House Subcommittee Holds Hearing on Modernizing the TCPA

U.S. Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR), Chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology, convened a hearing yesterday titled “Modernizing the Telephone Consumer Protection Act.” Chairman Walden opened the hearing with the following observations:

We all share the goal of preventing harmful phone calls, but it is increasingly clear that the law is outdated and in many cases, counterproductive. The attempts to strengthen the TCPA rules have actually resulted in a decline in legitimate, informational calls that consumers want and need.

The four witnesses at the one and a half hour hearing were Michelle Turano from WellCare Health Plans, Inc., Shaun W. Mock from Snapping Shoals Electric Membership Corporation, Spencer W. Waller from Loyola University Chicago, and Richard D. Shockey from Shockey Consulting.

Ms. Turano testified that litigation risk has forced her Medicare and Medicaid managed health care plan organization to cease sending health-related reminders to patients on their cellular phones. Mr. Mock testified that a class action lawsuit regarding calls placed to reassigned numbers forced his non-profit electric co-op to cease automated low-balance reminder calls to customers despite many customers relying on these calls. Mr. Waller testified on increasing enforcement. Mr. Shockey emphasized the importance of involving the engineering community in these discussions due to the technical complexities with robocalls and Caller ID.

For those who were unable to attend the hearing, an archived webcast of the hearing, copies of the witnesses’ written statements, and copies of the opening statements are available here.

House Subcommittee to Hold Hearing on Modernizing the TCPA

Today at 11:00 a.m., the Subcommittee on Communications and Technology will be holding a hearing entitled “Modernizing the Telephone Consumer Protection Act.”  The purpose of the hearing is for the Subcommittee to “consider the challenges faced by consumers and companies in a world where technology and consumer behavior may have outpaced the language of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991.” Continue reading

3 Factors to Weigh in Deciding To Fight Or Fold TCPA Suits

TCPA Blog’s Michael Daly and Meredith Slawe were recently quoted in the Law360 article, “3 Factors to Weigh in Deciding to Fight or Fold TCPA Suits.” They explained that “[t]he best approach to defending TCPA cases is to master the facts of each case as early as possible and map out multiple paths to victory. Oftentimes, the smallest details can mean the difference between whether or not a call qualifies as ‘telemarketing’ or a consumer provided ‘consent’ or equipment qualifies as an ‘automatic telephone dialing system.’” The remainder of the article examines other factors from both plaintiffs’ and defendants’ perspectives.

Read “3 Factors to Weigh in Deciding to Fight or Fold TCPA Suits.”

Court Finds That Equipment That Initiates Calls With Electronic Point and Click System Is Not An ATDS

In Pozo v. Stellar Recovery Collection Agency, Inc., No. 15-0929 (M.D. Fla. Sept. 2, 2016), the Middle District of Florida recently entered summary judgment against the plaintiff because it determined that an ATDS had not been used to call her.

The defendant in Pozo used a web-based dialing program called Human Call Initiator (“HCI”) to initiate the calls. HCI uses a “point-and-click” process that allows calls to be initiated by human “clicker agents.” Specifically, the program will not initiate a call until a clicker agent manually confirms in a dialogue box that the call should be made to that particular number. If a call is answered, the clicker agent then refers the call to a “closer agent” who speaks with the debtor. The program also allows clicker agents to view the availability of closer agents and will not initiate a call unless a closer agent is available. Continue reading

Can 1 Call Or Text Cause Injury Under TCPA?

In TCPA Blog’s latest Law360 column, Mike Daly, Justin Kay, and Victoria Andrews examine the differences in courts’ decisions regarding whether the receipt of a single call or text can be considered concrete harm for the purposes of constitutional standing in TCPA actions. The article first discusses state law claims that are routinely dismissed for lack of sufficient injury because the plaintiff alleged receipt of only one fax or text.  It then reviews recent TCPA claims that have been dismissed based upon similar reasoning, and compares them against those that have found that any alleged violation of the statute establishes sufficient injury to confer constitutional standing.  In doing so, the article addresses why the second line of cases employs faulty reasoning and fails to adhere to Congress’ intent and goals in enacting the TCPA: Continue reading

Parties Seek Twenty Minutes Of Oral Argument In The Consolidated Appeal From The FCC’s July 2015 Declaratory Ruling and Order

Yesterday, the petitioners in the consolidated appeal from the FCC’s July 10, 2015 Declaratory Ruling and Order filed an unopposed motion seeking twenty minutes of oral argument for each side. As we previously reported, the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit scheduled oral argument for October 19, 2016 at 9:30 a.m. in the consolidated appeal.

