Varitalk, LLC v. Lahoti, No. 07 C 1771, 2007 WL 1576127 (N.D. Ill. May 30, 2007) (Conlon, J.).
Judge Conlon denied defendant Dave Lahoti’s (“Lahoti”) motion to dismiss plaintiff Varitalk’s complaint for lack of personal jurisdiction pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(2), improper venue pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(3) and forum non conveniens. Varitalk had a principal place of business in Chicago, where it developed software to relay highly customizable pre-recorded audio messages to consumers that were indistinguishable from live human voice. Varitalk registered a trademark in its name “Varitalk” for use in connection with this business. Lahoti is an individual residing in California where he operates various businesses using websites, such as www.omegaworks.com and www.crosspath.com. Lahoti registered the domain name www.veritalk.com, where he set up an internet portal which allowed visitors to his site to click through links to buy various products or services. The Court held that Lahoti’s website fell in the gray area between active websites (which create specific jurisdiction) and passive websites (which do not create specific jurisdiction). But the portal’s interactive and commercial nature – Lahoti earned income from the site based on how many visitors clicked on links on the site and whether they bought products from the linked sites – combined with Varitalk’s evidence that some consumers were confused and erroneously visited Lahoti’s portal, create specific jurisdiction over Lahoti. On the other hand, Lahoti’s email exchange with Varitalk’s CEO Frederick Lowe, initiated by Lowe, regarding whether Lahoti would sell his portal to Varitalk did not create specific jurisdiction because the exchange was limited and not initiated by Lahoti.
The Court held that venue was proper in Illinois because a substantial part of the events giving rise to the claims occurred in Illinois and because Varitalk alleged that Illinois consumers were confused by Lahoti’s portal.
Finally, the Court dismissed Lahoti’s forum non conveniens argument because the doctrine only applies where the alternative forum is outside the United States or its territories. Where the alternate venue is California, or any other state, the defendant would have to move to transfer venue pursuant to 28 U.S.C. Section 1404(a).