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Supreme Court rules federal courts can hear lawsuits under telephone act

The US Supreme Court [official website] ruled unanimously [opinion, PDF] Wednesday in Mims v. Arrow Financial Services LLC [SCOTUSblog backgrounder] that the Telephone Consumer Protection Act [FCC summary, PDF] does not deprive the federal district courts of their federal question jurisdiction [28 USC § 1331 text] over private actions brought under the act. The US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit held [opinion, PDF] that the TCPA's permissive grant of jurisdiction to state courts means that federal courts lack jurisdiction over private actions under the act. Reversing the decision below, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote:

The question presented is whether Congress' provision for private actions to enforce the TCPA renders state courts the exclusive arbiters of such actions. We have long recognized that "[a] suit arises under the law that creates the cause of action." ... Beyond doubt, the TCPA is a federal law that both creates the claim Mims has brought and supplies the substantive rules that will govern the case. 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. ... We hold, therefore, that federal and state courts have concurrent jurisdiction over private suits arising under the TCPA.
The case was remanded for further proceedings consistent with the opinion.

Congress passed the TCPA in 1991 in response to consumer complaints over abuses of telephone technology, including computerized calls to private homes. The act prohibits certain conduct and authorizes states to bring civil actions to enjoin prohibited practices and recover damages on citizens' behalf. The act also allows citizens to bring private causes of action. Petitioner Marcus Mims brought an action against Arrow Financial Services, a debt collection agency, seeking damages for numerous violations of the act. The district court dismissed his claim for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.

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