing Goode v. Tamko Asphalt Products, Inc., 783 S.W.2d 184 (Tenn.1989)).
For material evidence sufficient to meet his burden of proving with clear and convincing evidence that the statements made by the Defendants were made with actual malice, we now turn to the record.
George Grabowski ("Grabowski") is a resident of Paducah, Kentucky, where he operates a jet ski customizing business known as HPT Sport USA. Hibdon alleges that Grabowski published numerous libelous statements regarding Hibdon on the Internet news group rec.sport.jetski as well as on Grabowski's business website under a category called "Chop Shop." According to Hibdon's Amended Complaint, the following is a statement which was published on rec.sport.jetski. According to Hibdon, the statement was made by Grabowski, about Hibdon, to wit:
Larry Talley ("Talley") is a citizen of LaVergne, Tennessee. According to Hibdon's Amended Complaint, Talley purchased a modified stroker engine for his jet ski from Hibdon in 1999. Talley traded in his original equipment and paid an additional $2,500 to Hibdon for the engine, which was equipped with an aftermarket exhaust pipe and aftermarket carburetors. Hibdon stated that the engine was not under warranty and that Defendant Talley was aware of the lack of warranty when he purchased the modified engine. In the Amended Complaint, Hibdon states that Talley's engine had a number of failures, some of which were due to Talley's misuse, some of which were due to defective pistons, and, on occasion, some of which were due to an error made by Hibdon. Hibdon asserts that he provided Talley with free parts and labor amounting to several thousand dollars in order to repair the jet ski.
Hibdon alleges that Talley began publishing statements regarding Hibdon's work on Talley's jet ski engine. While at first complimentary, Talley's comments later turned very critical of Hibdon and his business. In his Amended Complaint, Hibdon presents the following Internet posting allegedly sent by Talley and referencing the article in SPLASH Magazine:
In support of his opposition to summary judgment, and as evidence of the reckless disregard for the truth with which Grabowski and Talley acted, Hibdon submits the Affidavit of Billy Morris, Sr., which reads, in pertinent part, as follows:
In further support of his position that Grabowski and Talley acted with actual malice, Hibdon submits the Affidavit of Billy Morris, Jr. The Affidavit states that Billy Morris, Jr. was very satisfied with the work Hibdon did on his jet ski. Billy Morris, Jr. also states that he had posted messages that he was satisfied with Hibdon's work, and that he had never given anyone, specifically Grabowski and Talley, reason to believe otherwise. From the above referenced statements, it appears to this Court that there is a dispute of material fact as to whether the statements of Defendants Grabowski and Talley were made with reckless disregard of their
Ronnie Reels ("Reels") is a resident of Cookeville, Tennessee. Hibdon alleges that, in the summer of 1999, he sold Reels a set of heads, which Hibdon had modified for use on Reels' Kawasaki Ultra jet ski. Hibdon asserts that, with the new heads, Reels' jet ski performed reliably and satisfactorily on pump gas throughout the 1999 season. Hibdon also asserts that, in 2000, Reels installed new carburetors on this same jet ski without Hibdon's participation. According to Hibdon, Reels failed to properly adjust the carburetors and his engine failed. In an Internet post dated June 7, 2000, Reels addresses Hibdon as follows:
Thereafter, Hibdon alleges that Reels began publishing libelous statements regarding Hibdon's work while, at the same time, sending Hibdon private e-mails seeking help and pledging support. Hibdon presents the following series of e-mails and Internet postings allegedly sent by Reels:
From the above referenced statements, it appears to this Court that there is a dispute of material fact as to whether the statements of Defendant Reels were made with reckless disregard of their truthfulness. Consequently, disposition by summary judgment is not appropriate as to Defendant Reels.
Fagan Pace ("Pace") is a resident of Hopkinsville, Kentucky. He is a firefighter by profession but has done some jet ski work under the name of PaceTech. Hibdon alleges that Pace published, on rec.sport.jetski, numerous libelous statements regarding the quality and reliability of Hibdon's work and business practices. Hibdon also asserts that Pace implicated Hibdon in a scheme to present false information regarding the speed, performance
In support of his motion in opposition to summary judgment, and as evidence of the reckless disregard for the truth with which Pace acted, Hibdon submitted the Affidavit of Jim Milliken. The Affidavit reads, in pertinent part, as follows:
From the above referenced statements, it appears to this Court that there is a dispute of material fact as to whether the statements of Defendant Pace were made with reckless disregard of their truthfulness. Consequently, disposition by summary judgment is not appropriate as to Defendant Pace.
