«Syllabus NOTE: Where it is feasible, a syllabus (headnote) will be released, as is being done in connection with this case, at the time the opinion ...»
OCTOBER TERM, 2007 1
NOTE: Where it is feasible, a syllabus (headnote) will be released, as is
being done in connection with this case, at the time the opinion is issued.
The syllabus constitutes no part of the opinion of the Court but has been
prepared by the Reporter of Decisions for the convenience of the reader.
See United States v. Detroit Timber & Lumber Co., 200 U. S. 321, 337.
SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATESSyllabus SPRINT COMMUNICATIONS CO., L. P., ET AL. v. APCC SERVICES, INC., ET AL.
CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR
THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA CIRCUIT
Held: An assignee of a legal claim for money owed has standing to pursue that claim in federal court, even when the assignee has promised to remit the proceeds of the litigation to the assignor. Pp. 3–23.
(a) History and precedent show that, for centuries, courts have found ways to allow assignees to bring suit; where assignment is at issue, courts—both before and after the founding—have always permitted the party with legal title alone to bring suit; and there is a strong tradition specifically of suits by assignees for collection. And while precedents of this Court, Waite v. Santa Cruz, 184 U. S. 302, Spiller v. Atchison, T. & S. F. R. Co., 253 U. S. 117, and Titus v. WalSPRINT COMMUNICATIONS CO. v. APCC SERVICES, INC.
Syllabus lick, 306 U. S. 282, do not conclusively resolve the standing question here, they offer powerful support for the proposition that suits by assignees for collection have long been seen as “amenable” to resolution by the judicial process, Steel Co. v. Citizens for Better Environment, 523 U. S. 83, 102. Pp. 3–16.
(b) Petitioners offer no convincing reason to depart from the historical tradition of suits by assignees, including assignees for collection. In any event, the aggregators satisfy the Article III standing requirements articulated in this Court’s more modern decisions. Petitioners argue that the aggregators have not themselves suffered an injury and that assignments for collection do not transfer the payphone operators’ injuries. But the operators assigned their claims lock, stock, and barrel, and precedent makes clear that an assignee can sue based on his assignor’s injuries. Vermont Agency of Natural Resources v. United States ex rel. Stevens, 529 U. S. 765. In arguing that the aggregators cannot satisfy the redressability requirement because they will remit their recovery to the payphone operators, petitioners misconstrue the nature of the redressability inquiry, which focuses on whether the injury that a plaintiff alleges is likely to be redressed through the litigation—not on what the plaintiff ultimately intends to do with the money recovered. See, e.g., id., at 771. Petitioners’ claim that the assignments constitute nothing more than a contract for legal services is overstated. There is an important distinction between simply hiring a lawyer and assigning a claim to a lawyer. The latter confers a property right (which creditors might attach); the former does not. Finally, as a practical matter, it would be particularly unwise to abandon history and precedent in resolving the question here, for any such ruling could be overcome by, e.g., rewriting the agreement to give the aggregator a tiny portion of the assigned claim itself, perhaps only a dollar or two. Pp. 16–20 (c) Petitioners’ reasons for denying prudential standing—that the aggregators are seeking redress for third parties; that the litigation represents an effort by the aggregators and payphone operators to circumvent Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23’s class-action requirements; and that practical problems could arise because the aggregators are suing, e.g., payphone operators may not comply with discovery requests or honor judgments—are unpersuasive. And because there are no allegations that the assignments were made in bad faith and because the assignments were made for ordinary business purposes, any other prudential questions need not be considered here.
489 F. 3d 1249, affirmed.
NOTICE: This opinion is subject to formal revision before publication in the preliminary print of the United States Reports. Readers are requested to notify the Reporter of Decisions, Supreme Court of the United States, Washington, D. C. 20543, of any typographical or other formal errors, in order that corrections may be made before the preliminary print goes to press.
SPRINT COMMUNICATIONS COMPANY, L. P., ET AL., PETITIONERS v. APCC SERVICES, INC., ET AL.
ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF
APPEALS FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA CIRCUIT[June 23, 2008] JUSTICE BREYER delivered the opinion of the Court.
The question before us is whether an assignee of a legal claim for money owed has standing to pursue that claim in federal court, even when the assignee has promised to remit the proceeds of the litigation to the assignor. Because history and precedent make clear that such an assignee has long been permitted to bring suit, we conclude that the assignee does have standing.
I When a payphone customer makes a long-distance call with an access code or 1–800 number issued by a longdistance communications carrier, the customer pays the carrier (which completes that call), but not the payphone operator (which connects that call to the carrier in the first place). In these circumstances, the long-distance carrier is required to compensate the payphone operator for the customer’s call. See 47 U. S. C. §226; 47 CFR §64.1300 (2007). The payphone operator can sue the long-distance carrier in court for any compensation that the carrier fails to pay for these “dial-around” calls. And many have done so. See Global Crossing Telecommunications, Inc. v.
2 SPRINT COMMUNICATIONS CO. v. APCC SERVICES, INC.
Opinion of the Court
Metrophones Telecommunications, Inc., 550 U. S. ___ (2007) (finding that the Communications Act of 1934 authorizes such suits).
Because litigation is expensive, because the evidentiary demands of a single suit are often great, and because the resulting monetary recovery is often small, many payphone operators assign their dial-around claims to billing and collection firms called “aggregators” so that, in effect, these aggregators can bring suit on their behalf. See Brief for Respondents 3. Typically, an individual aggregator collects claims from different payphone operators; the aggregator promises to remit to the relevant payphone operator (i.e., the assignor of the claim) any dial-around compensation that is recovered; the aggregator then pursues the claims in court or through settlement negotiations; and the aggregator is paid a fee for this service.
