Instant Analysis: Mims v. Arrow Financial Services

January 18th, 2012

In Mims v. Arrow Financial Services, the Court unanimously, per RBG, holds that the Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991’s “permissive grant of jurisdiction to state courts does not deprive the U. S. district courts of federal-question jurisdiction over private TCPA suits.”

Jurisdiction over state-initiated TCPA suits, Congress provided, lies exclusively in the U. S. district courts. Congress also provided for civil actions byprivate parties seeking redress for violations of the TCPA or of the Commission’s implementing regulations.Petitioner Marcus D. Mims, complaining of multiple violations of the Act by respondent Arrow Financial Services, LLC (Arrow), a debt-collection agency, commencedan action for damages against Arrow in the U. S. DistrictCourt for the Southern District of Florida. Mims invoked the court’s “federal question” jurisdiction, i.e., its authorityto adjudicate claims “arising under the . . . laws . . . of the United States,” 28 U. S. C. §1331. The District Court, affirmed by the U. S. Court of Appeals for the EleventhCircuit, dismissed Mims’s complaint for want of subjectmatter jurisdiction. Both courts relied on Congress’ specification, in the TCPA, that a private person may seekredress for violations of the Act (or of the Commission’sregulations thereunder) “in an appropriate court of [a] State,” “if [such an action is] otherwise permitted by the laws or rules of court of [that] State.” 47 U. S. C. §§227(b)(3), (c)(5).

The question presented is whether Congress’ provision for private actions to enforce the TCPA renders statecourts the exclusive arbiters of such actions. We have long recognized that “[a] suit arises under the law that createsthe cause of action.” American Well Works Co. v. Layne & Bowler Co., 241 U. S. 257, 260 (1916). Beyond doubt, theTCPA is a federal law that both creates the claim Mims has brought and supplies the substantive rules that willgovern the case. We find no convincing reason to read into the TCPA’s permissive grant of jurisdiction to state courtsany barrier to the U. S. district courts’ exercise of the general federal-question jurisdiction they have possessedsince 1875. See Act of Mar. 3, 1875, §1, 18 Stat. 470; 13D C. Wright, A. Miller, E. Cooper, & R. Freer, Federal Practice and Procedure §3561, p. 163 (3d ed. 2008) (hereinafter Wright & Miller). We hold, therefore, that federal and state courts have concurrent jurisdiction over private suits arising under the TCPA.

(more to come later when I get a moment)

Update: And as promised, more.

47 U.S.C. 227(b)(3) provides., in part, that:

“A person or entity may, if otherwise permitted bythe laws or rules of court of a State, bring in an appropriate court of that State…

The 11th Circuit found that a federal district court lacks subject matter jurisdiction, as this statute grants exclusive jurisdiction to the state courts. This seems pretty clear from the text, but the Court disagreed.

The District Court held that it lacked subject-matterjurisdiction over Mims’s TCPA claim. Under Eleventh Circuit precedent, the District Court explained, federalquestion jurisdiction under 28 U. S. C. §1331 was unavailable “because Congress vested jurisdiction over [privateactions under] the TCPA exclusively in state courts.” Civ. No. 09–22347 (SD Fla., Apr. 1, 2010), App. to Pet. for Cert. 4a–5a (citing Nicholson v. Hooters of Augusta, Inc., 136 F. 3d 1287 (CA11 1998)). Adhering to Circuit precedent,the U. S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit affirmed. 421 Fed. Appx. 920, 921 (2011) (quoting Nicholson, 136 F. 3d, at 1287–1288 (“Congress granted state courts exclusive jurisdiction over private actions under the[TCPA].”)).

I didn’t realize that at one point Congress gave federal courts general subject matter jurisdiction.

Congress granted federal courts general federalquestion jurisdiction in 1875. See Act of Mar. 3, 1875, §1, 18 Stat. 470.6

6Congress had previously granted general federal-question jurisdiction to federal courts, but the grant was short lived. See Steffel v. Thompson, 415 U. S. 452, 464, n. 14 (1974) (describing Midnight JudgesAct of 1801, §11, 2 Stat. 92, repealed by Act of Mar. 8, 1802, §1, 2 Stat. 132).

And a brief recitation of whether TCPA creates a federal cause of action, and if it “arises under” 1331 with stops at American ell Works, Merrell Down, and Grable:

Because federal law creates the right of action andprovides the rules of decision, Mims’s TCPA claim, in 28 U. S. C. §1331’s words, plainly “aris[es] under” the “laws. . . of the United States.” As already noted, supra, at 2, “[a] suit arises under the law that creates the cause of action.” American Well Works, 241 U. S., at 260. Al-though courts have described this formulation as “moreuseful for inclusion than for . . . exclusion,” Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals Inc. v. Thompson, 478 U. S. 804, 809, n. 5 (1986) (quoting T. B. Harms Co. v. Eliscu, 339 F. 2d 823, 827 (CA2 1964)), there is no serious debate that a federally created claim for relief is generally a “sufficient condition for federal-question jurisdiction.” Grable & Sons Metal Products, Inc. v. Darue Engineering & Mfg., 545
U. S. 308, 317 (2005).

