Jenner & Block

Supreme Court’s Ruling on Telecom Jurisdictional Case Accords with Firm’s Amicus Brief

The U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision in a telecom case accords with the arguments made in an amicus brief filed by Jenner & Block Partner Marc A. Goldman and Associate Matthew E. PriceAt issue in Sprint v. Jacobs was the Younger v. Harris doctrine of 1971, under which federal courts abstain from acting when certain types of parallel state proceedings are pending.  The Sprint dispute dates to 2009, when Sprint refused to pay access charges for calls carried by an Iowa provider and transmitted over the Internet rather than traditional phone lines; Sprint argued that, under the telecommunications act of 1996, it didn’t have to pay.  The Iowa Utilities Board (IUB) disagreed. Sprint challenged the IUB ruling in both federal and state courts, arguing that it was preempted.  The federal court abstained in favor of the state-court proceeding, citing Younger, and the Eighth Circuit affirmed.  In their brief, Marc and Matthew argued that Younger does not require a federal court to abstain from adjudicating a preemption challenge to a decision by a state agency.  On December 10, 2013, the Court ruled that the Younger abstention did not apply to the Sprint-IUB proceeding, and that a federal district court can indeed consider Sprint’s lawsuit.  Marc is quoted in a Communications Daily article observing that the effect of the Court’s ruling is that “when when parties have a viable preemption claim, they will be able to get a federal hearing on that claim” (article available to subscribers).