January 18, 2012
Statement of Scott Nelson, Attorney, Public Citizen
Today, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled in Mims v. Arrow Financial Services that consumers injured by violations of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), which outlaws abusive telemarketing practices, may bring lawsuits in federal courts as well as state courts. Public Citizen represented Marcus Mims, the successful plaintiff in the case. The court’s opinion, written by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, accepts without reservation all of the arguments we made in support of his right to choose a federal court to assert his claims.
The TCPA forbids such practices as calls to cell phones that use automatic dialers, calls to residences that use prerecorded messages, and unsolicited junk faxes, and it says that consumers who are victims of such practices can sue for up to $1,500 per violation. The act specifies that those lawsuits may be brought in state courts. But, as the court ruled today, the act does not prevent consumers from going to federal court instead, by invoking the federal courts’ general jurisdiction over all cases that are based on federal law.
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The decision will make it possible for plaintiffs with large claims that are suited to litigation in federal court to choose a federal forum for those claims. It also may facilitate class actions that could not be brought if TCPA claims were limited to state courts.
Note: Attorney Donald Yarbrough of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., served as lead counsel in the lower courts.