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Virginia lacks jurisdiction over foreign official in suit

Virginia Lawyers Weekly//June 6, 2023

Virginia lacks jurisdiction over foreign official in suit

Virginia Lawyers Weekly//June 6, 2023

Where a woman sued a foreign official, alleging he caused a defamatory statement to be issued on the internet, but there was no jurisdiction under Virginia’s long-arm statute, and the exercise of personal jurisdiction was constitutionally impermissible, the suit was dismissed.


Shnyar Anwar Hassan has sued Masrour Barzani, the prime minister of the Kurdistan autonomous region in Northern Iraq. Plaintiff alleges that in retaliation for her outspoken criticism of defendant, defendant caused the Office of the Prime Minister of the Kurdistan Regional Government to issue a defamatory statement implying that plaintiff had an extramarital affair with an American journalist, which was published via the internet on several Kurdish news outlets. Defendant has filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that the facts alleged in the complaint do not establish that personal jurisdiction exists over defendant.


Plaintiff argues that the long-arm statute is satisfied because defendant owns property in Virginia. This argument is mistaken because although Virginia’s long-arm statute references property ownership as a basis for personal jurisdiction, it requires that the “cause of action aris[e] from the person’s … possessing real property in this Commonwealth.” The complaint nowhere alleges that plaintiff’s causes of action are linked to defendant’s possession of property in Virginia.

Plaintiff also argues that meetings between “Person #1” and plaintiff in Northern Virginia create jurisdiction over defendant because the unnamed person acted as defendant’s agent in conveying a message to plaintiff. Although the Virginia long-arm statute permits personal jurisdiction over a person “who acts … by an agent” to cause “tortious injury in this Commonwealth by an act or omission in this Commonwealth,” the asserted cause of action must “aris[e] from” the person’s “[c]ausing tortious injury … in this Commonwealth.” Nowhere in the complaint does plaintiff allege that her four asserted causes of action arise from defendant’s alleged use of “Person #1” in Virginia as an agent to threaten plaintiff.

Finally, defendant’s conduct in Kurdistan is not encompassed by the provision of the Virginia long-arm statute which provides that personal jurisdiction exists if the defendant causes “tortious injury in this Commonwealth by an act or omission outside this Commonwealth” if the defendant “regularly does or solicits business, or engages in any other persistent course of conduct … in this Commonwealth.” Plaintiff has not alleged in the complaint any facts, as required by the long-arm statute, showing that defendant has engaged in a “persistent course of conduct” in Virginia.

Due process

Even if Virginia’s long-arm statute were sufficient to reach defendant’s conduct here, exercising jurisdiction over defendant would be improper because the long-arm statute’s reach in this situation would “exceed[] its constitutional grasp.”

General jurisdiction exists where the defendant’s activities are “so ‘continuous and systematic’ as to render [the defendant] essentially at home in the forum State.” For an individual, “the paradigm forum for the exercise of general jurisdiction is the individual’s domicile.” Here, general jurisdiction over defendant does not exist because as plaintiff herself concedes, defendant is not domiciled in Virginia.

Specific jurisdiction is at issue where the defendant’s contacts with the forum state “form the basis for the suit.” No personal jurisdiction exists in Virginia simply by the act of publishing, outside of Virginia, an allegedly defamatory statement on the internet. Nothing in the complaint indicates that defendant “manifest[ed] an intent to aim” the online statement “at a Virginia audience.”

Further, plaintiff’s claims arose from activities in Kurdistan far outside the borders of Virginia. Thus, plaintiff’s claims in the complaint clearly do not arise out of any forum-related activities, and hence there is no specific personal jurisdiction. Nor does the complaint allege any other facts demonstrating that plaintiff’s claims arise out of forum-related activities.

Moreover, it would not be constitutionally reasonable to exercise personal jurisdiction over defendant here. Because the online statement triggering the suit was published on Kurdish news outlets to a worldwide audience, Virginia as the forum state has little interest in adjudicating this dispute. Moreover, the “burden on the defendant” weighs against exercising personal jurisdiction. Finally, it is also worth noting that the fact that plaintiff suffered the brunt of her alleged harm in Virginia cannot establish personal jurisdiction over defendant in Virginia.

Defendant’s motion to dismiss granted.

Hassan v. Barzani, Case No. 1:22-cv-1288, May 24, 2023. EDVA at Alexandria (Ellis). VLW 023-3-279. 15 pp.

VLW 023-3-279

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