Ponte Architects, Ltd. v. INVESTORS'ALERT, INC., 17

Citation382 Md. 689,857 A.2d 1
Decision Date26 August 2004
Docket NumberNo. 17,17
CourtCourt of Appeals of Maryland

857 A.2d 1
382 Md. 689


No. 17, Sept. Term, 2003.

Court of Appeals of Maryland.

August 26, 2004.

857 A.2d 2


The issue in this case is whether Maryland courts may entertain a private cause of action for damages, under the provisions of the federal Telephone Consumer Protection Act, 47 U.S.C. § 227, for the receipt of unsolicited commercial telephone facsimile messages. We shall hold that such actions may be brought in the courts of this State.


Petitioner, R.A. Ponte Architects, Ltd. ("Ponte"), is a Maryland corporation located in Bethesda, Maryland. According to the allegations of the complaint, Ponte received unsolicited advertisements via facsimile on August 23, 2000, and on several occasions subsequently. These advertisements consisted of an investment newsletter entitled "Investors' Alert," created by Investors' Alert, Inc. and Access Financial Consulting, Inc. The newsletter promoted its own paid subscription, and the purchase of the common stock of certain small corporations, and was distributed free of charge via facsimile broadcast, which permits the transmission of the facsimile to thousands of recipients in a single broadcast session.

Ponte filed a complaint and a motion for class certification in the Circuit Court for Montgomery County against Investors' Alert and Access Financial, alleging violations of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, 47 U.S.C. § 227.2 The motion for

857 A.2d 3
class certification was never ruled upon. Following discovery, Investors' Alert and Access Financial filed a motion to dismiss, which was granted after oral argument, on the basis "that no private cause of action exists within the State of Maryland to allow these claims to proceed." The court reasoned that Maryland Code (1975, 2000 Repl.Vol.), § 14-1313 of the Commercial Law Article, addresses the issue of unsolicited faxes and makes no provision for private suits.3

Ponte noted a timely appeal to the Court of Special Appeals, and the intermediate appellate court affirmed the judgment of the Circuit Court. See R.A. Ponte Architects, Ltd. v. Investors' Alert, 149 Md.App. 219, 238-239, 815 A.2d 816, 827 (2003), where the Court of Special Appeals stated:

"In sum, Maryland has a statute, [Maryland Code § 14-1313 of the Commercial Law Article], that covers substantially the subject matter covered by the claim raised in this lawsuit under the TCPA. Appellant could not proceed under the Maryland statute, because it does not permit a private right of action. By opting not to create a private right of action for violation of Maryland law, the legislature has indicated its intent not to permit a private right of action for violation of the comparable federal law."

Ponte then petitioned this Court for a writ of certiorari, which we granted. Ponte v. Investors' Alert, 374 Md. 358, 822 A.2d 1224 (2003). The Court also granted motions to participate as amici curiae to the State of Maryland and to a private individual on behalf of the petitioner, and to PrimeTV, LLC and DirecTV, Inc., on behalf of the respondents.4

857 A.2d 4

The only question in this case is whether a Maryland trial court is authorized to entertain the federal cause of action created by Congress in the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, 47 U.S.C., § 227. Before addressing this specific question, however, it would be useful to review the law concerning the jurisdiction of Maryland courts over civil causes of action created by the laws of other jurisdictions, and particularly civil causes of action created by federal law.

As a general matter, courts in Maryland regularly entertain civil causes of action arising under the laws of other jurisdictions. See Ward v. Nationwide Mutual Automobile Ins., 328 Md. 240, 247, 614 A.2d 85, 88 (1992); Rein v. Koons Ford, 318 Md. 130, 135, 567 A.2d 101, 103 (1989); Kramer v. Bally's Park Place, 311 Md. 387, 535 A.2d 466 (1988); County Exec., Prince George's County v. Doe, 300 Md. 445, 453-455, 479 A.2d 352, 356-357 (1984); Pine Street Trading v. Farrell Lines, 278 Md. 363, 379-380, 364 A.2d 1103, 1114 (1976); Texaco, Inc. v. Bosche, 242 Md. 334, 339-340, 219 A.2d 80, 83 (1966); Lambros v. Brown, 184 Md. 350, 356-357, 41 A.2d 78, 81 (1945); B & O Rail Road Co. v. Glenn, 28 Md. 287, 322 (1868); LaChance v. Service Trucking Co., 215 F.Supp. 162, 165 (D.Md. 1963).

Moreover, Maryland courts exercise jurisdiction in such actions even when identical causes of action could not be brought under Maryland law. See, e.g., Rein v. Koons Ford, supra, 318 Md. at 133-138, 567 A.2d at 102-104; Kramer v. Bally's Park Place, supra, 311 Md. at 392, 535 A.2d at 468; County Exec., Prince George's County v. Doe, supra, 300 Md. at 452-456, 479 A.2d at 355-358; Lambros v. Brown, supra, 184 Md. at 354-355, 41 A.2d at 79-80; B & O Rail Road Co. v. Glenn, supra, 28 Md. at 322. See also LaChance v. Service Trucking Co., supra, 215 F.Supp. at 162-163.

