Supreme Court’s Facebook Decision Upends TCPA Litigation Landscape

TCPA Blog’s Michael Daly will be participating in a webinar titled “Supreme Court’s Facebook Decision Upends TCPA Litigation Landscape.” This webinar on Thursday, April 22, 2021, will delve into the Supreme Court’s decision in Facebook v. Duguid, which resolved a split among the lower courts over how to interpret the TCPA’s definition of an “automatic telephone dialing system.”  The panelists from the Consumer Litigation Committee of the American Bar Association’s Litigation Section will analyze the decision and discuss the future of TCPA litigation.

For more information and to register, please click here.

S.D. Fla. Court Remands Case to State Court, Finding No Article III Injury

The Southern District of Florida recently remanded a case back to state court because the defendant that removed the case failed to establish that plaintiff suffered an Article III injury. Harris v. Travel Resorts of America, Inc., Civ. No. 2:20-14369-AMC (S.D. Fla. Mar. 31, 2021). Notably, the Court also found that plaintiff should be able to recover its attorneys’ fees in seeking remand given the defendant’s reversing its prior position on whether the Court had subject-matter jurisdiction over the case.

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Supreme Court Adopts Narrow Autodialer Definition

In a decision issued this morning, the Supreme Court settled a long-running debate over the scope of the TCPA’s “automatic telephone dialing system” definition: “whether that definition encompasses equipment that can ‘store’ and dial telephone numbers, even if the device does not ‘us[e] a random or sequential number generator.” Facebook, Inc. v. Duguid, 592 U.S. — (2021).

The Court unequivocally held that devices that merely store numbers from a premade list do not qualify as autodialer systems subject to the TCPA. “To qualify as an [ATDS],” explained Justice Sotomayor, writing for Court, “a device must have the capacity either to store a telephone number using a random or sequential generator or to produce a telephone number” using either form of generation. Id. at 1.

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Auto Service Contractor Not Subject to Court’s Jurisdiction in Texas Resident’s TCPA Claim, Holds State’s Federal Northern District

The Northern District of Texas handed down a decision exploring the jurisdictional limitations on TCPA plaintiffs’ ability to hale out-of-state defendants into a plaintiff’s local federal court.

The case, Horton v. Sunpath, Ltd., involved a Texas resident (Lucas Horton) who launched a TCPA suit against a Massachusetts-based corporation (Sunpath).  Horton alleged that Sunpath’s agent, Northcoast Warranty Services, placed several calls to his cell phone using an automatic telephone dialing system and pre-recorded messages, despite the number’s listing on the National Do-Not Call Registry.  No. 3:20-cv-1884-B-BH, 2021 WL 982344, at *1 (N.D. Tex. Feb. 16, 2021).  On the calls, Horton stated, Northcoast encouraged him to purchase an auto service policy administered by Sunpath.  Id.  The calls continued for about three months until Horton purchased a policy from Sunpath in May 2020.  Id.  Horton filed suit against Sunpath about a month later in the Northern District of Texas.  Id.

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District Court Finds Seminar Invitation Faxes Are Not Advertisements

Recently, the Northern District of Illinois dismissed a TCPA putative class action without prejudice, finding that faxes inviting recipients to attend free continuing education veterinary seminars did not constitute advertisements on their face because they did not promote products or services and they were not sufficiently alleged to be a pretext for an underlying commercial purpose.  Ambassador Animal Hosp., Ltd. v. Elanco Animal Health, Inc., No. 20-cv-2886, 2021 WL 633358 (N.D. Ill. Feb. 18, 2021).

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Artful Pleading Won’t Circumvent Sovereign Immunity, Fourth Circuit Says

In Cunningham v. Lester, —F.3d—, 2021 WL 821467 (4th Cir. Mar. 4, 2021), the Fourth Circuit reiterated that the doctrine of sovereign immunity is alive and well and very much applicable to putative TCPA claims, and that crafty plaintiffs cannot artfully plead around the doctrine’s reach.

