United States District Court, W.D. Missouri, Western Division
ORDER FOR PRIMARY JURISDICTION REFERRAL AND
KAYS, CHIEF JUDGE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
case involves a dispute between the parties about whether the
rates Defendant Missouri Network Alliance, LLC
(“MNA”) charged Plaintiff AT&T Corp.
(“AT&T”) for MNA's telecommunications
services are lawful under the rules of the Federal
Communications Commission (“FCC”).
before the Court is AT&T's motion for a stay and a
primary jurisdiction referral to the FCC with regard to the
issues of federal law in this case (Doc. 10). For the
following reasons, the Court GRANTS AT&T's motion.
case involves the FCC's intercarrier compensation regime,
which refers to the system of fees that telecommunications
carriers pay to originate, transport, and terminate traffic
on another carrier's network. These fees include
“access charges, ” which interexchange
carriers-such as AT&T-often purchase from local
carriers-such as MNA-to provide long-distance telephone
service to business and residential customers. Access charges
generally can be set forth either in express, negotiated
agreements, or in local carriers' “tariffs.”
Carriers can file tariffs, subject to governing law, with the
FCC for interstate access charges, i.e.,
for calls that begin in one state and end in another state,
and with state regulators for intrastate access
charges. Here, MNA filed an interstate tariff with the FCC
and an intrastate tariff with the Missouri Public Service
Commission and has charged AT&T for services provided
pursuant to those tariffs.
present dispute centers on the validity of the access charges
that MNA billed AT&T under its interstate and intrastate
tariffs. AT&T challenges the lawfulness of these charges,
alleging that MNA's interstate and intrastate tariffs
fail to comply with the FCC's rules governing access
charges. MNA denies it has violated the FCC's rules and
asserts counterclaims against AT&T for non-payment of
tariffed access charges. Because the disputed rates are
subject to rules promulgated by the FCC, AT&T seeks a
primary jurisdiction referral to the FCC because it believes
this referral will likely resolve most of AT&T's
claims and MNA's counterclaims.
primary jurisdiction doctrine applies “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; in such a case
the judicial process is suspended pending referral of such
issues to the administrative body for its views.”
U.S. v. W. Pac. R.R. Co., 352 U.S. 59, 64 (1956).
doctrine of primary jurisdiction “is utilized to
coordinate judicial and administrative decision making,
” and “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 Telecomms. v. Sw.
Bell Tel. Co., 137 F.3d 605, 608 (8th Cir. 1998);
see also Atlantis Express, Inc. v. Standard Transp.
Servs., Inc., 955 F.2d 529, 535 (8th Cir. 1992) (finding
that “complex” issues, the resolution of which
requires the “interpretation of an ambiguous regulation
and expert knowledge, ” are appropriate for primary
jurisdiction referral). However, the primary jurisdiction
doctrine “is to be invoked sparingly, as it often
results in added expense and delay.” Alpharma, Inc.
v. Pennfield Oil Co., 411 F.3d 934, 938 (8th Cir. 2005).
opposes a primary jurisdiction referral because the Court has
referred a similar case to the FCC, Sprint Communications
Co. v. Missouri Network Alliance, No. 4:17-cv-00597-DGK
(W.D. Mo.), which involves identical issues as this case. MNA
argues referring this case would be duplicative and
unnecessarily expensive because MNA is a defendant in both
cases. MNA also argues that referral is unnecessary because
once the FCC decides the issues in Sprint, the Court
will be able to apply those decisions to this case.
arguments are unpersuasive. It is mere speculation that the
Sprint case will be resolved through the Court's
FCC referral and that resolution will resolve all of the
claims in this case. Additionally, to the extent MNA
complains that referral will result in duplicative litigation
expenses, MNA is involved in two lawsuits involving its fee
structure, it should expect some about of duplicative
litigation and associated cost.
the Court finds referral is appropriate. Resolution of the
parties' dispute will require interpreting the scope and
applicability of the FCC's regulations, matters within
the expertise of the FCC. Additionally, referring this case
to the FCC will ensure a uniform resolution of the issues.
Accordingly, it is hereby:
that the Court refers to the FCC, pursuant to the doctrine of
primary jurisdiction, all issues within the FCC's
jurisdiction, including the proper application of the
FCC's rules to the dispute and the proper interpretation
of the tariffs at issue; and it is further
that, pending resolution of that primary jurisdiction
referral, this ...