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APCC Services, Inc. v. Sprint Communications Co.

December 17, 2003

APCC SERVICES, INC., ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
SPRINT COMMUNICATIONS COMPANY, L.P., DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ellen Segal Huvelle United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Plaintiffs in this case, as well as in several others before the Court, seek payment from common carriers of "dial-around compensation" on behalf of payphone service providers ("PSPs") for certain long distance phone calls originating from their payphones.*fn1 They claim that the carriers have violated section 276(b)(1)(A) of the Communications Act of 1934, as amended, 47 U.S.C. § 276, and its implementing regulations, codified at 47 C.F.R. § 64.1300. Plaintiffs base their claims on sections 206 and 207 that provide for the recovery of damages for violations of the Act.

All of the cases before this Court present an initial question as to whether section 276 and its implementing regulations confer a private right of action to sue for a common carrier's alleged failure to pay adequate dial-around compensation. On September 4, 2003, the Court, upon motion to dismiss by Cable & Wireless, found that plaintiffs have a right of action and can base their claims on section 276. APCC Serv., Inc. v. Cable & Wireless, Inc., 281 F. Supp. 2d 52 (D.D.C. 2003) (" C&W "). Consistent with that ruling, the Court also allowed plaintiffs to amend their complaint to add additional grounds under sections 201(b), 416(c) and 407 of the Communications Act.*fn2 Id. at 57-59. Sprint has requested that the Court reconsider its rulings and dismiss the amended complaint, or alternatively, certify the question for interlocutory appeal, basing its motion in large part upon the Ninth Circuit's recent holding in Greene v. Sprint Communications Co., 340 F.3d 1047 (9th Cir. 2003).*fn3

Four of these actions also present a question as to whether plaintiffs have Article III standing as assignees of the claims of numerous PSPs.*fn4 The Court initially dismissed one of these cases on March 28, 2003, finding that plaintiffs lacked standing ( see APCC Serv., Inc. v. AT&T Corp., 254 F. Supp. 2d 135 (D.D.C. 2003) (" AT&T I ")), but upon reconsideration, it concluded that the assignments executed by the PSPs bestowed upon the aggregator-plaintiffs standing sufficient to survive an Article III challenge. See APCC Serv., Inc. v. AT&T Corp., 281 F. Supp. 2d 41 (D.D.C. 2003) (" AT&T II "). AT&T has moved for reconsideration of the Court's second decision on the standing issue, or in the alternative, for certification of an interlocutory appeal.*fn5

Whether the Act confers a private right of action to collect dial-around compensation from carriers is a controlling question of law, for it is dispositive as to all cases before the Court.*fn6 To the extent that a private right of action is found to exist, the issue of whether the assignees have standing to sue is also controlling, and is dispositive as to three of the five pending actions.*fn7 An immediate appeal to the Circuit Court of these issues will prevent potentially unnecessary and protracted litigation while definitively resolving these disputed jurisdictional issues. Thus, although the Court is unwilling to reconsider its prior opinions in C&W and AT&T II, it will grant the carriers' motions for certification of an interlocutory appeal of both decisions.

LEGAL ANALYSIS

Whether to allow an interlocutory appeal of a non-final order is left to the discretion of the district court. Swint v. Chambers County Comm'n, 514 U.S. 35, 47 (1995). The court may certify such an appeal if (1) the order involves a controlling question of law; (2) a substantial ground for difference of opinion concerning the ruling exists; and (3) an immediate appeal would materially advance the litigation. See 28 U.S.C. § 1292(b); Walsh v. Ford Motor Co., 807 F.2d 1000, 1002 n.2 (D.C. Cir. 1986); In re Korean Air Lines Disaster, 935 F. Supp. 10, 16 (D.D.C. 1996). The party seeking interlocutory review has the burden of persuading the Court that the "circumstances justify a departure from the basic policy of postponing appellate review until after the entry of a final judgment." In re Vitamins Antitrust Litig., No. 99-197, 2000 WL 33142129, at *1 (D.D.C. 2000) (citing First Am. Corp. v. Al-Nahyan, 948 F. Supp. 1107, 1116 (D.D.C. 1996)).

In deciding whether to grant interlocutory appeal, the Court of Appeals in this Circuit follows the collateral order doctrine, see Jungquist v. Sheikh Sultan Bin Khalifa Al Nahyan, 115 F.3d 1020, 1026 (D.C. Cir. 1997), which allows for appeal if it "(1) conclusively determines the disputed question, (2) resolves an important issue completely separate from the merits of the action, and (3) would be effectively unreviewable on appeal from a final judgment." United States v. Rostenkowski, 59 F.3d 1291, 1296 (D.C. Cir. 1995) (quoting Coopers & Lybrand v. Livesay, 437 U.S. 463, 468 (1978)).

