- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 29, 2003

   The Supreme Court refused yesterday to consider an Internet-era case that asked which courts should handle lawsuits against people for information they put on the World Wide Web.
   The question keeps coming up as more operators of Internet sites are taken to court for things like defamation or invasion of privacy.
   The justices rejected an appeal from Healthgrades.com, which offers ratings of health care providers on the Internet. A home health care agency, Northwest Healthcare Alliance, contends it deserved a better grade. The agency sued for defamation in Washington state.
   The attorney for Healthgrades.com said that the company, which operates out of Colorado, should not be forced to go to trial in Washington. Kris Kostolansky said that an appeals court ruling allowing the suit “subjects those who communicate opinions over the Internet to the unconstitutional burden of being subject to suit in any forum, until such time as this court corrects the injustice.”
   The Supreme Court has considered some Internet cases. But so far, justices have not been willing to consider a cyberspace legal boundary issue: Where can lawsuits involving the Web be filed?
   The Internet jurisdiction subject has come up in Australia, where that country’s highest court ruled last year that a businessman could sue for defamation over an article published in the United States and posted on the Internet.
   In the Washington state case, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said that Healthgrades.com opened itself up for a lawsuit in Washington by grading a Washington state provider and obtaining information for the rating from Washington state records.
   Healthgrades.com offers ratings of doctors, hospitals, nursing homes and home health care agencies.
   The Supreme Court yesterday also sought the federal government’s help in deciding whether to referee a cable franchise squabble between Paul Allen’s Charter Communications Inc. and Santa Cruz County, Calif.
   Mr. Allen, the billionaire co-founder of Microsoft Corp., has been battling with Santa Cruz County over the transfer of a local cable franchise tied to his 1998 purchase of Charter for more than $4 billion.
   The high court asked the U.S. solicitor general to comment, as the case deals with federal cable regulations.
   Santa Cruz refused to authorize the franchise transfer unless Charter provided it with detailed information about how the purchase was being financed. Charter then took over the franchise anyway, and serves roughly 5,000 subscribers in the county even as the litigation has continued.
   Charter asked the Supreme Court to intervene because it argued the county’s actions amounted to blackmail. The company said a 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision could prompt other local governments to place similar demands on cable companies, including additional fees and rate freezes, before letting a franchise transfer take place.



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