Ben Pennington ("Pennington") is a resident of Columbia, Tennessee. Hibdon alleges that Pennington sent public Internet messages,
From the above referenced statements, in addition to the Affidavit of James Milliken, it appears to this Court that there is a dispute of material fact as to whether the statements of Defendant Pennington were made with reckless disregard of their truthfulness. Consequently, disposition by summary judgment is not appropriate as to Defendant Pennington.
Turning to the element of damages, we find that the record contains material evidence that Hibdon's reputation and standing in the community of jetski enthusiasts has been impaired by the defamatory publications of the Defendants. Under Tennessee law, a plaintiff is required to prove actual damages in all defamation cases. Handley v. May, 588 S.W.2d 772, 776 (Tenn.Ct.App.1979). See also McWhorter v. Barre, 132 S.W.3d 354 (Tenn.Ct.App.2004). The actual damage requirement was discussed by the United States Supreme Court in Gertz v. Robert Welch, Inc., 418 U.S. 323, 94 S.Ct. 2997, 41 L.Ed.2d 789 (1974):
Id. at 349-50, 94 S.Ct. at 3012. The failure to prove special damages or out-of-pocket losses is not necessarily determinative. Handley, 588 S.W.2d at 776. The issue is whether the record contains any material evidence of impairment of reputation and standing in the community, personal humiliation, or mental anguish and suffering. Id.
In his own Affidavit, Hibdon testifies that the statements published on the newsgroup rec.sport.jetski by the Defendants caused him great emotional distress to the point that he was unable to focus on his work or on his family. Further, Hibdon states that the stress led him to seek help from a therapist, whom he had discontinued seeing over a year before the newsgroup postings. April Hibdon, Kerry Hibdon's wife, stated in her Affidavit that the Defendants' newsgroup postings made her husband alternatively "very angry," or "very sad and withdrawn." April Hibdon further states that, after being attacked on the newsgroup by the Defendants, her husband would pay little attention to their son, to her or to either his business ventures. In their respective affidavits, both Billy Morris, Sr., and Billy Morris, Jr,
The Defendants, in their Memorandum in Support of Summary Judgement assert that:
However, we note that the Defendants take these statements from the deposition testimony of Hibdon which was given in the case of Hibdon v. ADA, Inc., supra note 6. Concerning the alleged lack of actual damage to Hibdon's reputation and standing in the community, the cited portions of the deposition read in pertinent part, as follows:
As noted above, these responses were given by Hibdon in a deposition for a previous trial, which was related to an entirely different set of defendants and to an entirely separate set of alleged libels. The Defendants have construed Hibdon's responses in his previous deposition to make it appear as if Hibdon is responding to questions about damages resulting from the comments made by the Defendants in the present case. The statements extracted from this deposition are not material to the present case as they offer no proof of the lack of damages in the cause of action by Hibdon against Defendants Grabowski, Pace, Pennington, Reels and Talley.
It appears to this Court that there is sufficient evidence on the issue of Hibdon's damages to survive summary judgment. Consequently, disposition by summary judgment is not appropriate on the issue of actual damages.
