Subject to exceptions, the Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991 (TCPA) principally outlaws four practices. First, the Act makes it unlawful to use an automatic telephone dialing system or an artificial or prerecorded voice message, without the prior express consent of the called party, to call any emergency telephone line, hospital patient, pager, cellular telephone, or other service for which the receiver is charged for the call. 47 U.S.C.S. § 227(b)(1)(A). Second, the TCPA forbids using artificial or prerecorded voice messages to call residential telephone lines without prior express consent. § 227(b)(1)(B). Third, the Act proscribes sending unsolicited advertisements to fax machines. § 227(b)(1)(C). Fourth, it bans using automatic telephone dialing systems to engage two or more of a business's telephone lines simultaneously. § 227(b)(1)(D).
Petitioner sued respondent debt collection agency in federal district court for alleged violations of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991 (TCPA). The district court dismissed the complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, and the Court of Appeals affirmed. The collection agency argued that § 227(b)(3), which provided that a private person could sue for violations of the TCPA in an appropriate court of a state, required petitioner to bring his TCPA suit in state court. On certiorari, the Supreme Court reversed and the case was remanded.
Does the TCPA's permissive grant of jurisdiction to state courts deprive the U.S. district courts of federal-question jurisdiction over private TCPA suits?
Resolving a split among the circuits, the Supreme Court held that federal and state courts had concurrent jurisdiction over private suits arising under the TCPA. Section 227(b)(3) did not vest jurisdiction exclusively in state courts over private TCPA actions and did not divest federal district courts of federal question jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C.S. § 1331. Petitioner's TCPA claim plainly arose under the laws of the United States, as federal law created the right of action and provided the rules of decision. Nothing in the permissive language of § 227(b)(3) made state-court jurisdiction exclusive or purported to oust federal courts of their § 1331 jurisdiction. By contrast, § 227(g)(2) vested exclusive jurisdiction over TCPA suits instituted by state attorneys general in federal district courts, reinforcing the conclusion that § 227(b)(3)'s silence did not affect jurisdiction under § 1331.