Tagged: Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA)

FCC Reverses Course and Finds That Government Contractors Are “Persons” Under the TCPA

Last month, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) issued an Order on Reconsideration, overturning Commission precedent by clarifying that federal, state, and local government contractors are “persons” under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) and therefore must, under 47 U.S.C. § 227(b)(1)(A)-(D), obtain prior written consent to make certain calls using an automatic telephone dialing system or artificial or prerecorded voice; to initiate a call to any residential telephone line using an artificial or prerecorded voice; to use a fax machine or other device to send an unsolicited advertisement; or to use an automatic telephone dialing system in such a way that two or more telephone lines of a multi-line business are engaged simultaneously. This ruling is the latest in the Commission’s efforts to protect consumers from unwanted robocalls. The TCPA prohibits certain unsolicited calls made by any “person,” which includes an “individual, partnership, association, joint-stock company, trust, or corporation,” without the prior written consent of the consumer. In 2016, the FCC issued a declaratory ruling stating that the federal government and federal government contractors were not “persons” under the TCPA, and therefore, the limitations on calling enumerated in Section 227(b)(1)(A)-(D) did not apply to them. The FCC reasoned that there is a longstanding presumption that the word “person” does not include the sovereign and that,...

Second District Court to Dismiss Claims Based on Unconstitutional Statute Provision

In Lindenbaum v. Realgy, the United States District Court for the Northern District of Ohio dismissed the plaintiff’s “robo-call” class action under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), based on the Supreme Court’s 2020 holding that a statutory exception for automated calls to collect government debts was unconstitutional. Because the statute was unconstitutional at the time of the alleged violations, the district court determined that it lacked subject matter jurisdiction and dismissed the lawsuit. Originally enacted in 1991, the TCPA restricts almost all prerecorded sales calls to cell phones. In 2015, Congress amended the provision to allow prerecorded calls “made solely to collect a debt owed to or guaranteed by the United States.” 47 U.S.C. § 227(b)(1)(A)(iii). The 2015 provision was struck down in 2020 by the United States Supreme Court’s plurality decision in Barr v. American Association of Political Consultants, Inc. While the Supreme Court struck down the portion of the statute dealing with calls for government debt, it left the rest intact. In Lindenbaum, the plaintiff brought a class action lawsuit alleging violations of the TCPA. Specifically, the plaintiff alleged that she received two prerecorded calls, one to her cellphone and one to her landline, and had not provided express written consent to receive these calls. The plaintiff argued that the severance of the...

Sixth Circuit Holds Faxes Seeking Recipient’s Information Are a Pretext to Advertisement and Thus Within the Purview of the TCPA

The Sixth Circuit in Matthew N. Fulton, D.D.S., P.C. v. Enclarity, Inc., on remand from the Supreme Court, upheld its previous ruling that faxes seeking the recipient’s information are considered a “pretext” to an advertisement, and thus fall within the scope of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA). The June 19, 2020 decision relies upon a 2006 Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Order stating that “any surveys that serve as a pretext to an advertisement are subject to the TCPA’s facsimile advertising rules.” The fax requested that the recipient verify or update its information with Defendant LexisNexis “for clinical summaries, prescription renewals, and other sensitive communications.” Plaintiff’s Complaint alleged that this constituted a pretext to send additional marketing materials to recipients, as well as obtain the recipient’s involvement in Defendant LexisNexis’s database. Plaintiff asserted that Defendants and third parties would use the recipient’s data to send information “regarding products, services, competitions, and promotions,” thereby constituting “a pretext to increase awareness and use of Defendants’ proprietary database service and increase traffic to Defendants’ website.” Defendants moved to dismiss, arguing that the fax did not constitute an advertisement as defined by the TCPA. The Michigan district court dismissed, finding that since the fax did not state that anything was available for purchase or sale, it “lack[ed] the commercial...

