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Sprint Communications Company L.P. v. Crow Creek Sioux Tribal Court

United States District Court, D. South Dakota

April 1, 2015

SPRINT COMMUNICATIONS COMPANY L.P., Plaintiff,
v.
CROW CREEK SIOUX TRIBAL COURT, NATIVE AMERICAN TELECOM, LLC., and B. J. JONES, in his official capacity as special judge of Tribal Court; Defendants.

ORDER GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART SPRINT'S MOTION TO DISMISS

KAREN E. SCHREIER, Chief District Judge.

Plaintiff, Sprint Communications Company, L.P., moves to dismiss in part Counts I and II of defendant Native American Telecom, LLC.'s (NAT) first amended counterclaim pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Sprint also moves to dismiss in their entirety Counts V and VI of NAT's amended counterclaim pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6). NAT opposes the motion.

BACKGROUND

The pertinent, undisputed facts are as follows:

Sprint provides nationwide long-distance telephone services and is known under the telecommunications regulatory framework as an interexchange carrier (IXC). Sprint delivers long-distance calls to a local exchange carrier (LEC) for termination to end-users. Under the FCC's current regulatory framework, Sprint pays the LEC a terminating access charge based on the LEC's interstate access tariff, which is filed with the FCC.

NAT is an LEC. NAT's interstate tariff number one, filed with the FCC, became effective on September 15, 2009. NAT's second interstate tariff became effective on November 30, 2010, and canceled and replaced NAT's tariff number one. NAT revised its tariff number two, and the revisions became effective on June 26, 2011.

NAT also operates a free conference calling system (used for conference calling, chat-lines, and similar services) in connection with Free Conferencing Corporation, which is owned by WideVoice. NAT has a conference call bridge located on the Crow Creek Sioux Reservation in South Dakota. A party using NAT's services does not pay NAT for the conference call but rather is assessed normal charges by the party's telecommunications provider. NAT then bills the telecommunications provider an access fee as defined in its interstate tariff. NAT's access charges billed to Sprint for conference calls are at issue here.

After paying two of NAT's bills for charges connected to conference calls, Sprint ceased paying NAT's terminating access tariffs because Sprint believed that NAT was involved in a traffic-pumping scheme, otherwise known as access stimulation, to generate traffic from free conference calls and chat services. On August 16, 2010, Sprint filed suit against NAT alleging a breach of the Federal Communications Act (FCA) and a state-law unjust enrichment claim. Docket 1.

On March 8, 2011, NAT amended its answer and asserted counterclaims against Sprint alleging a breach of contract and a collection action pursuant to its tariffs, a breach of implied contract resulting from a violation of its tariffs, and a quantum meruit/unjust enrichment claim. NAT also sought declaratory relief. Docket 99.

On November 29, 2011, the FCC released its Connect America Fund final rule, which addresses access stimulation and traffic pumping. See Connect America Fund; A National Broadband Plan for Our Future; Establishing Just and Reasonable Rates for Local Exchange Carriers; High-Cost Universal Service Support, 76 Fed. Reg. 73830 (Nov. 29, 2011). The FCC also created a transitional framework for VoIP intercarrier compensation. Id. at 73833. On December 27, 2011, this court issued an order directing the parties to discuss what effect, in any, the FCC's Connect America Fund final rule had on the issues presented in this case. Docket 128. Then, on February 22, 2012, this court issued an order discussing the final rule and determined that it did not apply retroactively. Docket 141 at 9-11 ("Thus, the final rule is inapplicable to the time period before the final rule became effective."). As part of the same order, this court granted Sprint's then-pending motion to stay this proceeding and referred three issues to the FCC for resolution. Id. at 25. This court also directed the parties to issue periodic updates describing the status of the FCC proceeding. This court received these updates over the next two years, although the status of the FCC referral remained unchanged since November 2012. Compare Docket 154 with Docket 163. Because of the limited progress on the FCC referral, a telephonic status conference was held on July 23, 2014. See Docket 164.

The parties stated that they had been engaged in litigation before the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission (SDPUC). Docket 169 at 5. NAT was granted a certificate of authority by the SDPUC to provide certain telecommunications services in South Dakota. Based on the results of the SDPUC litigation and the lack of action by the FCC during the period of the stay, the parties discussed whether some of the disputes in this case remained viable. Id. at 8-10. The court proposed entering an order that lifted the stay, withdrew the issues that had been referred to the FCC, and established deadlines for the parties to amend the complaint, counterclaims, and to file any motions to dismiss. Id. at 12. The court also stated that it would rule on any motions to dismiss based on a statute of limitations defense and that a new referral of issues to the FCC could then be discussed. Id. With the parties in agreement, a formal order was issued that same day. See Docket 168.

Sprint did not amend its complaint. NAT amended its counterclaim on September 9, 2014, and added a number of allegations that arose during the period of the stay and FCC referral. Docket 172. NAT also seeks further declaratory relief and has asserted a state-law abuse of process claim. On October 1, 2014, Sprint filed the pending motion to dismiss. Docket 181.

LEGAL STANDARD

Rule 12(b)(6) provides for dismissal of a counterclaim if the counter-claimant has failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6); United States v. Harvey, No. Civ. 13-4023, 2014 WL 2455533, at *1 (D.S.D. Jun. 2, 2014). When reviewing a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the court accepts as true all factual allegations in the counterclaim and draws all reasonable inferences in favor of the claimant. See Freitas v. Wells Fargo Home Mortg., Inc., 703 F.3d 436, 438 (8th Cir. 2013) (quoting Richter v. Advance Auto Parts, Inc., 686 F.3d 847, 850 (8th Cir. 2012)). "To survive a motion to dismiss, a [counterclaim] must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). "A claim has facial plausibility when the [claimant] pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id. The court determines plausibility by considering only the materials ...


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