In Gomez v. Oxford Law, 3:14-cv-00477, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 345, * 3 (M.D. Pa. Jan. 5, 2014), Ninouska Gomez filed suit under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (the “FDCPA”) after receiving a message from Oxford Law, which used an autodialer to leave the message. In their statement of undisputed facts, Gomez and Oxford Law agree that Gomez heard the following message: “… please hang up or disconnect. If you are Gomez, Vinouish please continue to listen to this message. There will now be a three second pause in this message.” The message was designed to comply with 15 U.S.C. § 1692c(b), the portion of the FDCPA that prohibits debt collectors from revealing information about a debtor to third parties.
In Mey v. Frontier Communs. Corp., No. 3:13-1191-MPS, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 161675 (D. Conn. Nov. 18, 2014), Plaintiff Diana Mey alleged that she received two calls to her cell phone from Frontier’s automatic telephone dialing system. Id. at *2-3. Mey filed a complaint against Frontier and simultaneously moved for class certification. Id. at *4-5. Two months later, Frontier wrote to Mey and offered to settle her claims with a payment of $6,400 plus taxable costs and entry of prospective injunctive relief. Mey declined. Id. Frontier then moved to dismiss, arguing that the court lacked subject matter jurisdiction because Frontier’s offer had “mooted Ms. Mey’s individual claim and all potential class claims.” Id.
As 2015 begins, we thought that providing a roundup of and the links to pending FCC TCPA petitions might be useful. The list includes most pending petitions filed since the FCC’s revised TCPA rules came into effect, with the exclusion of the many “blast fax” petitions for retroactive relief. We have grouped the petitions by primary subject matter (consent, ATDS definition, or other). We will update this list periodically.
In a TCPA action involving allegedly unsolicited cellular telephone calls made using an automated telephone dialing system (“ATDS”), the Middle District of Florida ruled that plaintiff had merely recited the elements for a claim under the TCPA rather than allege adequate factual support, and dismissed plaintiff’s complaint without prejudice. See Hunter v. Diversified Consultants, Inc., No. 8:14-cv-2198, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 165355 (M.D. Fla. Nov. 26, 2014). The complaint contained only the following factual allegations: First, that “[d]uring the past 48 months prior to the filing of this complaint, Defendant contacted Plaintiffs’ [sic] cell phone without express permission with an automated dialing system”; and second, “Defendant called Plaintiffs’ [sic] cell phone intentionally and repeatedly, without express permission and with an automated telephone dialing system…” Id. at *2. Although the Court acknowledged it must accept all factual allegations set forth in the complaint and view them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, it also noted that conclusory allegations, unwarranted factual deductions, and legal conclusions will not prevent dismissal. Id. (citing Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1950 (2009); Davila v. Delta Air Lines, Inc., 326 F.3d 1183, 1185 (11th Cir. 2003)). The Court then held that the meager factual allegations included in the complaint did not “create any inference supporting the allegation that calls were made using an automatic dialing system,” and were not sufficient to state a facially plausible claim. Id. (citing Chaparro v. Carnival Corp., 693 F.3d 1333, 1337 (11th Cir. 2012) (“Factual allegations that are merely consistent with a defendant’s liability fall short of being facially plausible.”)).
In an attempt to clear out the backlog of numerous pending petitions addressing how the FCC’s “Blast Fax” rules apply to consensual fax advertisement transmissions, the agency on October 30, 2014 issued an Order addressing the need for and form of opt-out notices required for fax ads. The FCC’s rules since 2006 have contained a requirement that opt-out information be displayed on the faxed ad and that that notification requirement applies to both solicited fax ads, which are sent with the recipients’ prior express permission or invitation, and to non-solicited fax ad transmissions. A large number of Blast Fax lawsuits have involved fax ads reportedly sent with prior express consent but that may have lacked the required FCC opt-out notification or that failed to use the exact language the FCC rule appeared to require. Many defendants in these lawsuits beat a path to the FCC seeking either relief from or clarification of opt-out requirements, claiming in some cases confusion about when opt-out notices were in fact required. In its Order that divided on political party lines, the FCC clarified that its opt-out notice requirements are required on all fax advertisements, but in a far-reaching move, the FCC granted retroactive waivers to the petitioning fax senders who previously sent non-conforming fax ads. Similarly situated fax senders were invited also to seek retroactive waivers of the opt-out notice requirement but were warned they should apply for waiver relief by April 30, 2015.