Eleventh Circuit Eliminates Incentive Awards for Named Plaintiffs in Class Action Settlements

The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals recently upended what has become common practice in class action settlements by ruling that “incentive” awards to named plaintiffs are unlawful. In Johnson v. NPAS Solutions, LLC, the plaintiff filed a class action lawsuit under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) alleging that the defendant used an automatic telephone dialing system to call cell phones without the proper consent. Less than eight months after the complaint was filed, the parties jointly filed a notice of settlement for an award of $1,432,000. The District Court preliminary approved the settlement and certified the class for settlement purposes. In addition, that order permitted the plaintiff to petition the court to receive an amount not to exceed $6,000 “as acknowledgement of this role in prosecuting this case on behalf of class members.” The court also set a date for class members to opt out of the class settlement and a date three weeks later for class counsel to submit their petition for attorneys’ fees and costs. One person objected to the settlement on the grounds that (1) the objection deadline was set before the deadline for class counsel to file their attorneys’ fee petition, which she contended violated Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23 and the Due Process Clause; (2) the amount of...

Supreme Court to Finally Decide Definition of Autodialer in TCPA Litigation

On July 9, 2020, the U.S. Supreme Court granted a long-pending petition for certiorari in Facebook Inc. v. Duguid, Noah, et al. to address a hotly debated question in Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) litigation: “whether the definition of [automated telephone dialing system] encompasses any device that can ‘store’ and ‘automatically dial’ telephone numbers, even if the device does not ‘us[e] a random or sequential number generator.’” The grant of certiorari comes on the heels of the Court’s sweeping decision in Barr v. American Ass’n of Political Consultants, severing the government debt collection exception to the TCPA’s “autodialer” prohibition as a content-based restriction on free speech. The TCPA broadly prohibits most calls using any ATDS or autodialer, defined by statute as “equipment which has the capacity – (A) to store or produce telephone numbers to be called, using a random or sequential number generator; and (B) to dial such numbers.” Given the lack of clarity in the statutory language, courts have grappled with whether “a random or sequential number generator” must be used to only “store” the numbers, or only to “produce” the numbers, or to “dial” the numbers after having “randomly or sequentially” generated or produced them. Further complicating court interpretations is the FCC’s interpretations stating that a dialing system known as a “predictive...

Supreme Court Severs TCPA’s Government Debt-Collection Exception as Content-Based Restriction on Free Speech, but Leaves Autodialer Restriction

The Supreme Court of the United States recently analyzed the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), 47 U.S.C. § 227, et seq., highlighting the importance of the Act’s ban on “robocalls,” (i.e., calls placed using an “automatic telephone dialing system” or “autodialer”), but leaving key questions unanswered. In Barr v. American Association of Political Consultants, Inc., the Court upheld the TCPA but severed Congress’s 2015 amendment that allowed entities to make robocalls to collect government-backed debt. Enacted in 1991, the TCPA generally prohibits robocalls to cell phones and home phones. At the heart of the Court’s opinion here was the decision whether to uphold Congress’s 2015 amendment which allowed an exception to the general ban on robocalls for entities collecting government-backed debt. The plaintiffs, organizations that participate in the political system, make calls to citizens for a multitude of purposes, such as discussing political issues, soliciting donations, and conducting polls. If robocalls to cellphones were allowed for political outreach, the plaintiffs believe that their efforts would be more effective and efficient. The plaintiffs filed a declaratory judgment action against the U.S. Attorney General and the Federal Communications Commission to invalidate the TCPA’s entire 1991 autodialer restriction, arguing that allowing certain entities to make robocalls to collect government-backed debt, but prohibiting other robocalls, was a content-based restriction...

Third Circuit Holds Solicitations to Purchase Products and for Participation in Surveys can be Advertisements Under the TCPA

On May 15, 2020, the Third Circuit in Fishbein v. Olson Research Group, Inc. held “that solicitations to buy products, goods, or services can be advertisements under the TCPA and that solicitations for participation in . . . surveys in exchange for [money] by the sender were for services within the TCPA” making such solicitations advertisements that fall within the TCPA’s ambit. This opinion comes just one year after the Third Circuit issued its precedential decision in Mauthe v. Optum, Inc., holding that, in order for a fax to be considered an advertisement under the TCPA, “there must be a nexus between the fax and the purchasing decision of an ultimate purchaser whether the recipient of the fax or a third party,” meaning that “the fax must promote goods or services to be bought or sold, and it should have profit as an aim.” The consolidated appeal in Fishbein arose from two District Court decisions, Fishbein v. Olson Research Group, Inc., which involved a fax offering the recipient money in exchange for participating in a medical study, and Mauthe v. ITC, Inc., which involved faxes that offered the recipient money in exchange for completing surveys. After applying the Third Circuit’s precedential opinion in Optum, the District Courts dismissed the plaintiffs’ cases under Federal Rule of...