The present litigation involves a group of aggregators who have taken claim assignments from approximately 1,400 payphone operators. Each payphone operator signed an Assignment and Power of Attorney Agreement (Agreement) in which the payphone operator “assigns, transfers and sets over to [the aggregator] for purposes of collection all rights, title and interest of the [payphone operator] in the [payphone operator’s] claims, demands or causes of action for ‘Dial-Around Compensation’... due the [payphone operator] for periods since October 1, 1997.” App. to Pet. for Cert. 114a. The Agreement also “appoints” the aggregator as the payphone operator’s “true and lawful attorney-in-fact.” Ibid. The Agreement provides that the aggregator will litigate “in the [payphone operator’s] interest.” Id., at 115a. And the Agreement further stipulates that the assignment of the claims “may not be revoked without the written consent of the [aggregator].” Ibid. The aggregator and payphone operator then separately agreed that the aggregator would remit all proceeds to the payphone operator and that the payphone operator Cite as: 554 U. S. ____ (2008) 3
Opinion of the Court
would pay the aggregator for its services (typically via a quarterly charge).
After signing the agreements, the aggregators (respondents here) filed lawsuits in federal court seeking dialaround compensation from Sprint, AT&T, and other longdistance carriers (petitioners here). AT&T moved to dismiss the claims, arguing that the aggregators lack standing to sue under Article III of the Constitution. The District Court initially agreed to dismiss, APCC Servs., Inc. v.
AT&T Corp., 254 F. Supp. 2d 135, 140–141 (DC 2003), but changed its mind in light of a “long line of cases and legal treatises that recognize a well-established principle that assignees for collection purposes are entitled to bring suit where [as here] the assignments transfer absolute title to the claims.” APCC Servs., Inc. v. AT&T Corp., 281 F.
Supp. 2d 41, 45 (DC 2003). After consolidating similar cases, a divided panel of the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit agreed that the aggregators have standing to sue, but held that the relevant statutes do not create a private right of action. APCC Servs., Inc.
v. Sprint Communications Co., 418 F. 3d 1238 (2005) (per curiam). This Court granted the aggregators’ petition for certiorari on the latter statutory question, vacated the judgment, and remanded the case for reconsideration in light of Global Crossing, supra. APPC Services, Inc. v.
Sprint Communications Co. 550 U. S. ___ (2007). On remand, the Court of Appeals affirmed the orders of the District Court allowing the litigation to go forward. 489 F. 3d 1249, 1250 (2007) (per curiam). The long-distance carriers then asked us to consider the standing question.
We granted certiorari, and we now affirm.
II We begin with the most basic doctrinal principles: Article III, §2, of the Constitution restricts the federal “judicial Power” to the resolution of “Cases” and “Controversies.” 4 SPRINT COMMUNICATIONS CO. v. APCC SERVICES, INC.
Opinion of the Court
That case-or-controversy requirement is satisfied only where a plaintiff has standing. See, e.g., DaimlerChrysler Corp. v. Cuno, 547 U. S. 332 (2006). And in order to have
Article III standing, a plaintiff must adequately establish:
(1) an injury in fact (i.e., a “concrete and particularized” invasion of a “legally protected interest”); (2) causation (i.e., a “ ‘fairly... trace[able]’ ” connection between the alleged injury in fact and the alleged conduct of the defendant); and (3) redressability (i.e., it is “ ‘likely’ ” and not “merely ‘speculative’ ” that the plaintiff’s injury will be remedied by the relief plaintiff seeks in bringing suit).
Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, 504 U. S. 555, 560–561 (1992) (calling these the “irreducible constitutional minimum” requirements).
In some sense, the aggregators clearly meet these requirements. They base their suit upon a concrete and particularized “injury in fact,” namely, the carriers’ failure to pay dial-around compensation. The carriers “caused” that injury. And the litigation will “redress” that injury— if the suits are successful, the long-distance carriers will pay what they owe. The long-distance carriers argue, however, that the aggregators lack standing because it was the payphone operators (who are not plaintiffs), not the aggregators (who are plaintiffs), who were “injured in
fact” and that it is the payphone operators, not the aggregators, whose injuries a legal victory will truly “redress”:
The aggregators, after all, will remit all litigation proceeds to the payphone operators. Brief for Petitioners 18. Thus, the question before us is whether, under these circumstances, an assignee has standing to pursue the assignor’s claims for money owed.
We have often said that history and tradition offer a meaningful guide to the types of cases that Article III empowers federal courts to consider. See, e.g., Steel Co. v.
Citizens for Better Environment, 523 U. S. 83, 102 (1998) (“We have always taken [the case-or-controversy requireCite as: 554 U. S. ____ (2008) 5
Opinion of the Court
ment] to mean cases and controversies of the sort traditionally amenable to, and resolved by, the judicial process” (emphasis added)); GTE Sylvania, Inc. v. Consumers Union of United States, Inc., 445 U. S. 375, 382 (1980) (“The purpose of the case-or-controversy requirement is to limit the business of federal courts to questions presented in an adversary context and in a form historically viewed as capable of resolution through the judicial process” (emphasis added and internal quotation marks omitted));
cf. Coleman v. Miller, 307 U. S. 433, 460 (1939) (opinion of Frankfurter, J.) (in crafting Article III, “the framers...
gave merely the outlines of what were to them the familiar operations of the English judicial system and its manifestations on this side of the ocean before the Union”). Consequently, we here have carefully examined how courts have historically treated suits by assignors and assignees.