Eighth Circuit Affirms Dismissal of “Love Happens” Trademark Infringement Suit for Lack of Personal Jurisdiction

By: Emily R. Parker and David G. Barker

The Eighth Circuit recently upheld dismissal of Brothers and Sisters in Christ, LLC’s (“BASIC”) lawsuit against online marketplace Zazzle, affirming that “the bare-bones nature of BASIC’s allegations,” including Zazzle’s sale of a single t-shirt, were insufficient to create personal jurisdiction in the state of Missouri. 

BASIC is a Missouri retailer that owns the trademark “love happens.” In February 2020, BASIC sued Zazzle for trademark infringement, alleging that Zazzle sold a shirt with a “love happens” logo to at least one Missouri resident and shipped the shirt to that resident in Missouri. BASIC also alleged that Zazzle “uses a webpage, available to those in Missouri and elsewhere, to advertise its goods, including the trademark infringing goods, and to sell and carry out transactions for trademark infringing goods.” On April 16, 2020, Zazzle filed a motion to dismiss, asserting that the facts alleged in the complaint, even if assumed to be true, were not enough to establish that Zazzle was subject to personal jurisdiction in Missouri. On April 12, 2021, the district court granted Zazzle’s motion and dismissed the case for lack of personal jurisdiction. BASIC appealed.

A three-judge Eighth Circuit panel upheld the district court’s dismissal of BASIC’s claims. The panel explained that the Lanham Act does not authorize nationwide personal jurisdiction, so the existence of personal jurisdiction in the case depended upon Missouri’s long-arm statute and the federal Due Process Clause. Missouri’s long-arm statute authorizes personal jurisdiction over defendants who engage in certain acts, including “the transaction of any business” within the state and “the commission of a tortious act within the state.” BASIC sufficiently alleged that Zazzle had transacted business in the state and had committed a tortious act within the state, thereby satisfying Missouri’s long-arm statute.

Turning to the due process analysis, BASIC argued that Zazzle was subject to specific personal jurisdiction in Missouri because Zazzle has certain minimum contacts with Missouri, and BASIC’s claims “arise out of or relate to” Zazzle’s contacts. To support this contention, BASIC alleged only that Zazzle “uses a webpage available to those in Missouri,” and that Zazzle sold an infringing t-shirt to a Missouri consumer. BASIC argued that these activities, taken together, are enough to confer jurisdiction. The panel disagreed, explaining that, “BASIC asks us to consider all of Zazzle’s contacts with Missouri, even those unrelated to the instant trademark-infringement claim. However, in assessing specific jurisdiction, we look only to Zazzle’s contacts with Missouri related to BASIC’s claims,” and “[a]side from a single t-shirt sale, BASIC fails to allege a connection between Zazzle’s other contacts with Missouri and the underlying suit.” According to the panel, one t-shirt sale is not a sufficient basis on which to exercise personal jurisdiction, as Zazzle could not reasonably anticipate being haled into court in Missouri based on this single sale. Thus, the panel affirmed dismissal of BASIC’s lawsuit for lack of personal jurisdiction.

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