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An Analysis of eBay, Online Auctions, and Personal Jurisdiction

The Internet has revolutionized the way that Americans conduct business. In the last decade, online transactions have grown in volume and importance, and Internet marketplaces have become mega centers for e commerce. Courts and commentators have labored to apply personal jurisdiction analyses to online buyers and sellers generally, but personal jurisdiction in the context of online auctions has created additional confusion and inconsistencies. As technology has become more sophisticated, Internet auction websites like eBay have created numerous customization tools to make their services more appealing to a wide range of sellers—from one-time sellers, to small businesses just starting to create an internet presence, to businesses that revolve entirely around eBay’s services. The depth of customization offered to sellers has been overlooked by courts in personal jurisdiction inquiries and this, in turn, has created surprising inconsistencies in personal jurisdiction determinations between seller activity on personal e commerce websites and seller activity on online auction websites. This Note discusses the mechanics of eBay listings and their implications for personal jurisdiction determinations. Specifically, does it make sense for courts applying the Zippo test to personal websites to avoid an interactivity analysis for transactions that occur over eBay? This Note further suggests that the nearly limitless options for customization available to sellers require a fact intensive, case-by-case analysis of personal jurisdiction that avoids broad conclusions about the mechanics of eBay auctions. Among other things, courts should consider the restrictions sellers place on their listings, the listing activity itself (such as whether the seller rejected bids, communicated with buyers, and the extent and content of those communications), and the use of outside media or other sites by which sellers might maximize their online presence. The level of control that online auction sellers enjoy undermines current judicial understanding of the online auction process, and by focusing on the tools that sellers actually use to sell their items, courts will be able to reach more consistent and equitable results in personal jurisdiction challenges.

The full text of this Note is available to download as a PDF.