January 18, 2012

Supreme Court Decides Mims v. Arrow Financial Services, LLC

On January 18, 2012, the Supreme Court decided Mims v. Arrow Financial Services, LLC, No. 10-1195, holding that private suits to enforce the Telephone Consumer Protection Act ("TCPA") may be brought in both federal and state courts, not just state courts.

The TCPA prohibits four categories of practices relating to telephones and fax machines: using an automatic dialing machine to call a person's cell phone without prior consent; using a prerecorded voice message to call a residential phone line without prior consent; sending an unsolicited advertisement to a fax machine; and using an automatic dialing machine to engage two or more of a business's telephone lines simultaneously. 47 U.S.C. § 227(b)(1)(A) – (D). Among other methods for enforcing these provisions, the TCPA authorizes private suits for actual and statutory damages, stating that "a person or entity may, if otherwise permitted by the laws or rules of court of a State, bring [an action] in an appropriate court of that State." § 227(b)(3).

Petitioner Marcus Mims alleged that Arrow Financial violated the TCPA by using an automatic dialing machine to call his cell phone without his prior consent and brought suit in federal district court to enforce his rights under the TCPA. The district court dismissed the claim for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction, holding that the TCPA vested jurisdiction exclusively in state courts. The Eleventh Circuit affirmed, joining one side of a long standing split in the circuits.

The Supreme Court granted review and unanimously reversed, explaining, "We find no convincing reason to read into the TCPA's permissive grant of jurisdiction to state courts any barrier to the U. S. district courts' exercise of the general federal-question jurisdiction they have possessed since 1875." Since 1875, federal courts have held jurisdiction over "all civil actions arising under the . . . laws . . . of the United States." 28 U.S.C. § 1331. The TCPA is a law of the United States and TCPA claims arise under that law, so federal jurisdiction exists to hear them unless Congress itself "expressly or by fair implication" excluded that jurisdiction. Congress did not expressly limit federal jurisdiction in the TCPA. Nor does anything in the permissive grant of jurisdiction to state courts fairly imply that state-court jurisdiction was meant to be exclusive.

Justice Ginsburg delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.

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