A Cell Phone Area Code May Not Be Enough to Establish Personal Jurisdiction

In a recent Southern District of Texas decision, Cantu v. Platinum Mktg. Group, Case No. 1:14-CV-71, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 90824 (S.D. Tex. Jul. 13, 2015), plaintiff Hector Cantu brought suit against defendant Platinum Marketing Group LLC d/b/a/ DiabetesHelpNow.com, LLC (“Platinum”) for calls made to his cell phone in violation of the TCPA. In considering Cantu’s motion for entry of default judgment, the court concluded that it lacked personal jurisdiction over the defendant.

Cantu argued that the court had specific personal jurisdiction over Platinum because (1) Cantu is a Texas resident and (2) Platinum knew that Cantu is a Texas resident when it called him because his phone number has a Texas area code. According to Cantu, calling a cell phone number in an area code associated with Texas is analogous to placing a letter in the mail addressed to a Texas resident and knowingly initiating a garnishment action directed at a Texas resident, thus giving rise to sufficient minimum contacts because the defendant purposely directed activities toward the forum state or purposefully availed itself of the privileges of conducting activities there.

The court rejected Cantu’s argument. The court noted that district courts have divided over the question whether contacting a cell phone number in an area code assigned to a particular state, without more, suffices to establish personal jurisdiction in that state when the call gives rise to an alleged TCPA claim.” The court then reasoned that a “cell phone prefix, unlike a landline, is not dispositive of residence, domicile, or location of the cell phone owner,” and noted that “increasingly, people keep their cell number as they move from state to state, untethering the number’s area code from its owner’s state of residence.” The court observed that there was no evidence showing that Platinum knew that Cantu was a Texas resident and held that the fact that Platinum may have called a cell phone number in an area code associated with Texas “does not, in and of itself, establish Platinum’s purposeful availment of the benefits and protections of Texas law.”  Accordingly, the court concluded that it lacked personal jurisdiction over Platinum, denied Cantu’s motion for default judgment, and dismissed the case without prejudice.

Decisions such as Cantu are of special interest to TCPA defendants who find themselves litigating in states where they do not regularly conduct business as a result of having allegedly placed calls or texts to a number with a certain area code, as well as to businesses with local or regional operations who may nonetheless communicate with customers using cell phone numbers with area codes from all over the nation.  Though this and similar rulings are favorable to defendants in certain jurisdictions, the current split in the district courts is likely to encourage forum shopping and should serve as a reminder to all companies to ensure they are complying with their TCPA obligations.

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