The principle that Maryland courts will entertain civil causes of action arising under the laws of other jurisdictions reflects the nature of judicial jurisdiction and the differences between" `the political jurisdiction of a State [and] its judicial jurisdiction.'" Hansford v. District of Columbia, 329 Md. 112, 129, 617 A.2d 1057, 1065, cert. denied, 509 U.S. 905, 113 S.Ct. 2997, 125 L.Ed.2d 690 (1993), quoting Gulf Offshore Co. v. Mobil Oil Corp., 453 U.S. 473, 482, 101 S.Ct. 2870, 2877, 69 L.Ed.2d 784, 794 (1981). This Court in Hansford continued (329 Md. at 130, 617 A.2d at 1065, quoting the Gulf Offshore opinion, 453 U.S. at 481, 101 S.Ct. at 2877, 69 L.Ed.2d at 793):

"`"The judiciary power of every government looks beyond its own local or municipal laws, and in civil cases lays hold of all subjects of litigation between parties within its jurisdiction, though the
857 A.2d 5
causes of dispute are relative to the laws of the most distant part of the globe." The Federalist No. 82, p. 514 (H. Lodge ed. 1908) (Hamilton), quoted in Claflin v. Houseman, 93 U.S. [130] at 138 [23 L.Ed. 833 (1876)]. State courts routinely exercise subject-matter jurisdiction over civil cases arising from events in other States and governed by the other States' laws. See, e.g., Dennick v. Railroad Co., 103 U.S. 11[, 26 L.Ed. 439] (1880). Cf. Allstate Ins. Co. v. Hague, 449 U.S. 302[, 101 S.Ct. 633, 66 L.Ed.2d 521 (1981)].'"

See also American Motorists Ins. Co. v. ARTRA Group, Inc., 338 Md. 560, 578 n. 4, 659 A.2d 1295, 1304 n. 4 (1995).

This characteristic of judicial jurisdiction is reflected in the statutory provisions relating to Maryland circuit courts. Maryland Code (1974, 2002 Repl.Vol.), § 1-501 of the Courts and Judicial Proceedings Article states:

"§ 1-501. Jurisdiction and powers in general.
The circuit courts are the highest common-law and equity courts of record exercising original jurisdiction within the State. Each has full common-law and equity powers and jurisdiction in all civil and criminal cases within its county, and all the additional powers and jurisdiction conferred by the Constitution and by law, except where by law jurisdiction has been limited or conferred exclusively upon another tribunal." (Emphasis added).

Consequently, unless a civil cause of action under another jurisdiction's law is the type which the Maryland General Assembly has limited or conferred upon a different tribunal, Maryland circuit courts have subject matter jurisdiction over the cause of action. Circuit courts do not require expressed statutory authorization to entertain a particular type of civil action; instead, they have jurisdiction over civil causes of action generally. See, e.g., In re Heilig, 372 Md. 692, 712-721, 816 A.2d 68, 80-86 (2003) (Circuit court has jurisdiction to issue an order changing the plaintiff's gender identity, even though, under the circumstances, there was no statutory basis for the order except the general circuit court jurisdiction statute, § 1-501 of the Courts and Judicial Proceedings Article); County Exec. Prince George's County v. Doe, supra, 300 Md. at 453-454, 479 A.2d at 356-357 ("As the circuit courts in Maryland generally have jurisdiction over all causes of action except to the extent the General Assembly or the Constitution limit that jurisdiction or confer it exclusively upon another tribunal, and as the General Assembly has not attempted to exclude § 1983 actions from the jurisdiction of the circuit courts, we have taken the position that § 1983 actions may be brought in Maryland circuit courts. De Bleecker v. Montgomery County, 292 Md. 498, 500, 511-513, 438 A.2d 1348 (1982)"). See also Lambros v. Brown, supra, 184 Md. at 356, 41 A.2d at 80 ("There is ample authority, both in this Court and in the Supreme Court of the United States, for the doctrine that competent state courts should take jurisdiction of suits authorized by Acts of Congress. This is sometimes placed ... upon the theory that where exclusive power is not given to the United States by the Constitution, the state courts retain their general jurisdiction over all matters not thus taken away." In Lambros, because of the amount of money involved, this Court held that the federal cause of action could be brought in the People's Court of Baltimore City, which was one of the predecessor courts to the District Court of Maryland).

There is an exception to the rule that Maryland courts will entertain causes of action created by the laws of another

857 A.2d 6
jurisdiction, namely where such laws or causes of action are contrary to Maryland public policy. Nevertheless, "for another state's law to be unenforceable, there must be `a strong public policy against its enforcement in Maryland,'" Bethlehem Steel v. G.C. Zarnas & Co., 304 Md. 183, 189, 498 A.2d 605, 608 (1985), quoting Texaco v. Bosche, supra, 242 Md. at 340-341, 219 A.2d at 84. See also, e.g., Ward v....

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