Mims v. Arrow Financial Services, LLC
565 U.S. ___ (2012)

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Justia Opinion Summary
Petitioner filed a damages action in Federal District Court, alleging that respondent, seeking to collect a debt, violated the Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991 (TCPA), 47 U.S.C. 227, by repeatedly using an automatic telephone dialing system or prerecorded or artificial voice to call petitioner's cellular phone without his consent. At issue was whether Congress' provision for private actions to enforce the TCPA rendered state courts the exclusive arbiters of such actions. The Court found 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. Therefore, the Court held that federal and state courts have concurrent jurisdiction over private suits arising under the TCPA.
  • Syllabus
  • Opinion (Ruth Bader Ginsburg)

NOTE: Where it is feasible, a syllabus (headnote) will be released, as is being done in connection with this case, at the time the opinion is issued. The syllabus constitutes no part of the opinion of the Court but has been prepared by the Reporter of Decisions for the convenience of the reader. See United States v. Detroit Timber & Lumber Co., 200 U. S. 321 .

SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES

Syllabus

MIMS v. ARROW FINANCIAL SERVICES, LLC

certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the eleventh circuit

No. 10–1195. Argued November 28, 2011—Decided January 18, 2012

Consumer complaints about abuses of telephone technology—for example, computerized calls to private homes—prompted Congress to pass the Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991 (TCPA or Act), 47 U. S. C. §227. Congress determined that federal legislation was needed because telemarketers, by operating interstate, were escaping state-law prohibitions on intrusive nuisance calls. The Act bans certain invasive telemarketing practices and directs the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to prescribe implementing regulations. It authorizes States to bring civil actions to enjoin prohibited practices and recover damages on their residents’ behalf, 47 U. S. C. A. §227(g)(1) (Supp. 2011), and provides that jurisdiction over these state-initiated suits lies exclusively in the U. S. district courts, §227(g)(2). It also permits a private person to seek redress for violations of the Act or regulations “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).

          Petitioner Mims filed a damages action in Federal District Court, alleging that respondent Arrow, seeking to collect a debt, violated the TCPA by repeatedly using an automatic telephone dialing system or prerecorded or artificial voice to call Mims’s cellular phone without his consent. Mims invoked the court’s “federal question” jurisdiction, i.e., its authority to adjudicate claims “arising under the . . . laws . . . of the United States,” 28 U. S. C. §1331. The District Court, affirmed by the Eleventh Circuit, dismissed Mims’s complaint for want of subject-matter jurisdiction, concluding that the TCPA had vested jurisdiction over private actions exclusively in state courts.

Held: The TCPA’s permissive grant of jurisdiction to state courts does not deprive the U. S. district courts of federal-question jurisdiction over private TCPA suits. Pp. 7–18.

     (a) Because federal law creates the right of action and provides the rules of decision, Mims’s TCPA claim, in §1331’s words, plainly “aris[es] under” the “laws . . . of the United States.” Arrow agrees that this action arises under federal law, but urges that Congress vested exclusive adjudicatory authority over private TCPA actions in state courts. In cases “arising under” federal law, there is a presumption of concurrent state-court jurisdiction, rebuttable if “Congress affirmatively ousts the state courts of jurisdiction over a particular federal claim.” Tafflin v. Levitt, 493 U. S. 455 –459. Arrow acknowledges the presumption, but maintains that §1331 creates no converse presumption in favor of federal-court jurisdiction. Instead, Arrow urges, the TCPA, a later, more specific statute, displaces §1331, an earlier, more general prescription.

     Section 1331 is not swept away so easily. The principle that district courts possess federal-question jurisdiction under §1331 when federal law creates a private right of action and furnishes the substantive rules of decision endures unless Congress 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 . Accordingly, the District Court retains §1331 jurisdiction over Mims’s complaint unless the TCPA, expressly or by fair implication, excludes federal-court adjudication. See id., at 644. Pp. 7–10.

     (b) Arrow’s arguments do not persuade this Court that Congress eliminated §1331 jurisdiction over private TCPA actions. Title 47 U. S. C. §227(b)(3)’s language may be state-court oriented, but “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 . Nothing in §227(b)(3)’s permissive language makes state-court jurisdiction exclusive, or otherwise purports to oust federal courts of their §1331 jurisdiction. The provision does not state that a private plaintiff may bring a TCPA action “only” or “exclusively” in state court. In contrast, 47 U. S. C. A. §227(g)(2) (Supp. 2011) vests “exclusive jurisdiction” over state-initiated TCPA suits in the federal courts. Section 227(g)(2)’s exclusivity prescription “reinforce[s] the conclusion that [ 47 U. S. C. §227(b)(3)’s] silence . . . leaves the jurisdictional grant of §1331 untouched. For where otherwise applicable jurisdiction was meant to be excluded, it was excluded expressly.” Verizon Md., 535 U. S., at 644.

     Arrow argues that Congress had no reason to provide for a private action “in an appropriate [state] court,” §227(b)(3), if it did not mean to make the state forum exclusive, for state courts would have concurrent jurisdiction even if Congress had said nothing at all. But, as already noted, Congress had simultaneously made federal-court jurisdiction exclusive in TCPA enforcement actions brought by state authorities, see 47 U. S. C. A. §227(g)(2) (Supp. 2011), and may simply have wanted to avoid any argument that federal jurisdiction was also exclusive for private actions. Moreover, by providing that private actions may be brought in state court “if otherwise permitted by the laws or rules of court of [the] State,” 47 U. S. C. §227(b)(3), Congress arguably gave States leeway they would otherwise lack to decide whether to entertain TCPA claims.

     Arrow further asserts that making state-court jurisdiction over §227(b)(3) claims exclusive serves Congress’ objective of enabling States to control telemarketers whose interstate operations evaded state law. Even so, jurisdiction conferred by 28 U. S. C. §1331 should hold firm against “mere implication flowing from subsequent legislation.” Colorado River Water Conservation Dist. v. United States, 424 U. S. 800 , n. 15. Furthermore, had Congress sought only to fill a gap in the States’ enforcement capabilities, it could have provided that out-of-state telemarketing calls directed into a State would be subject to the receiving State’s laws. Instead, Congress enacted detailed, uniform, federal substantive prescriptions and provided for a regulatory regime administered by a federal agency.

     Arrow’s reliance on a statement by Senator Hollings, the TCPA’s sponsor, is misplaced. The remarks nowhere mention federal-court jurisdiction or otherwise suggest that 47 U. S. C. §227(b)(3) is intended to divest federal courts of authority over TCPA claims. Even if Hollings and other TCPA supporters expected private actions to proceed solely in state courts, their expectation would not control this Court’s judgment on §1331’s compass. Arrow’s arguments that federal courts will be inundated by $500-per-violation TCPA claims or that defendants could use federal-court removal to force small-claims-court plaintiffs to abandon suit seem more imaginary than real. Pp. 10–18.

421 Fed. Appx. 920, reversed and remanded.

     Ginsburg, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.

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