TCPA Hits Close to Home: Unilateral Acts of Plaintiff Cannot Trigger Jurisdiction in Far-Flung Forums
One of the most frequent issues arising in TCPA cases is personal jurisdiction over a Defendant. This is true because calls can be made from anywhere to anywhere. And while courts generally find jurisdiction can be asserted over a corporate Defendant (the rule is different for employees) may exist where that Defendant intentionally calls into a forum in the hopes of contracting business there, the law is quite different where the consumer crosses jurisdictional bounds without the Defendant’s knowledge.
In Fiorentine v. Sarton P.R., Civil Action No. 19-3424 (CKK), 2020 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 157018 (D. D.C. Aug. 29, 2020), for instance, the Court faced a jurisdictional challenge to a suit brought in D.C. against a company that transacts all of its business solely within Puerto Rico. The Plaintiff used to reside in Puerto Rico and—although the specific facts surrounding how the Defendant obtained the number were unclear—the assumption is that the Plaintiff supplied his number to the business while in Puerto Rico. When the Plaintiff moved to D.C., however, the company continued to text him-allegedly in violation of the TCPA. Plaintiff sued in his home forum—D.C.—but the Defendant stated that it could not be sued there since it did not business in D.C.
While the Court questioned whether sending text messages would even constitute “doing business” in D.C. for purposes of the applicable long arm statute—an issue the Court made sure to note (repeatedly) was missed by the parties—it assumed that the Constitutional jurisdictional framework applied rather than the statutory one. Applying due process rules the Court determined that Defendant’s only conduct in D.C. was text messages which were only sent to D.C. because of the Plaintiff’s unilateral decision to move there. Nothing the Defendant had done intentionally resulted in communications being sent to D.C. –it was continuing to send messages to the same P.R. customer it had always sent messages to and it was only due to Plaintiff’s travels that a text landed in D.C., where Defendant does not do business.
The Fiorentine case is a good one for TCPA Defendants to keep in mind. In today’s mobile society, a text sent from jurisdiction A might be unwittingly received in jurisdictions B, C, or 22. Where the Defendant is intentionally contacting those jurisdictions it can likely be hauled into court there, but that is not the case merely because the Plaintiff traveled or moved to the new forum jurisdiction.