On October 18, 2018, the Northern District of Georgia declined to extend the Supreme Court’s holding in Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. v. Superior Court of Cal., S.F. Cty., 137 U.S. 1773 (2017) to dismiss or to strike the class allegations in a Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) case. In Dennis v. IDT Corp., the defendant argued that the inclusion of putative class members outside of the Northern District should have resulted in either dismissal of the case in its entirety or striking of the plaintiff’s class allegations. No. 1:18-cv-2302 (N.D. Ga. Oct. 18, 2018). The Northern District of Georgia’s decision creates further uncertainty about how courts will view Bristol-Myers in the context of federal causes of action such as TCPA cases.
In Dennis, the plaintiff alleged that the defendant placed unsolicited telemarketing calls to him while his telephone number was registered on the National Do Not Call list (DNC). The plaintiff sought to represent a nationwide class of individuals who also received calls while registered on the DNC. Citing Bristol-Myers, the defendant sought an order dismissing the case or striking the plaintiff’s class allegations. In Bristol-Myers (a state-court mass action), the Supreme Court had held that due process bars federal courts from exercising specific personal jurisdiction over defendants for claims made by non-resident plaintiffs. The defendant argued that where, as in Dennis, a putative class contained non-residents, Bristol-Myers barred recovery by those non-residents.
Rejecting the defendant’s argument, the Northern District of Georgia explained that it believed the defendant was stretching Bristol-Myers too far. Specifically, the court noted that the Supreme Court had declined to consider whether the Fifth Amendment imposed the same restrictions and that Justice Sotomayor had noted in dissent that the Court had not addressed the question of whether Bristol-Myers is applicable in the class action context. Ultimately, the Northern District of Georgia relied on these distinctions to deny the defendant’s motion. Among other things, the court explained that it found that specific jurisdiction over the named plaintiff’s claim was sufficient to find personal jurisdiction over the entire case. Moreover, it found that the mass action/class action distinction was material because analysis of specific personal jurisdiction is possible in mass actions where all plaintiffs are named, but infeasible in class actions where the putative class members are as-yet unknown.
Since the Supreme Court decided Bristol-Myers, courts have grappled with its application in cases, like Dennis, presenting federal causes of action and nationwide class action claims. Although Dennis does not bring a resolution to that uncertainty any closer, the decision demonstrates that some courts will confine Bristol-Myers to its procedural posture rather than applying its principles more broadly.