Defendants Grabowski and Pace filed motions to dismiss the Complaint on grounds of lack of personal jurisdiction. The trial court denied their motions and they now appeal. In their motions to dismiss, Defendants Grabowski and Pace state that they are residents of Kentucky and that they lack the necessary minimum contacts with the state of Tennessee for the court to have personal jurisdiction over them. We disagree. This Court held, in United Agricultural Services, Inc. v. Scherer, that in the absence of general jurisdiction resulting from continuous and systematic contacts with the forum state, specific personal jurisdiction still may be found without violating the due process clause when an actor purposely directs his activities toward citizens of the forum state and litigation results from injuries arising out of or relating to those activities. United Agricultural Services, Inc. v. Scherer, 17 S.W.3d 252, 256-57 (Tenn.Ct.App.1999). In such a case, "the defendant's conduct and connection with the forum State are such that he should reasonably anticipate being haled into court there." World-Wide Volkswagen Corp. V. Woodson, 444 U.S. 286, 297, 100 S.Ct. 559, 567, 62 L.Ed.2d 490 (1980); Shoney's, Inc. V. Chic Can Enterprises, 922 S.W.2d 530, 536 (Tenn.Ct.App. 1995). When a controversy is related to or "arises out of" a defendant's contacts with the forum, the United States Supreme Court has said that a "relationship among the defendant, the forum, and the litigation" is the essential foundation of in personam jurisdiction. Helicopteros Nacionales, 466 U.S. at 414, 104 S.Ct. at 1872 (quoting Shaffer v. Heitner, 433 U.S. 186, 204, 97 S.Ct. 2569, 2579, 53 L.Ed.2d 683 (1977)).
The United States Supreme Court stated "[w]here a forum seeks to assert specific jurisdiction over an out-of-state defendant who has not consented to suit there, this `fair warning' requirement is satisfied if the defendant has `purposefully directed' his activities at residents of the forum, and the litigation results from alleged injuries that `arise out of or relate to' those activities." Burger King Corp. v. Rudzewicz, 471 U.S. 462, 472, 105 S.Ct. 2174, 85 L.Ed.2d 528 (1985) (citing Keeton v. Hustler Magazine, Inc., 465 U.S. 770, 774, 104 S.Ct. 1473, 1478, 79 L.Ed.2d 790 (1984), and citing Helicopteros Nacionales de Colombia, S.A. v. Hall, 466 U.S. 408, 414, 104 S.Ct. 1868, 1872, 80 L.Ed.2d 404 (1984).
Jurisdiction is proper, however, where the contacts proximately result from actions by the defendant himself that create a "substantial connection" with the forum State. McGee v. International Life Insurance Co., 355 U.S. 220, 223, 78 S.Ct. 199, 201, 2 L.Ed.2d 223 (1957); see also Kulko v. Superior Court of California, 436 U.S. 84, 94, n. 7, 98 S.Ct. 1690, 56 L.Ed.2d 132. 1698, n. 7 (1978).
In the present case, Grabowski and Pace personally directed many of their Internet messages to residents of Tennessee, specifically fellow defendants Pennington, Reels and Talley. The claims of defamation against Grabowski and Pace arose specifically from injuries arising out of or relating to those Internet messages. Therefore, we hold that the trial court properly exercised personal jurisdiction over Defendants Grabowski and Pace.
Defendants Grabowski, Pace, Reels, Talley and Pennington filed motions to dismiss the complaint on grounds of improper venue which the trial court denied and the Defendants now appeal. In their motions to dismiss, the Defendants state that none of the Defendants are residents of Warren County, Tennessee nor did Hibdon's alleged cause of action accrue in Warren County. Arguing that the tort action of defamation is a transitory action for venue purposes, the Defendants claim that venue is only proper when a defendant resides in the county where the suit is filed, or where the cause of action arose. However, under Tennessee law, where a plaintiff claims damages for tortious acts committed in one county, which cause injury in another county, the cause of action for venue purposes can be deemed to have accrued in the county where the injury accrued. See Nelson v. Ford Motor Credit Company, 590 S.W.2d 457 (Tenn. Ct.App. 1979) (holding that where corporation's letters and telephone calls concerning installment payments on automobile originated in Knox County, although the alleged injury to debtors occurred in Roane County where the debtors resided and where the letters and telephone calls were received, the debtor's cause of action accrued in Roane County for venue purposes). Accordingly, we hold that Hibdon's cause of action accrued in Warren County, and that the trial court correctly held that venue in Warren County was proper.
For the foregoing reasons, we affirm the Order of the trial court to the extent that it holds that venue is proper in Warren County, Tennessee and to the extent that it holds that personal jurisdiction is proper over Defendants Grabowski and Pace. We reverse the Order of the trial court to the extent that it grants summary judgment in favor of the Appellees. We remand for such further proceedings as may be necessary consistent with this Opinion. Costs on this appeal are assessed against the Appellees, George Grabowski, individually and d/b/a HPT Sport USA, Fagan Pace,