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Mojica v. Securus Technologies, Inc.

United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Fayetteville Division

January 29, 2015

SUSAN MOJICA, et al. Plaintiffs,
v.
SECURUS TECHNOLOGIES, INC. Defendants. and KAYLAN STUART, et al. Plaintiffs,
v.
GLOBAL TEL*LINK CORPORATION Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

TIMOTHY L. BROOKS, District Judge.

Currently before the Court are Defendant Securus Technologies, Inc.'s ("Securus") Partial Motion to Dismiss, Motion to Strike, and Motion to Stay or, in the Alternative, Motion for More Definite Statement (Case No. 5:14-cv-5258, Doc. 10) and Memorandum in Support, id. at Doc. 11, Plaintiff Susan Mojica's Brief in Opposition, id. at Doc. 18, Defendant Securus' Reply in Support, id. at Doc. 21, and Plaintiff Mojica's Sur-Reply in Further Response, id. at Doc. 24. Also currently before the Court are Defendant Global Tel*Link Corporation's ("Global") Motion for Primary Jurisdiction Referral and Stay (Case No. 5:14-cv-5275, Doc. 16) and Memorandum in Support, id. at Doc. 17, Plaintiff Kaylan Stuart's Brief in Opposition, id. at Doc. 21, Defendant Global's Reply Memorandum in Support, id. at Doc. 23, and Defendant Global's Notice of Additional Authority, id. at Doc. 28. A joint Case Management Hearing for both above-captioned cases was held on January 22, 2014.[1] After hearing oral argument on the Motions at the Case Management Hearing, the Court DENIED both Motions from the bench. This Opinion and Order explains the basis for the Court's decision. To the extent anything in this Order differs from what the Court stated from the bench, this Order will control.

I. BACKGROUND

On February 16, 2000, Martha Wright and other similarly situated individuals filed a class action complaint in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia against a host of defendants, including the instant defendants or their predecessors.[2] Among other things, the Wright complaint alleged that various telephone companies entered into exclusive agreements to provide telephone services to inmates at correctional facilities throughout the United States, and exploited those monopolies by charging unjust and unreasonable rates to recipients of phone calls from inmates in violation of 47 U.S.C. § 201(b), thereby unjustly enriching themselves. On August 22, 2001, the D.C. District Court dismissed the Wright complaint without prejudice under the doctrine of primary jurisdiction.[3] On November 5, 2001, that court granted a motion to reconsider by converting the dismissal to a stay, pending the resolution of related proceedings before the Federal Communications Commission ("FCC"). Those FCC proceedings lasted for more than a decade, and at some point during those proceedings the Wright lawsuit was administratively closed due to inactivity, without any class certification or dispositive order ever having been entered.

Finally, on September 26, 2013, the FCC released its Inmate Rate Order and Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (" IRO and FNPRM "). The IRO and FNPRM did not specifically find that any of the Wright defendants had or had not committed any specific violations of law as alleged in the Wright complaint. However, the IRO and FNPRM made many findings about such practices in general, clearly indicated that the FCC viewed such practices as being unjust and unreasonable, and established an interim regulatory scheme designed to curb such practices prospectively - with that interim scheme ultimately to be replaced by a permanent one resulting from the further proposed rulemaking noticed in the IRO and FNPRM. Global and Securus challenged this interim scheme in the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, and petitioned the FCC to stay its implementation and hold in abeyance further rulemaking pending the resolution of that D.C. Circuit appeal. On November 21, 2013, the FCC denied their petitions. On January 13, 2014, the D.C. Circuit entered an order staying three provisions from the IRO and FNPRM pending resolution of the appeal, and refusing to stay any other provisions.[4]

On October 22, 2014, the FCC released a Second Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (" FNPRM 2 ") in order to develop a sufficient record to support the kind of comprehensive reform that could not be accomplished with the interim scheme set forth in the initial IRO and FNPRM. On December 10, 2014, the FCC (which is defending the IRO and FNPRM against the appeal in the D.C. Circuit) filed an uncontested motion to hold the D.C. Circuit appeal in abeyance pending the issuance of final rules pursuant to FNPRM 2, arguing that those final rules might moot the issues raised by the appellants. On December 16, 2014, the D.C. Circuit granted that motion; the appeal is currently being held in abeyance.

Meanwhile, the instant Class Action Complaints against Securus and Global were filed in this Court on August 14, 2014, and September 4, 2014, respectively. Those Complaints each allege two causes of action: violation of the Federal Communications Act ("FCA") and common-law unjust enrichment. Specifically, the instant Complaints allege that Securus and Global, respectively, entered into exclusive agreements to provide telephone services to inmates at correctional facilities throughout the United States, and exploited those monopolies by charging unjust and unreasonable rates to recipients of phone calls from inmates in violation of 47 U.S.C. § 201(b), thereby unjustly enriching themselves.

Securus filed a Partial Motion to Dismiss, Motion to Strike, and Motion to Stay or, in the Alternative, Motion for More Definite Statement (Doc. 10) and Memorandum in Support (Doc. 11) on September 15, 2014. On October 17, 2014, Mojica filed a Brief in Opposition. (Doc. 18). Securus filed a Reply (Doc. 21) on October 24, 2014, and Mojica filed a Sur-reply (Doc. 24) on November 3, 2014.

Global filed a Motion for Primary Jurisdiction Referral and Stay (Doc. 16) and Memorandum in Support (Doc. 17) on November 20, 2014. On December 12, 2014, Stuart filed a Brief in Opposition. (Doc. 21). Global filed a Reply (Doc. 23) on January 5, 2015, and a Notice of Additional Authority (Doc. 28) on January 16, 2015. Both Defendants' Motions are now ripe for consideration.

II. DISCUSSION

A. Defendants' Motions for Primary Jurisdiction Referral and Stay

Both Global and Securus have asked the Court to apply the doctrine of primary jurisdiction to the FCA claims in their respective cases. The doctrine of primary jurisdiction is a common-law doctrine that "allows a district court to refer a matter to the appropriate administrative agency for a ruling in the first instance, even when the matter is initially cognizable by the district court." Access Telecomm. v. Southwestern Bell Telephone Co., 137 F.3d 605, 608 (8th Cir. 1998). The doctrine "applies where a claim is originally cognizable in the courts, and comes into play whenever enforcement of the claim requires the resolution of issues which, under a regulatory scheme, have been placed within the special competence of an administrative body." Alpharma, Inc. v. Pennfield Oil Co., 411 F.3d 934, 938 (8th Cir. 2005) (internal quotation marks omitted).

"The contours of primary jurisdiction are not fixed by a precise formula." Id. Primary jurisdiction is typically invoked to make use of agency expertise, or to promote uniformity and consistency within the particular field of regulation. Access Telecomm., 137 F.3d at 608. The doctrine of primary jurisdiction "is to be invoked sparingly, as it often results in added expense and delay.'" Alpharma, Inc., 411 F.3d at 938. However, "[c]ourts have consistently held that claims of unjust and unreasonable practices under 47 U.S.C. § 201(b) fall within the primary jurisdiction of the FCC." Scott v. Pub. Comm. Servs., 2012 WL 381780, at *3 (E.D. Mo. Feb. 6, 2012).

Defendants correctly contend that these cases involve issues that are within the FCC's field of expertise and that are often referred to the FCC's primary jurisdiction. Perhaps in a more typical case the Court might be inclined, on that basis alone, to employ the doctrine of primary jurisdiction. However, these cases are not typical. Going back to the filing of the original Wright complaint in the D.C. District Court, the ...


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