TCPA Quick Hitter: When is there Specific Personal Jurisdiction Over an Out-of-State TCPA Defendant?

TCPA defendants often face the peril of being dragged into court in faraway venues. This can make defending the case difficult, needlessly expensive and may subject to the Defendant to a hostile out-of-state fact finder.

Personal jurisdiction limitations have been used to good effect in extracting individuals and corporate officers from out-of-state TCPA cases over the years, but the doctrine has been underutilized as a tool to earn dismissal of claims and against corporate defendants. Although Plaintiffs often plead jurisdiction exists owing to the residence of the Plaintiff within the forum state and receipt of a text message or phone call there, such lean allegations are actually insufficient to establish specific personal jurisdiction as a decision out of California from yesterday explains.

In Fabricant v. Paramount Payment Sys., CV 19-3148 FMO (SKx), 2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 84720 (C.D. Cal. May 20, 2019) the court reviewed the allegations of a Plaintiff’s complaint—apparently sua sponte—and offered a neat and tidy primer on personal jurisdiction. The jurisdictional allegations were simple and common: Florida defendants. California Plaintiff. Plaintiff alleges receipt of text, but does not allege anything else regarding defendants’ practices in the state of California. Held: these allegations are insufficient.

The Court identifies three prong test for assessing specific personal jurisdiction: 1) Defendant must purposefully avails himself of the privilege of conducting activities in the forum; (2) the claim must be one which arises out of or relates to the defendant’s forum-related activities; and (3) the exercise of jurisdiction must comport with fair play and substantial justice, i.e. it must be reasonable.” Importantly, “t]he plaintiff cannot be the only link between the defendant and the forum.” The Fabricant complaint lacked any allegations regarding the Defendants’ conduct availing itself of California jurisdiction. Rather the Complaint alleged only conduct specific to the Plaintiff. But the law on personal jurisdiction looks at conduct directed at the forum not at the Plaintiff—even if the Plaintiff is a resident of that forum. So the Court issued an order compelling Plaintiff to amend the complaint or face dismissal of the action.

When facing TCPA litigation—especially in class actions—in a forum outside a defendant’s home state keep personal jurisdiction issues in mind.  As Fabricant demonstrates, the issue can afford a defense not just to individuals and corporate officers but to corporate defendants as well. If the Defendant was not intentionally targeting the forum state with a call or messaging campaign there is a good chance that specific personal jurisdiction in that state will not be proper.

Obtaining a successful dismissal of an out-of-state claim can help limit the pool of available claimants– predatory consumer lawyers will face the barrier of having to look for a new claimant residing within an appropriate forum if the previous claimant is unwilling to litigate out of state– and these same personal jurisdiction issues likely compel dismissals of out-of-state claimants in putative TCPA class actions.

But word to the wise: personal jurisdiction issues are waived if not raised at the outset of a case and few courts will take it upon themselves to review jurisdictional allegations as the Fabricant court did. Be vigilant and yield no advantage TCPAWorld.

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