If you had not noticed, the fall election campaign season is in full swing. The FCC’s Enforcement Bureau certainly has noticed, and reacted by releasing an unusual “Enforcement Advisory” this week, reminding campaigns and campaign promoters that there are TCPA limits on permissible uses of prerecorded voice message and autodialed calls in election campaigns. Restrictions on acceptable modes of communication vary depending upon whether a campaign or campaign promoter is delivering a call to a residential landline phone or a cell phone, which can be difficult to tell if a phone number has been recycled. Nevertheless, the Enforcement Advisory highlights a $2.9 million proposed fine levied against Dialing Services, LLC earlier this year for its alleged infractions of FCC requirements and warns all entities engaged in campaign calling and texting that they ignore FCC rules and restrictions at their peril of becoming subject to possible FCC enforcement scrutiny and fines. Fines for violations can go as high as $16,000 per violation, which is computed by call or text rather than by telemarketing campaign found to be impermissible by the Enforcement Bureau. While courts are the favored venue of the plaintiffs’ bar for seeking damages, the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau is aggressively staking out its own regulatory turf as the gubernatorial and congressional campaigns use as many tools as possible to galvanize potential voters.
In a TCPA action involving allegedly unsolicited fax advertisements, the Northern District of Illinois applied the plausibility standard articulated in Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007) and Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009) to affirmative defenses. See Mussat v. Power Liens, LLC, No. 13-7853, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 141561 (N.D. Ill. Oct. 6, 2014). We recently discussed a similar TCPA case where the court held that the plausibility standard did not apply, and in doing so sided with the majority view that the textual differences between Rule 8(a)(2) (claims) and Rules 8(b)(1)(A) (defenses) and 8(c)(1) (affirmative defenses) prevented the application of the plausibility standard to affirmative defenses. See Exclusively Cats Veterinary Hospital, P.C. v. Pharmaceutical Credit Corp., No. 13-14376, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 132440 (E.D. Mich. Sept. 22, 2014). Perhaps because the defendant focused elsewhere in its briefing, the Mussat court simply cited a 25-year-old decision from the Seventh Circuit holding that courts can strike affirmative defenses that do not satisfy federal pleading standards and then recited the requirements of the Twombly/Iqbal plausibility standard. Mussat, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 141561 at *2.
We have discussed several TCPA mootness decisions, mainly those coming out of the federal courts in Florida. Those cases hold that plaintiffs should not file “placeholder” class certification motions solely for the purpose of thwarting an attempted Rule 68 offer of judgment “pick-off.” We now turn our attention to the Southern District of New York, which recently found a TCPA plaintiff’s claim mooted by an offer of judgment made after the plaintiff’s “placeholder” motion for class certification was filed and before that motion was ruled upon.
As we previously reported, on July 17, 2014, the FCC filed a letter brief in Palm Beach Golf Center-Boca, Inc. v. Sarris, No. 13-14013 (11th Cir.) (“Sarris”), in which it took the position that entities can be held directly liable under the TCPA whenever their products or services are advertised in an unsolicited fax—even if they did not actually send the fax, and even if they did not know the fax was going to be sent. The FCC’s letter brief stood in marked contrast to its decision last year in In re Joint Petition Filed by Dish Network, LLC, 28 F.C.C. Rcd. 6574 (2013) (“Dish Network”), where the FCC had limited direct liability to only “telemarketers” that “initiate” calls, and otherwise applied agency principles to determine whether “sellers” might be vicariously liable for calls made on their behalf. As readers may recall, the FCC’s letter brief does not articulate a policy reason why a “seller” in the voice call context should receive more protection than an entity whose goods and services are promoted through a fax advertisement. But whatever the merits of the letter brief, it has yet to be cited by the Eleventh Circuit (which has heard argument but not yet issued an opinion) or, at least for the past few months, any other court.
Judge Kathleen M. Williams of the Southern District of Florida handed GEICO a decisive victory on September 29, 2014, when she denied a renewed motion to certify a class of individuals who purportedly received robo-calls from GEICO because she found that the plaintiff failed to provide sufficient proof of numerosity.