A Northern District of California court recently dismissed a putative California class action against The J.M. Smucker Company (“J.M. Smucker”) for lack of personal jurisdiction because it did not purposefully target California in operating its marketing website for the Folgers coffee brand.  See Carroll v. J.M. Smucker Co., No. 3:22-cv-08952 (N.D. Cal. June 15, 2023).

Plaintiffs filed a putative class action against J.M. Smucker, an Ohio company, in the Northern District of California, alleging that J.M. Smucker’s use of pixel technology on its website for the Folgers brand, www.folgerscoffee.com, violated the federal Video Privacy Protection Act (“VPPA”).  The putative class representatives were Virginia and California residents.  The plaintiffs claimed that the data collected about their browsing activity on the Folgers site by the pixel software was disclosed to the third-party service provider in violation of the VPPA.

J.M. Smucker moved to dismiss both for lack of personal jurisdiction and for failure to state a claim.  District Judge William Alsup granted the motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction.  The court found that plaintiffs’ claims sounded in tort, so plaintiffs needed to allege that the Ohio company had purposefully directed its activities at California, rather than that J.M. Smucker had purposefully availed itself of California, which would be the appropriate inquiry if the claims sounded in contract.

The court found that although the Folgers website is interactive in several respects, including by inviting users to sign up to receive emails, allowing users to perform keyword searches, and offering a “Live Chat” feature, none of these interactive features was sufficiently targeted at California to give rise to specific personal jurisdiction over J.M. Smucker in the state.  The court found persuasive the fact “any website feature plaintiffs point to . . . appears to have offered an identical experience regardless of the forum of access.”  Further, consumers cannot purchase products directly through that website—they would need to navigate to a separate online store to make a purchase.

The court granted the motion to dismiss without further leave to amend, noting that “the jurisdictional showing here is so deficient that any sought amendment would be futile.”  The court also declined to permit jurisdictional discovery because the jurisdictional discovery sought by plaintiffs—online sales figures for California versus nationwide figures—would not cure the complaint’s jurisdictional deficiencies.

Photo of Alice Phillips Alice Phillips

Alice Phillips is a litigation associate in the firm’s Los Angeles office. She represents clients in all stages of complex civil litigation, including at trial.

Previously, Alice clerked for Judge John M. Walker, Jr., on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second…

Alice Phillips is a litigation associate in the firm’s Los Angeles office. She represents clients in all stages of complex civil litigation, including at trial.

Previously, Alice clerked for Judge John M. Walker, Jr., on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit and Judge Carol Bagley Amon on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York.