9Even when a right of action is created by state law, if the claim requires resolution of significant issues of federal law, the case may ariseunder federal law for 28 U. S. C. §1331 purposes. See Grable & Sons Metal Products, Inc. v. Darue Engineering & Mfg., 545 U. S. 308, 312 (2005).

And the Court tries to explain away an outlier in its jurisprudence by citing Hart & Wechsler! Go figure.

For a rare exception to the rule that a federal cause of action suffices to ground federal-question jurisdiction, see Shoshone Mining Co. v. Rutter, 177 U. S. 505 (1900), discussed in R. Fallon, J. Manning, D. Meltzer, & D. Shapiro, Hart and Wechsler’s The Federal Courts and the Federal System, 784–785 (6th ed. 2009). In Shoshone Mining, we held that a suit for a federal mining patent did not arise under federal lawfor jurisdictional purposes because “the right of possession” in controversy could be determined by “local rules or customs, or state statutes,” 177 U. S., at 509, or “may present simply a question of fact,” id., at 510. Here, by contrast, the TCPA not only creates the claim for relief anddesignates the remedy; critically, the Act and regulations thereunder supply the governing substantive law.

I remember just this discussion from my H&W, and when I taught the topic, I explained that it was doctrinally incoherent.  I guess now H&W is right, and SCOTUS concedes. I’m glad some fed courts junkie law clerk stuck that in there.

Plus Richard Fallon, who objects to filing scholar’s briefs, gets cited by SCOTUS without even trying!

Next, the Court notes that there is a presumption of concurrent jurisdiction.

In cases “arising under” federal law,we note, there is a “deeply rooted presumption in favor of concurrent state court jurisdiction,” rebuttable if “Congress affirmatively ousts the state courts of jurisdictionover a particular federal claim.” Tafflin v. Levitt, 493
U. S. 455, 458–459 (1990). E.g., 28 U. S. C. §1333 (“The district courts shall have original jurisdiction, exclusive ofthe courts of the States, of: (1) Any civil case of admiraltyor maritime jurisdiction . . . .”). The presumption of concurrent state-court jurisdiction, we have recognized, canbe overcome “by an explicit statutory directive, by unmistakable implication from legislative history, or by a clear incompatibility between state-court jurisdiction and federal interests.” Gulf Offshore Co. v. Mobil Oil Corp., 453
U. S. 473, 478 (1981).

But is there a converse presumption in favor of state-court jurisdiction only where Congress uses clear language? Nope.

Arrow readily acknowledges the presumption of con- current state-court jurisdiction, but maintains that 28 U. S. C. §1331 creates no converse presumption in favor of federal-court jurisdiction. Instead, Arrow urges, theTCPA, a later, more specific statute, displaces §1331, an earlier, more general prescription. See Tr. of Oral Arg. 28–29; Brief for Respondent 31.

Section 1331, our decisions indicate, is not swept awayso easily. As stated earlier, see supra, at 8, when federal law creates a private right of action and furnishes the substantive rules of decision, the claim arises under federal law, and district courts possess federal-question jurisdiction under §1331.9 That principle endures unlessCongress divests federal courts of their §1331 adjudicatory authority. See, e.g., Verizon Md. Inc. v. Public Serv. Comm’n of Md., 535 U. S. 635, 642 (2002) (Nothing in 47 U. S. C. §252(e)(6) “divest[s] the district courts of their authority under 28 U. S. C. §1331 to review the [state agency’s] order for compliance with federal law.”); K mart Corp. v. Cartier, Inc., 485 U. S. 176, 182–183 (1988) (“TheDistrict Court would be divested of [§1331] jurisdiction . . . if this action fell within one of several specific grants of exclusive jurisdiction to the Court of International Trade[under 28 U. S. C. §1581(a) or §1581(i)(3)].”).

And this bit, which alludes to divestment of state court jurisdiction from an opinion by Circuit Judge Alito, in dissent.

“[D]ivestment of district court jurisdiction” should be found no more readily than “divestmen[t] of state court jurisdiction,” given “the longstanding and explicit grant of federal question jurisdiction in 28 U. S. C. §1331.” ErieNet, 156 F. 3d, at 523 (Alito, J., dissenting); see Gonell, Note, Statutory Interpretation of Federal Jurisdictional Statutes: Jurisdiction of the Private Right of Action under the TCPA, 66 Ford. L. Rev. 1895, 1929–1930 (1998).Accordingly, the District Court retains §1331 jurisdiction over Mims’s complaint unless the TCPA, expressly or byfair implication, excludes federal-court adjudication. See Verizon Md., 535 U. S., at 644; Gonell, supra, at 1929 (Jurisdiction over private TCPA actions “is proper under §1331 unless Congress enacted a partial repeal of §1331 in the TCPA.”).

