Yahoo! Inc. v. La Ligue Contre Le Racisme et L’Antisemitisme, 145 F.Supp.2d 1168, 1180 (N.D. Cal. 2001) & 169 F.Supp.2d 1181, 1194 (N.D. Cal. 2001), aff’d, 379 F.3d 1120 (9th Cir. 2004, rehearing en banc granted, 399 F.3d 1010 (9th Cir. 2005), rev’d and remanded, 433 F.3d 1199 (9th Cir. 2006) (full-text).
Originally, Yahoo was sued in France by two French organizations known (in English) as the League Against Racism & Anti-Semitism, and the French Union of Jewish Students. French law makes the mere display of Nazi merchandise a crime in that country, so Yahoo’s site in France displays no Nazi materials. But, because the Internet makes websites accessible worldwide, regardless of where those websites are hosted, French residents were easily able to access the Nazi auction websites through Yahoo’s American website. The French court ordered Yahoo to block access by French users to any websites that auction Nazi merchandise, apologize for Nazism, or contest the reality of Nazi crimes. Moreover, the French court decreed that if Yahoo failed to do so by February 2002, it would be subject to fines of 100,000 Francs (about $14,000) a day.
The French court prohibited the collection of the fines from Yahoo’s French subsidiary, and Yahoo has no other assets in that country. But Yahoo was concerned that the organizations would allow the fines to pile up, and then seek to collect them in a legal proceeding in the United States.
Trial Court Proceedings
Hoping to head that off, Yahoo filed suit against the two French organizations in federal court in California, arguing that any attempt to collect the French judgment in the U.S. would violate Yahoo’s First Amendment free speech rights. The District Court agreed, and ruled that the order of French court could not be enforced in a U.S. court.
Appellate Court Proceedings
The French organizations appealed, and a three-judge panel ruled in their favor, on the grounds that the District Court did not have personal jurisdiction over them. Yahoo then petitioned the full Court of Appeals for a rehearing. Though its petition for rehearing was granted, Yahoo ultimately did no better.
In a 99-page opinion, eight of the 11 judges concluded that the District Court did have personal jurisdiction over the French organizations, just as Yahoo had claimed. But three of those eight judges also concluded that Yahoo’s claim was not “ripe for adjudication,” because the French organizations had not asked the French court to impose a fine, the French court may not impose a fine even if they do ask for one, and it is unlikely a U.S. court would enforce such a fine even if a French court imposed one.
Though five of those eight judges did think Yahoo’s case was “ripe,” three of the court’s 11 judges concluded that the District Court did not have personal jurisdiction over the French organizations. Thus, six of the 11 judges thought Yahoo’s case should be dismissed for one reason or another. And it was.