Repeat TCPA Litigant Loses Because Court Lacks Jurisdiction in the Lone Star State
"Everything is bigger in Texas,” is not true for specific jurisdiction. For that, at least, Texas is no different. A Texas court’s exercise of jurisdiction must comport with “due process.” TCPA frequent-filer Craig Cunningham learned that lesson recently in front of a federal magistrate judge in Sherman, Texas. Cunningham v. Assured Auto Group, 2021 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 56888, No. 4:20-CV-141 (E.D. Tex. March 2, 2021).
Mr. Cunningham sued two companies and their officers for alleged violations of the TCPA. The Defendants moved to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction. They argued that they were not involved in any calls made to Mr. Cunningham, and that each of them (both companies and both individual officers) lacked the necessary nexus to Texas for the Court to exercise jurisdiction over them. Applying seven decades of well-settled jurisdictional precedent, the Texas Court agreed.
Mr. Cunningham stumbled out the gate by filing his response late. Though the Court considered Mr. Cunningham’s merits arguments, in a lengthy footnote, the Court chastised Mr. Cunningham for ignoring the Local Rules requiring timely response briefs.
On the merits, the Court tackled general jurisdiction first. None of the individual Defendants were “at home” in Texas because none lived or worked there. And none of the company Defendants were incorporated or headquartered in Texas. This lack of the requisite “continuous and systematic” contacts defeated general jurisdiction over all of the Defendants. Notably too, Mr. Cunningham did himself no favors by making his response arguments in conclusory fashion and failing to offer evidence that disputed Defendants’ sworn declarations.
Nor did Mr. Cunningham present evidence to establish specific jurisdiction. The Court applied the doctrinal rule that only the Defendants’ contacts with the forum state itself, not not the Defendants’ contacts with persons who reside there, are relevant. Applying that framework, the Defendants could not face specific jurisdiction for calls that happened to end up in Texas. Most importantly, the Court explained, “doing business with a Texas consumer is not sufficient to establish specific personal jurisdiction.” Doing so, the Court concluded, would not comport with notions of fair play and substantial justice. Given that, the Court recommended dismissal of Mr. Cunningham’s complaint for lack of jurisdiction.
So keep this one in mind: calls made by residents who are likely to reside in a particular forum may not support jurisdiction over a non-resident defendant.