It’s nice when a sitting Justice can join an opinion that cites a dissent he wrote. So much for those other two judges. Here is the bit form Alito’s dissent in ErieNet, Inc. v. Velocity Net, Inc:

 Indeed, I think that the Supreme Court’s decision in Tafflin v. Levitt, 493 U.S. 455, 110 S.Ct. 792, 107 L.Ed.2d 887 (1990), clearly shows that the majority has erred. I therefore respectfully dissent.

In Tafflin, the Supreme Court interpreted the following provision from the federal RICO statute:

Any person injured in his business or property by reason of a violation of section 1962 of this chapter may sue therefor in any appropriate United States district court.

18 U.S.C. § 1964 (emphasis added). The Court found that this language was insufficient to divest state courts of concurrent jurisdiction over private RICO actions, explaining:

[The statute’s] grant of federal jurisdiction is plainly permissive, not mandatory, for the statute does not state nor even suggest that such jurisdiction shall be exclusive. It provides that suits of the kind described “may” be brought in the federal district courts, not that they must be.

Tafflin, 493 U.S. at 460-61, 110 S.Ct. at 796 (internal quotations omitted). Applying this reasoning to the instant case, it is clear that the language of the TCPA is insufficient to divest district courts of their federal question jurisdiction, as the statute merely provides that private suits “may” be brought in state court. See 47 U.S.C. § 227(b)(3).

The majority, however, declines to apply the reasoning of Tafflin on the ground that Tafflinconcerned divestment of state court jurisdiction whereas this case concerns divestment of federal court jurisdiction. According to the majority, because “[s]tate courts are courts of general jurisdiction, while federal courts are courts of only limited jurisdiction[,] … [t]he permissive authorization of jurisdiction in state courts does not imply that jurisdiction is also authorized in federal courts.”[1] Maj. Op. at 516. This observation, while entirely accurate, is irrelevant to the issue before us. The appellants are not arguing that the TCPA authorizes federal jurisdiction by implication. Rather, the appellants simply maintain that the TCPA does not divest district courts of the federal question jurisdiction they already possess under 28 U.S.C. § 1331.[2] Although the majority eventually confronts this issue in Part IIB of its opinion, it fails to explain adequately why it does not apply the Tafflin Court’s divestment analysis.[3]

In the end, the majority fails to give any convincing reason for finding that the permissive grant of jurisdiction to state courts in the TCPA divests district courts of the jurisdiction they possess under 28 U.S.C. § 1331. Moreover, by rejecting the applicability of the Supreme Court’s reasoning in Tafflin, the majority reaches the odd conclusion that divestments of federal court jurisdiction over federal claims should be more easily found than divestments of state court jurisdiction over federal claims. In light of the longstanding and explicit grant of federal question jurisdiction in 28 U.S.C. § 1331, I would instead conclude that a divestment of district court jurisdiction should be as reluctantly found as a divestment of state court jurisdiction. Accordingly, I dissent.

Is it odd that Alito ruled on the exact-same-issue as a circuit judge and as a SCOTUS justice? I guess the facts are different, so no recusal issues are present. But Ginsburg cites Alito liberally (harharhar).

And some more about the exclusivity of jurisdiction:

That may be, but “[i]t is a general rule that the grant of jurisdiction to one court does not, of itself, imply that the jurisdiction is to be exclusive.” United States v. Bank of New York & Trust Co., 296 U. S. 463, 479 (1936). Nothing in the permissive language of §227(b)(3) makesstate-court jurisdiction exclusive, or otherwise purports tooust federal courts of their 28 U. S. C. §1331 jurisdiction over federal claims. See, e.g., Verizon Md., 535 U. S., at 643 (“[N]othing in 47 U. S. C. §252(e)(6) purports to strip [§1331] jurisdiction.”). Cf. Yellow Freight System, Inc. v. Donnelly, 494 U. S. 820, 823 (1990) (Title VII’s language—“[e]ach United States district court . . . shall have jurisdiction of actions brought under this subchapter,” 42 U. S. C.§2000e–5(f)(3)—does not “ous[t] state courts of their presumptive jurisdiction.” (internal quotation marks omitted)). Congress may indeed provide a track for a federal claim exclusive of §1331. See, e.g., 42 U. S. C. §405(h) (“No action . . . shall be brought under [§1331] to recover on any claim arising under [Title II of the Social SecurityAct].”); Weinberger v. Salfi, 422 U. S. 749, 756–757 (1975).Congress has done nothing of that sort here, however

So if a statute provides for exclusive jurisdiction in federal courts, the supremacy clause would say a state court must follow it, and dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. But what if that statute was unconstitutional, on the grounds that it (I don’t know) commandeered the states, or deprived state courts of sovereignty? Assume an individual would have standing to challenge that under Bond? Would that argument have any theoretical merit? Still giving this some thought.