2.21.2007

8th Circuit Notes Circuit Split Re: Whether Section 253 Creates Right Enforceable Through Section 1983 Action; Declines to Address

Per Level 3 Communications, L.L.C. v. City of St. Louis, --- F.3d ----, 2007 WL 313872 (8th Cir. Feb. 5, 2007):

This case involves a telecommunications licensing agreement that requires Level 3 Communications (Level 3) to pay fees and meet other obligations before accessing streets and rights-of-way owned or controlled by the City of St. Louis (City or St. Louis). . . . Level 3 filed suit against the City seeking a declaration that the Agreement's obligations, both fee and non-fee related, violated state law, 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and the Federal Telecommunications Act of 1996, specifically, 47 U.S.C. § 253. . . . In its amended complaint, Level 3 sought damages under section 1983, claiming that section 253 conferred rights on Level 3 as an intended beneficiary and that the City violated Level 3's rights under the statute. The district court denied summary judgment, holding that "Level 3 has not met its burden to demonstrate that the Act confers a federal right on it." Again, we review de novo a denial of a motion for summary judgment. Martin, 464 F.3d at 829.

Level 3, as a section 1983 plaintiff, bears the burden of establishing that "the claim actually involves a violation of a federal right, as opposed to a violation of a federal law." Ark. Med. Soc'y, Inc. v. Reynolds, 6 F.3d 519, 523 (8th Cir.1993). More specifically, "the plaintiff must demonstrate that the federal statute creates an individually enforceable right in the class of beneficiaries to which [it] belongs." City of Rancho Palos Verdes v. Abrams, 544 U.S. 113, 120, 125 S.Ct. 1453, 161 L.Ed.2d 316 (2005).

Circuits are split on whether section 253 creates a right enforceable through a section 1983 action. Compare Qwest Corp. v. City of Santa Fe, 380 F.3d 1258, 1265 (10th Cir.2004) (finding Congress did not intend to create a private right of action in section 253), with BellSouth Telecomms., Inc. v. Town of Palm Beach, 252 F.3d 1169, 1191 (11th Cir.2001) (finding a private right of action to seek preemption of state regulations purporting to manage public rights-of-way); TCG Detroit v. City of Dearborn, 206 F.3d 618, 624 (6th Cir.2000) (finding that section 253 creates a private right of action for parties aggrieved by a municipality's unfair rates). However, Arkansas Medical Society makes clear that the claim must involve not only an enforceable right, but also a violation of that right. 6 F.3d at 523. We refrain from joining the fray over whether section 253 creates a private right of action because, as we held above, Level 3 has shown no violation of section 253, whether or not that section creates an enforceable right. Thus, the district court did not err by denying summary judgment on the section 1983 claim.

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