State Courts Disagree About Whether Statutory Damages Make Class Actions an Inferior Method for Adjudicating TCPA Claims

The statutory damages that have caused so many plaintiffs to file TCPA class actions have also caused some courts to find that class actions are not the superior method for adjudicating them.   Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(b)(3) requires not only that common questions predominate over individual ones, but also that “a class action is superior to other available methods for fairly and efficiently adjudicating the controversy.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 23(b)(3). Whether a class action is the superior method for adjudication depends on a number of stated and unstated considerations, among them “the class members’ interests in individually controlling the prosecution or defense of separate actions.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 23(b)(3)(A). As we have noted before, some courts have held that TCPA claims are categorically unfit for class treatment because $500-$1,500 plus attorneys’ fees and costs is adequate to incent individuals to file claims, is disproportionate to any actual damages, and is potentially ruinous if aggregated in a class action. Two state courts recently addressed this issue and reached contrary conclusions.

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FCC Letter Brief Suggests That Faxes and Phone Calls are Different for Purposes of Direct Liability Under the TCPA

At the invitation of the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, the FCC recently filed a letter brief in Palm Beach Golf Center-Boca, Inc. v. Sarris, No. 13-14013 (11th Cir.). The letter brief took the position that defendants can be held directly liable any time their products or services are advertised via a fax that violates the TCPA—even if they did not send the fax or even know that it was going to be sent.

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W.D. Wash. Adopts Preponderance of the Evidence Standard for Elements of Class Cert., Rejects Numerosity Experts

The Western District of Washington recently adopted a “preponderance of the evidence” standard for establishing the prerequisites of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23 and denied class certification in a TCPA case because the plaintiffs’ expert testimony did not meet the rigors of even a preponderance standard. See Southwell v. Mortgage Investors Corp. of Ohio, No. 13-1289 , 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 112362 (W.D. Wash. Aug. 12, 2014).

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Capital One Agrees to $75 Million TCPA Settlement

Capital One and three collections agencies recently announced the largest proposed cash settlement in TCPA history – $75.5 million. This is more than double the amount of the prior record – a $32 million settlement from Bank of America.

The plaintiffs allege that Capital One and the other defendants used an ATDS to place debt collection calls to 21 million cell phone numbers without the requisite consent. Under the terms of the proposed settlement, Capital One will contribute $73 million to the settlement fund, while AllianceOne Receivables Management Inc., Leading Edge Recovery Solutions, LLC and Capital Management Services, L.P. will contribute $1.4 million, $996,205 and $24,220, respectively. The settlement agreement estimates that claimants will receive at least $20-$40 and allocates up to 30% of the settlement fund for an award of attorneys’ fees and costs in an amount to be set by the court. The settlement fund is non-reversionary. Capital One also agreed to take steps to ensure TCPA compliance going forward though it expressly disclaimed any liability in connection with the settlement.

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FCC Seeks Comment on Petition Concerning Prior Express Consent

On August 1, 2014, the FCC issued a Public Notice seeking comment on a petition filed by Santander Consumer USA, Inc. (“Santander”), which requests an expedited declaratory ruling from the FCC to clarify the meaning of “prior express consent” with respect to non-telemarketing calls and text messages to cellular telephones, which include informational messages (e.g., messages regarding school closings or messages containing flight status information) and debt collection messages under the TCPA. Comments in response to the Public Notice are due September 2, 2014, and reply comments are due September 15, 2014.

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FCC Seeks Comment on Petitions Concerning the FCC’s Rule on Opt-Out Notices for Fax Advertisements

On July 25, 2014, the FCC issued a Public Notice seeking comment on five petitions, filed by American Caresource Holdings, Inc. (“ACH”), CARFAX, Inc.(“CARFAX”), UnitedHealth Group, Inc. (“UnitedHealth”), MedLearning, Inc. and Medica, Inc. (“Medica”), and Merck and Company, Inc.(“Merck”) (collectively, the “Petitioners”) requesting a declaratory ruling and/or a waiver of section 64.1200 (a)(4)(iv) of the FCC’s rules. This rule requires certain fax advertisements to include an opt-out notice.1 Comments in response to this Public Notice must be filed by August 8, 2014; reply comments are due August 15, 2014.

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  1. See 47 C.F.R. § 64.1200 (a)(4)(iv). []

Court Lets Debt-Collector Amend Answer and Assert Counterclaim for Plaintiff’s Debt

In a TCPA class action case concerning debt collection calls, the Southern District of California recently granted a debt-collector defendant’s motion to file an amended answer and assert a counterclaim for breach of contract arising from the plaintiff’s approximately $22,000 debt for the purchase of a used vehicle. See Horton v. Calvary Portfolio Servs., LLC, No. 13-cv-0307, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 102569 (S.D. Cal. July 24, 2014).

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Ninth Circuit Affirms Summary Judgment, Taco Bell Not Vicariously Liable for Third-Party Text Message

In an unpublished opinion, the Ninth Circuit recently affirmed a district court’s ruling that Taco Bell was not vicariously liable for text messages sent by a third party advertising a Taco Bell product. See Thomas v. Taco Bell Corp., No. 12-56458, 2014 WL 2959160 (9th Cir. July 2, 2014). The ruling is one of the first appellate decisions to consider vicarious liability for section 227(b) violations in the wake of an FCC declaratory ruling that had endorsed and indeed provided guidelines on that topic. See In re DISH Network, LLC, 28 F.C.C. Rcd. 6574 (2013). Unfortunately for companies grappling with these issues, the unpublished Ninth Circuit decision does not provide any additional clarity.

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M.D. Fla. Rejects “Placeholder” Class Certification Motion

As we have previously noted, several courts in the Middle District of Florida have made it abundantly clear that plaintiffs should not file “placeholder” class certification motions solely for the purpose of thwarting an attempt to “pick-off” a named plaintiff. See Stein, et al. v. Buccaneers LP, No. 13-2136 (M.D. Fla.) (J., Merryday); Haight v. Bluestem Brands, Inc., No. 13-1400 (M.D. Fla.) (M.J., Spaulding). Last week, the court reiterated this stance yet again. See Dickerson v. Lab. Corp. of Am., 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 100323 (M.D. Fla. July 23, 2014) (J. Moody).

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The FTC Is Looking For A Few Good Robocall Hackers

The FCC is not the only federal agency tasked with regulating telephone calls. The FTC also regulates telephone calls pursuant to the Telemarketing Sales Rule (“TSR”) (16 C.F.R. § 310 et seq.). And while the scope of the TCPA and the TSR differs, the two sets of regulations overlap in a key area—prerecorded calls. See 47 C.F.R. § 227(b)(1); 16 C.F.R. § 310(b)(iv). As we have noted in a previous post, these regulations are not entirely consistent.

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