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Mims v. Arrow Financial Services, LLC

Summarized by: 

Date Filed: January 18, 2012
Case #: 10-1195
Ginsburg, J., writing for the unanimous Court
Full Text Opinion: http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/11pdf/10-1195.pdf

Civil Procedure: Federal and state courts have concurrent jurisdiction over private suits arising under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991.

In response to consumer complaints, many states enacted statutes restricting telemarketing and other “abuses” of telephone technology. Recognizing that telemarketers were evading state-law prohibitions by operating interstate, Congress passed the Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991 (TCPA), which banned certain practices telemarketers were using (e.g., automatic telephone dialers, use of prerecorded messages, and use of caller ID manipulation) and directed the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to implement regulations. The TCPA also provided for private parties to bring civil actions “in an appropriate court of that State” and authorized State Attorneys General to bring civil actions on their residents’ behalf with exclusive jurisdiction being given to the Federal District Courts.

Petitioner (Mims), a private party, invoked federal question jurisdiction and filed a claim against Arrow Financial Services (Arrow) in federal District Court seeking declaratory relief, a permanent injunction and damages for Arrow’s willful and knowing violation of the TCPA. The District Court dismissed Mims’ complaint stating that federal question jurisdiction was unavailable “because Congress vested jurisdiction over [private actions under] the TCPA exclusively in state courts.” The Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit affirmed and the Court granted certiorari to resolve a circuit split regarding which courts had jurisdiction over private actions brought under the TCPA.

In a unanimous decision, the Court held that because district courts possess federal question jurisdiction for claims arising under federal law and since Mims’ TCPA claim is based on a private right of action created by federal law, the lower court erred in dismissing his case for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction and that private TCPA claims may be brought in either state or federal court.