No institute is safe from TCPA lawsuits–not even a school. Proceeding pro se, an Oklahoma-resident plaintiff, John Anthony Guadnola, sued the Waialua High and Intermediate School for calls concerning his child, a student there. Mr. Guadnola alleged that despite his revocation of consent “he received at least 36 automated phone calls from the school.” At least for now, the school obtained dismissal on jurisdictional grounds. See Guadnola v. Hawaii Department of Education, No. CIV-19-1114-G, 2021 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 53346, (W.D. Okla. March 22, 2021).
As we’ve covered before, a TCPA plaintiff must establish personal jurisdiction or face a quick dismissal. In this case, the school (through the Hawaii Department of Education) was not subject to general jurisdiction in Oklahoma because Hawaii’s government is plainly not “at home” in Oklahoma. Nor could the Court exercise specific jurisdiction. The mere fact that Mr. Guadnola “resides in Oklahoma” is “insufficient to support a finding that the [Hawaii Department of Education] purposefully directed the automated phone calls to Oklahoma.” And, given his “Hawaii-based cell phone number” and the child’s Hawaii-based school, the Court concluded no facts supported support specific jurisdiction.
The Court also rejected a transfer of the case. Applying Tenth Circuit precedent, which gives the Court discretion based on several interest-of-justice factors, the Court held that dismissal was appropriate. In particular, the Court did not need to transfer the case because the statute of limitations would not bar the claim if the action was filed in Hawaii. Nor did the case appear to have merit–given the Hawaii Department of Education’s likely sovereign immunity.
Finally, the Court rejected Mr. Guadnola’s request for leave to amend. The Court’s local rules required a separate motion for leave to amend. Because Mr. Guadnola failed to comply with the local rule, the Court dismissed the claim, without prejudice.
That last part is important. Given the dismissal “without prejudice” Mr. Guadnola may simply re-file his pro se lawsuit against the school in the appropriate forum, Hawaii. Then, a Hawaii Court will have to resolve the school’s (Hawaii Department of Education’s) sovereign immunity defense before reaching the merits . Meanwhile, the school will spend time and energy that should go to teaching children on TCPA litigation.