The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hon. Jerome B. Simandle
SIMANDLE, District Judge:
This matter, an effort to collect payment for telecommunications services that were initially billed at a rate lower than the putatively applicable rate, is before the Court on Defendant's motion to dismiss. [Docket Item 10.] Defendant maintains that a portion of Plaintiffs' claims are time-barred, and that Plaintiffs' common law claims are foreclosed by the various states' regulations regarding telecommunications tariffs. Defendant also seeks to dismiss Plaintiffs' declaratory judgment claim. During the pendency of this motion, Plaintiffs filed an Amended Complaint. [Docket Item 29.] The Amended Complaint moots part of the motion to dismiss, but the Court will decide the motion as it relates to the unchanged portions of the Amended Complaint.
Plaintiffs are ten local exchange carriers with a shared sole member company, US LEC LLC. Local exchange carriers are utilities that provide local telephone service to consumers and businesses at their landline telephones. Among the services they provide is access for other carriers, so-called interexchange carriers, to originate from or connect calls to end-user landline phones. The rates charged by local exchange carriers to interexchange carriers for these services are set by access tariffs filed with and approved by state and federal regulators, with different tariffs for intrastate and interstate exchange charges.
Plaintiffs have filed access tariffs with the state public utility
commissions of sixteen states that govern the rates that users are
required to pay Plaintiffs for the provision of
intrastate switched access services in those states.*fn1
In March 2009, Plaintiffs determined that since July 1, 2006
they had been undercharging Defendant Qwest Communications Company,
LLC, one of the interexchange carriers that uses their intrastate
access services. According the Complaint, Plaintiffs issued corrected
billing in April 2009, and that billing, which exceeds $1.5 million,
remains unpaid by Defendant. The Complaint addressed by this motion
did not specify for what period Plaintiffs are attempting to collect
for the underpayments, but the Amended Complaint states that the
period is April 2007 through February 2009. (Am. Compl. ¶
Plaintiffs bring this action against Defendant for collection of the unpaid corrected invoices. They allege that under the relevant states' telecommunications laws, Defendant is required to pay the full amount of the duly filed tariffs (Count I), that Defendants breached a settlement agreement entered between the parties (Count II), and that, in the alternative, the common law of quantum meruit (Count III) and unjust enrichment (Count IV) require compensation paid to Plaintiffs. Finally, Plaintiffs seek declaratory judgment that Defendant is required to pay the full amount of the tariffs for past and future services (Count V).
In this motion pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, Defendant argues that some portion of Plaintiffs' claims are time-barred because of limitations imposed on billing by some state's regulations or by the terms of the tariffs themselves. Defendant also argues that Plaintiffs' common law quasi-contract claims for quantum meruit and unjust enrichment are displaced by the telecommunications regulations. Finally, Defendant moves to dismiss the declaratory judgment count as duplicative and because it is displaced by state regulations.
Under Rule 8(a)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a pleading that states a claim for relief need only contain "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Rule 8(a)(2), Fed. R. Civ. P. In deciding Defendant's motion to dismiss, the Court must look to the face of the Complaint and decide, taking all of the allegations of fact as true and construing them in a light most favorable to Plaintiffs, whether the Complaint contains "sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)); Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210 (3d Cir. 2009). A plaintiff is obligated to "provide the 'grounds' of his 'entitle[ment] to relief,'" which requires more than "labels and conclusions," but he is not required to lay out "detailed factual allegations," Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (quoting Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986). A complaint must contain facially plausible claims, that is, a plaintiff must "plead factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556.
Some of the state regulations at issue in this case, and some of the tariffs themselves, contain limitations on the time period for which Plaintiffs are able to bill customers for their services. For example, the South Carolina regulations provide that "If the interval during which a customer was undercharged can be determined, then the telephone utility may collect the deficient amount incurred during the entire interval up to a maximum period of six months." S.C. Code Ann. Regs. 103-623.4(a). ...