District of New Jersey Further Clarifies TCPA’s Reach For Text-Marketing Campaigns

In a recent decision, Chief Judge Freda L. Wolfson of the District of New Jersey further clarified the reach of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) as it relates to certain text marketing campaigns by businesses. In Eisenband v. Pine Belt Automotive d/b/a Pine Belt Nissan, Eisenband filed a putative class action lawsuit against an automotive dealership, Pine Belt, claiming that Pine Belt had violated the TCPA by using an Automated Telephone Dialing System (ATDS), otherwise known as an autodialer, to send a text message to his cell phone. Eisenband had telephoned Pine Belt in 2017 requesting information about the cost of leasing a specific vehicle and instructed Pine Belt to call him back on his cell phone with the requested pricing information. Pine Belt’s sales representative obtained the cost estimate data and returned the call, as requested, but Eisenband decided not to enter into a lease for the vehicle. A few days later, Pine Belt sent Eisenband a promotional text message concerning lease options on other vehicles, which prompted him, about one week later, to file a class action lawsuit seeking statutory damages of up to $1,500 per text message, for himself and for every person in the putative class who received such text messages. Discovery revealed that Pine Belt had sent the text...

Third Circuit Establishes Framework for Determining Third-Party Based Liability under the TCPA

In a recent precedential decision, the Third Circuit held that an unsolicited fax seeking information does not constitute an unlawful advertisement under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA). Now, to “establish third-party based liability under the TCPA, a plaintiff must show that the fax: (1) sought to promote or enhance the quality or quantity of a product or services being sold commercially; (2) was reasonably calculated to increase the profits of the sender; and (3) directly or indirectly encouraged the recipient to influence the purchasing decisions of a third party.” In Robert W. Mauthe, M.D., P.C. v. Optum, Inc., the plaintiff claimed that it received unsolicited faxes from Defendants in violation of the TCPA. Defendants maintain a national database of healthcare providers, containing providers’ contact information, demographics, specialties, education, and related data. Defendants market, sell, and license the database typically to healthcare, insurance, and pharmaceutical companies, who use it to update their provider directories, identify potential providers to fill gaps in their network of providers, and validate information when processing insurance claims. To maintain the accuracy of the database, Defendants send unsolicited faxes to healthcare providers listed in the database, requesting them to respond and correct any outdated or inaccurate information. These faxes also advised recipients that “[t]here is no cost to you to participate...

Ninth Circuit Adopts Expansive Definition of Autodialer Under the TCPA, Creating Circuit Split With Third Circuit

In Marks v. Crunch San Diego, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, considering anew the statutory definition of automatic telephone dialing system (ATDS) under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), held that an ATDS includes a device that stores telephone numbers to be called, “whether or not those numbers have been generated by a random or sequential number generator.” The Ninth Circuit expressly declined to follow the Third Circuit’s interpretation of ATDS in Dominguez v. Yahoo, Inc., thus setting up a clear Circuit split. Both Marks and Dominguez were issued after the D.C. Circuit invalidated the FCC’s interpretation of ATDS in ACA International v. Federal Communications Commission. In Marks, plaintiff brought a TCPA class action after receiving three text messages from Crunch Fitness where he had a gym membership, asserting that the texts were sent using an ATDS. The messaging system was a “web-based marketing platform designed to send promotional text messages to a list of stored telephone numbers.” Phone numbers were either manually entered into the system or provided directly by customers. To send text campaigns, a Crunch employee would log in, select the intended recipients, generate the content of a message, and select the time and date for the transmittal of the text messages. The district court granted summary judgment on the ground...