Friday, January 20, 2012

FYI: US Sup Ct Holds TCPA Allows Federal-Question Jurisdiction

The United States Supreme Court recently held that the federal Telephone Consumer Protection Act does not deprive federal courts of federal-question jurisdiction over private actions arising under the TCPA, and that state courts have concurrent jurisdiction over private TCPA actions
A copy of the opinion is available at:
Plaintiff-petitioner Mims ("Mims") filed a law suit in a federal district court seeking damages and declaratory and injunctive relief for alleged violations of the federal Telephone Consumer Protection Act, 47 U.S.C. § 227 ("TCPA"), by a debt collection agency ("Debt Collector").  Mims's complaint alleged that the Debt Collector, in seeking to collect on a debt Mims owed, violated the TCPA by repeatedly placing automated calls to Mims's cellular phone without his consent. 
In bringing his suit in the federal district court, Mims asserted "federal question" jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. §1331.  The District Court dismissed Mims's complaint for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction, ruling that the TCPA vested jurisdiction for private actions under the TCPA exclusively in state courts.  The Eleventh Circuit affirmed.  In a unanimous opinion, the Supreme Court reversed.
As you may recall, the TCPA bans certain purportedly intrusive telephone calls without the consent of the called party.  The TCPA also establishes a federal oversight structure and authorizes individual states to bring civil actions to enjoin prohibited practices and to collect damages.  Although the TCPA specifically requires state-initiated actions to be brought in federal court, the TCPA provides that private parties "may seek redress for violations of the [TCPA] . . .  in an appropriate [state] court" if state law permits such law suits.  See 47 U.S.C. §§227(b)(3), (c)(5), (g)(2).
Noting the complementary state and federal enforcement mechanisms created by the TCPA, the Supreme Court rejected the Debt Collector's various arguments that the federal court did not have subject matter jurisdiction, including the contentions that state courts have exclusive jurisdiction over private TCPA actions and that, because the TCPA is later and more specific than Section 1331, the TCPA trumps Section 1331's grant of federal-question jurisdiction.  
In so doing, the Court noted that where, as here, federal law creates the cause of action, there is a rebuttable presumption in favor of concurrent state-court jurisdiction. The Court observed that this presumption can be overcome "by an explicit statutory directive, by unmistakable implication from legislative history, or by a clear incompatibility between state-court jurisdiction and federal interests."   The Court held that nothing in the TCPA's grant of state-court jurisdiction deprives a federal court of federal-question jurisdiction, and further noted that the TCPA lacked language expressly limiting private parties to a particular court as it specifically does for TCPA actions brought by state attorneys general. 
Accordingly, the Court ruled that the federal district courts have federal-question jurisdiction over private TCPA actions, and that state courts have concurrent jurisdiction over such lawsuits.

Ralph T. Wutscher
McGinnis Tessitore Wutscher LLP
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Chicago, Illinois 60602
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