Tagged: Telephone Consumer Protection Act (“TCPA”)

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...

Third Circuit Affirms Narrow Definition of Autodialer Under the TCPA

In a precedential decision, the Third Circuit affirmed a narrow reading of autodialer under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (“TCPA”), the first such decision within this Circuit following the D.C. Circuit’s rejection of the FCC’s 2015 definition of autodialer in ACA International. In Dominguez v. Yahoo, Inc., plaintiff purchased a cell phone with a reassigned telephone number, the prior owner of which had subscribed to Yahoo’s Email SMS Service. Because the prior owner of the number never cancelled the subscription, plaintiff received a text message from Yahoo every time the prior owner received an email, which amounted to thousands of text messages. Plaintiff filed a putative class action alleging that Yahoo had violated the TCPA, which requires that plaintiff prove that Yahoo’s Email SMS Service was an “automatic telephone dialing system,” i.e., an autodialer. Following the FCC’s 2015 ruling, plaintiff amended his complaint to allege that the Email SMS Service “ha[d] the potential capacity to place autodialed calls.” Yahoo moved for summary judgment, and both parties submitted expert reports addressing the Email SMS Service’s latent or potential capacity. The District Court granted Yahoo’s motion to exclude plaintiff’s expert reports and granted summary judgment in favor of Yahoo. On appeal, the Third Circuit relied heavily on ACA International and held that it was required to interpret...

In Defective Shingles Class Action, Third Circuit Rejects Novel “Expected Useful Life” Defect Theory Premised on Warranty Period

The Third Circuit recently confirmed that plaintiffs must provide evidence of a specific defect, capable of classwide proof, in order to prevail on proposed class claims, holding that, where defective design is “an essential element of Plaintiffs’ misrepresentation-based claims,” whether proof of the defect “is susceptible to classwide evidence is dispositive of whether Plaintiffs can satisfy predominance” under Rule 23(b)(3). In Gonzalez v. Owens Corning, the plaintiffs sued the manufacturer of Oakridge fiberglass roofing shingles, claiming that their shingles, which were subject to warranties of 25 years or more, were “plagued by design flaws that result in cracking, curling and degranulation” and “will eventually fail.” The plaintiffs argued that the product warranties amounted to representations about the shingles’ expected useful life. Plaintiffs did not dispute that the design specifications for all shingles met the applicable industry design standard (“ASTM”), but claimed that compliance with the ASTM specifications did not consistently yield shingles that would last the stated warranty period. Thus, plaintiffs claimed that the issue of “defectiveness should be judged by the expected useful life of the shingles as represented by the applicable warranty period.” The plaintiffs’ expert, whose testimony was largely stricken as unreliable under Daubert, acknowledged that there was no single set of measurements applicable to all shingles that would constitute a design...

TCPA Update: When Revocation of Consent Is Unreasonable

The District of New Jersey recently made clear that when attempting to cancel unwanted commercial text messages, if the recipient does not follow the sender’s simple instructions, any other attempts to revoke consent to the text messages may be found unreasonable. In Rando v. Edible Arrangements International, LLC, a class action lawsuit claiming violations of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (“TCPA”), 47 U.S.C. § 227, et seq., plaintiff claimed that she was sent commercial text messages from defendant using an automatic telephone dialing system (“ATDS”). Though plaintiff had originally consented to receive such text messages, and never followed defendant’s instruction to text “STOP to cancel,” the complaint alleged that plaintiff had revoked her consent to receive the messages via other return text messages of varying content and that defendant had impermissibly designated an exclusive means for the revocation of consent.” The Rando court held that the complaint failed to state a TCPA claim by failing to allege that the plaintiff’s chosen method of revoking consent was reasonable. Plaintiff had replied to the text with language which would clearly indicate to a human being that she wanted to revoke her consent, but she did not text back “STOP” as instructed in the original text itself. Although District Court Judge Simandle found that the FCC’s statements on...

D.C. Circuit’s Rejection of FCC’s 2015 “Autodialer” Definition is Welcome News for Businesses in TCPA Class Actions

On March 16, 2018, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals issued a long awaited decision in its review of the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) 2015 Declaratory Ruling and Order, which among other things, had sought to clarify various aspects of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act’s (TCPA) general bar against using automated dialing devices (ATDS) to make uninvited calls or texts messages. The FCC’s 2015 Order was largely viewed by businesses as having greatly expanded the scope of the TCPA, opening the floodgates of class action litigation against businesses utilizing virtually any type of text messaging to communicate ads to customers. In ACA International v. FCC, the D.C. Circuit, among other things, struck down the Commission’s broad definition of autodialer. The TCPA generally makes it unlawful to call a cell phone using an ATDS, i.e., “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.” Id. § 227(a)(1). The FCC’s 2015 Order declined to define a device’s “capacity” in a manner confined to its “present capacity,” but rather, construed a device’s “capacity” to encompass its “potential functionalities” with modifications such as software changes. Thus, under the Commission’s 2015 interpretation, calls or texts made with a device having the capacity...