Last week, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas concluded that plaintiffs can bring claims for violations of 47 U.S.C. § 227(b) that arose while the government-debt exception (“GDE”) to that provision was still on the books. The decision comes amid growing contention among courts in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last year in Barr v. American Association of Political Consultants, 140 S. Ct. 2335 (2020), which struck down the GDE as an unconstitutional content-based restriction on speech.
On August 10, 2021, a divided Ninth Circuit panel vacated a trial court’s certification of two nationwide classes, finding that the defendant had not waived its personal jurisdiction objection to class certification by not raising the issue at the pleading stage. See Moser v. Benefytt, Inc., No. 19-56224, 2021 WL 3504041 (9th Cir. Aug. 10, 2021).
This case arose as a putative nationwide class action filed by Kenneth Moser in federal court in California against Benefytt Technologies, Inc., formerly known as Health Insurance Innovations, Inc. (HII), alleging that HII was responsible for unwanted sales calls that violated the TCPA. Moser was a resident of California, whereas HII was incorporated in Delaware and had a principal place of business in Florida.
The Seventh Circuit has reversed a decision from last year by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois dismissing a TCPA claim for lack of personal jurisdiction over an alleged principal of the caller. That decision, which we covered here, concluded that the plaintiff had not established an agency relationship between defendant Health Insurance Innovations, Inc. (“HII”) and the unnamed “lead generators” that had made the allegedly unsolicited calls. Bilek v. Fed. Ins. Co., No. 19-8389, 2020 WL 3960445, at *5 (N.D. Ill. July 13, 2020). As a result, the Northern District held that it lacked specific personal jurisdiction over HII, which had no connection to the forum state beyond its alleged relationship with the telemarketers that called the plaintiff in Illinois. Id.
On appeal, the plaintiff argued that he had plausibly alleged an agency relationship and that the district court should therefore have imputed the caller’s conduct to HII when assessing whether it could exercise specific personal jurisdiction over the latter. Bilek v. Fed. Ins. Co., No. 20-2504, 2021 WL 3503132, at *6 (7th Cir. Aug. 10, 2021).
The Southern District of Florida recently remanded a case back to state court because the defendant that removed the case failed to establish that plaintiff suffered an Article III injury. Harris v. Travel Resorts of America, Inc., Civ. No. 2:20-14369-AMC (S.D. Fla. Mar. 31, 2021). Notably, the Court also found that plaintiff should be able to recover its attorneys’ fees in seeking remand given the defendant’s reversing its prior position on whether the Court had subject-matter jurisdiction over the case.
The Northern District of Texas handed down a decision exploring the jurisdictional limitations on TCPA plaintiffs’ ability to hale out-of-state defendants into a plaintiff’s local federal court.
The case, Horton v. Sunpath, Ltd., involved a Texas resident (Lucas Horton) who launched a TCPA suit against a Massachusetts-based corporation (Sunpath). Horton alleged that Sunpath’s agent, Northcoast Warranty Services, placed several calls to his cell phone using an automatic telephone dialing system and pre-recorded messages, despite the number’s listing on the National Do-Not Call Registry. No. 3:20-cv-1884-B-BH, 2021 WL 982344, at *1 (N.D. Tex. Feb. 16, 2021). On the calls, Horton stated, Northcoast encouraged him to purchase an auto service policy administered by Sunpath. Id. The calls continued for about three months until Horton purchased a policy from Sunpath in May 2020. Id. Horton filed suit against Sunpath about a month later in the Northern District of Texas. Id.
Usually, it is the plaintiff that argues he or she was injured, not the defendant. But, in an effort to stay in state court, some TCPA plaintiffs have taken the counterintuitive position that they did not suffer an injury in fact under Article III of the U.S. Constitution and, therefore, their claims cannot be heard in federal court.
“[T]o satisfy Article III’s standing requirements, a plaintiff must show (1) it has suffered an ‘injury in fact’ that is (a) concrete and particularized and (b) actual or imminent, not conjectural or hypothetical; (2) the injury is fairly traceable to the challenged action of the defendant; and (3) it is likely, as opposed to merely speculative, that the injury will be redressed by a favorable decision.” Friends of Earth, Inc. v. Laidlaw Environmental Servs. (TOC), Inc., 528 U.S. 167, 180–181 (2000).
The District of Arizona recently dismissed Winters v. Grand Caribbean Cruises, Inc., No. 20-0168, 2021 WL 511217 (D. Ariz. Feb. 11, 2021), for lack of personal jurisdiction, finding that the plaintiffs had failed to establish that the caller’s contact with Arizona could be imputed to Grand Caribbean.
The plaintiffs alleged that Grand Caribbean violated the TCPA by using a prerecorded voice to initiate calls to numbers on the Do-Not-Call Registry. Grand Caribbean moved to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction, among other things.