I. Controlling Question of Law

Under § 1292(b), a "controlling question of law is one that would require reversal if decided incorrectly or that could materially affect the course of litigation with resulting savings of the court's or the parties' resources." Judicial Watch, Inc. v. Nat'l Energy Policy Dev. Group, 233 F. Supp. 2d 16, 19 (D.D.C. 2002). Controlling questions of law include issues that would terminate an action if the district court's order were reversed. See Klinghoffer v. S.N.C. Achille Lauro, 921 F.2d 21, 24 (2d Cir. 1990) (a question of law is controlling if it involves issues of personal or subject matter jurisdiction); United States ex rel. Wis. v. Dean, 729 F.2d 1100, 1103 (7th Cir. 1984) (decision finding subject matter jurisdiction involves a controlling question of law); Katz v. Carte Blanche Corp., 496 F.2d 747, 755 (3d Cir. 1974) (a question is "controlling" if error in its resolution would warrant dismissal).

The resolution of an issue need not necessarily terminate an action in order to be "controlling," Klinghoffer, 921 F.2d at 24, but instead may involve a procedural determination that may significantly impact the action. See In re The Duplan Corp., 591 F.2d 139, 148 n.11 (2d Cir. 1978) (a "controlling question of law" includes procedural determination affecting the conduct of an action); Judicial Watch, 233 F. Supp. 2d at 19 (citing Johnson v. Burken, 930 F.2d 1202, 1206 (7th Cir. 1991) (a question of law can be controlling if it determines the outcome "or even the future course of the litigation")); see also 16 Wright & Miller, Federal Practice & Procedure, § 3930 at 426 (1996) ("A steadily growing number of decisions... have accepted the better view that a question is controlling... if interlocutory reversal might save time for the district court, and time and expense for the litigants."). The impact that the appeal will have on other cases is also a factor supporting a conclusion that the question is controlling. See Klinghoffer, 921 F.2d at 24 (citing Brown v. Bullock, 294 F.2d 415, 417 (2d Cir. 1961) (leave to appeal granted in part because the "determination was likely to have precedential value for a large number of other suits")); Genentech, Inc. v. Novo Nordisk A/S, 907 F. Supp. 97, 99 (S.D.N.Y. 1995) (a question is "controlling" if it affects a large number of cases).

Whether the Communications Act provides a private right of action to collect dial-around compensation is a controlling and dispositive question in each of the five cases, as reversal of the Court's finding would definitively terminate these actions. See Masri v. Wakefield, 602 F. Supp. 404, 406 (D. Colo. 1983) (certifying question as to statutory private right of action). Similarly, if a private right of action is found to exist, the second jurisdictional issue of whether the assignee-plaintiffs have standing is also a controlling question of law. See Klapper v. Commonwealth Realty Trust, 662 F. Supp 235, 236 (D. Del. 1987).*fn8 Although claims by individual PSPs, which are limited in number, may survive the assignees' dismissal for lack of standing, assignee standing is a procedural determination that will significantly impact the form and conduct of these actions. Moreover, because the Court should not speak to any matter over which it lacks jurisdiction, the issue is controlling. See In re Sealed Case, 131 F.3d 208, 210 (D.C. Cir. 1997) ("If we are without subject-matter jurisdiction over the case ostensibly before us, then any pronouncement on any issue... becomes a violation of our Article III limitations.").

It is also significant that in addition to the five cases here, PSPs and aggregators have filed numerous suits throughout the country against common carriers based on a claim of a private right of action under the Communications Act, as well as an assertion of standing based on assignments executed by the PSPs.*fn9 Despite the rash of these cases countrywide, the parties in the cases in this jurisdiction are the major players in almost all the litigation countrywide, and the assignee-plaintiffs represent more than 400,000 of the 500,000 to 600,000 payphone lines in the United States. Moreover, the FCC, a frequent party before the D.C. Circuit, has dealt with cases similar to these*fn10 and has litigated issues relevant to this matter before the D.C. Circuit.*fn11

Therefore, it too would presumably have a significant interest in the resolution of these jurisdictional issues. The industry as a whole would thus benefit from a ruling from the Court of Appeals, for not only will the resolution of these issues be dispositive of the cases before this Court, but it will provide ...


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