Whether a customer hosting a website on a server in a particular state in the US, be subject to jurisdiction of a court, under the 14th Amendment of the US Constitution ? The big question here, is if you as a customer are located in a different state and your web hosting provider is located in a different state or a foreign state, can you be sued in that state ? Assuming that the plaintiff prefers to sue you in that state.
For jurisdiction to be legitimate it should not only be authorized by statute, it should also be authorized by the due process clause of the 14th Amendment. This means that not only should the exercise of jurisdiction on the party be authorized by the state’s law, such jurisdiction should also be constitutional under the US constitution.
The California Court of Appeals recently ruled that merely having a website that is hosted in California, does not create enough contact with California to let someone sue you in California for materials and statements hosted on that website. Generally speaking a nonresident who has not been served with process can be sued in a state if the defendant has such minimum contacts with the state that the asserting of personal jurisdiction over the defendant does not violate traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice. What is fair play and substantial justice ? No one knows the answer to it. It is a case by case approach – you have to go with the best facts that you have and convince the judge that it is not fair to exercise jurisdiction over you. In the case of Jewish Def. Org., Inc. v. Superior Court, 72Cal. App. 4th 1045 (1999), the court held that merely having a website is not generally enough to sue someone in that state for defamation. How would the court have come out differently if the website had a shell company in a foreign country and sold almost all of its products in the state ? We don’t know. That is an open question. What we do know is if you have a passive website and all you are doing is supplying information over the internet to prospective users, you need not worry about being sued in any and every state.
This however does not preclude you being sued on the basis of presence. In one case, a lady had never been to one particular state and did not even intend to, but one particular occasion she was in a flight that happened to fly over that state and while the airplane was cruising over that state, a process server came up to her and handed her court papers. This is totally valid and constitutional. Service of process, is always a good way to establish personal jurisdiction over a person, regardless of anything else. Even if you only have a website in that state and you have done nothing else other than keep information up on that website for everyone to see.
While you can always be sued on the basis of your legal presence in a state, if a process server can find you, if you have not done anything more than merely have a website that is accessible in California, and is hosted in California – you can probably not be sued in California for the contents of that website