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) contains a provision requiring the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) to “establish a system” so applicants “receive notice of eligibility for an applicable State health subsidy program.” 42 U.S.C. §§ 18083(a), (b)(2), (e). CMS contracted with private company GDIT to fulfill CMS’s requirement that it contact individuals to inform them of their eligibility for participation in the subsidized health insurance plans offered through ACA’s health insurance exchanges. Defendants were individuals working for CMS in connection with the CMS-GDIT contract. Defendants instructed GDIT to prerecord a message and deliver it to approximately 680,000 individuals who had not consented to receive the message.

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Another District Court Joins Creasy Split

Recently, the Eastern District of Missouri added to the split among courts deciding whether they can hear TCPA claims alleging robocall violations that occurred when the now-invalidated government debt exception was part of the statute.  As we have previously reported on here, some district courts have joined Creasy v. Charter Communications, Inc., 2020 WL 5761117 (E.D. La. Sept. 28, 2020), in holding that subject matter jurisdiction is lacking in such cases, but a growing number—now including the Eastern District of Missouri—have disagreed.  Miles v. Medicredit, Inc., No. 4:20-cv-001186, 2021 WL 872678 (E.D. Mo. Mar. 9, 2021).

The scenario at issue in this case is a familiar one.  Defendant Medicredit is a medical debt collector.  Plaintiff Miles contended that Medicredit violated the TCPA’s prohibition on making calls using an ATDS or an artificial or prerecorded voice by placing six such calls to his cell phone, without his consent, in January and February 2018.  Not so, Medicredit responded, for the prohibition at issue, 47 U.S.C. § 227(b)(1)(A)(iii), was unconstitutional at the time Medicredit allegedly made the calls to Miles because the provision contained an exception, for calls to collect government debts, that the Supreme Court later invalidated as a content-based restriction on speech that violated the First Amendment.  Thus, Medicredit argued in its motion to dismiss that the court, having no statutory basis to enforce the alleged violations, lacked subject matter jurisdiction to hear the suit.

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Southern District of California Dismisses TCPA Claim Due to Speculative ATDS Allegations

The Southern District of California recently dismissed the TCPA case Hildre v. Heavy Hammer, Inc., No. 3:20-cv-00236, 2021 WL 734431 (S.D. Cal. Feb. 25, 2021), for the plaintiff’s failure to adequately allege that the defendants had used an automatic telephone dialing system (“ATDS”) when placing calls.

The plaintiff alleged that the defendants called him using an ATDS without first obtaining his consent.  Specifically, he claimed that the out-of-state defendant called him twice using a California telephone number.  After the first call, plaintiff claimed that he asked to be removed from the call list.  When plaintiff received the second call, he alleges that there was a “noticeable pause” after he answered.

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Seventh Circuit Reaffirms Gadelhak, Rejects Challenge to Narrow ATDS Definition

The Seventh Circuit last week affirmed its holding in Gadelhak v. AT&T Services, Inc., 950 F.3d 458 (7th Cir. 2020) that, to qualify as an “automatic telephone dialing system” (ATDS) under the TCPA, a device or calling system must have the ability to randomly or sequentially generate the phone numbers that it calls. As we reported here and here, this interpretation of the statute’s ATDS definition excludes systems and devices that place calls from a premade list of numbers, such as a list of customers’ mobile numbers. Courts remain divided on how to interpret the ATDS definition and the Supreme Court is expected to address the issue in a case that is currently before it, Facebook, Inc. v. Duguid.

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Senescence and Sensibility: Will the Supreme Court Mothball the TCPA?

TCPA Blog’s Mike Daly authored an article for the American Bar Association’s Consumer Litigation Committee titled, “Senescence and Sensibility: Will the Supreme Court Mothball the TCPA?” that discusses developments around TCPA’s autodialer restriction.The article addresses the dispute between courts over what qualifies as an ATDS and the impact the dispute has had on businesses trying to comply with the statue when its scope varies between circuit courts.The article also highlights how what constitutes an ATDS may finally be resolved in Facebook v. Duguid and what the case’s decision could mean for pending cases.

The full article is available for American Bar Association’s Consumer Litigation Committee subscribers.