In requesting twenty minutes of oral argument time, the petitioners note the importance and the complexity of the issues raised in their petitions for review. Namely, “the kinds of equipment that fall within the [TCPA’s] restrictions on calls to wireless numbers from ‘automatic telephone dialing systems,” “the scope of liability for those who call numbers that (unbeknownst to them) have been reassigned from one, consenting consumer to another, non-consenting one,” “the methods by which consumers may revoke consent[,]” and the types of “informational healthcare-related” calls that fall outside of the TCPA’s scope.  As such, the petitioners request that each side be allotted twenty minutes of oral argument time with petitioner Rite Aid arguing five minutes on the healthcare-related issues of the Order and the rest of the petitioners arguing fifteen minutes.

We will continue to monitor the pending appeal and report on any significant developments before and after oral argument on October 19th.

Class Actions After Spokeo

At last week’s annual meeting of the Business Law Section of the American Bar Association, TCPA Blog’s Michael Daly participated in a panel discussion that examined how the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Spokeo, Inc. v. Robins is affecting class action litigation under the TCPA, the FCRA, and other recurring “gotcha” statutes. The panel explored a number of interesting issues with which courts have been grappling in TCPA cases, for example whether a plaintiff has a “concrete” harm for purposes of Article III if she received a fax without an opt-out notice, received a solitary call or text, or received calls or texts on phones that she had purchased for the specific purpose of receiving errant calls and texts to recycled numbers—all of which are all too common in TCPA litigation. The panel also examined how the decision will affect not only jurisdiction but also certification, specifically whether courts should certify classes if any harm involved is inherently individualized. The panel was moderated by Katherine Armstrong, who worked at the FTC for more than thirty years on FCRA initiatives and other consumer protection issues.

Oral Argument Scheduled In The Consolidated Appeal From The FCC’s October 2014 Anda Order

After recently scheduling oral argument in the consolidated appeal from the July 2015 Declaratory Ruling and Order, the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit has scheduled oral argument in the consolidated appeal from the Federal Communication Commission’s (“FCC”) October 2014 Final Order (the “Anda Order”) for Tuesday, November 8, 2016.  As we previously reported, in the Anda Order the FCC found that it had the statutory authority to  promulgate a rule requiring  that the opt-out notice Congress specified in the Junk Fax Prevention Act (“JFPA”) must be present on faxes for the sender to take advantage of the Established Business Relationship (“EBR”) exemption must also appear on solicited faxes. The FCC also decided that, because of reasonable confusion surrounding the rule, there was good cause to waive the rule for fax senders who had previously sent solicited faxes without an opt-out notice. Following the release of the Anda Order, both class action plaintiffs (“Plaintiff Petitioners”) and class action defendants (“Defendant Petitioners”) filed cross-appeals, which were consolidated and centralized in the D.C. Circuit as Bais Yaakov of Spring Valley, et al. v. FCC, No. 14-1234. Continue reading

The Sun is Setting on the Caribbean Cruise Line TCPA Class Action

A much-anticipated TCPA class action trial was set to begin next week in Birchmeier et al. v. Caribbean Cruise Line Inc., et al., in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. According to published reports, however, a class-wide settlement was reached yesterday in this protracted litigation with a history of controversial rulings by the District Court.

Under the terms of the agreement, defendants will pay in the range of $56-$76 million, to settle the claims of class including approximately one million people who received robocalls from defendants in 2011-2012. Class members will reportedly receive $500 for each call received, with the total amount paid to be determined based on how many claims are made.

The case has a long history, including controversial decisions by the District Court to certify the class in 2014, and a decision earlier this year to maintain certification despite the United States Supreme Court’s affirmation in Spokeo v. Robins that a mere statutory violation does not support Article III jurisdiction. The upcoming trial, which had been scheduled to begin on September 12, 2016, appeared to mark one of the few instances in which a TCPA class action would be resolved through trial and potential appeal.

While specific details are yet to arrive, this settlement illustrates the very real risks of TCPA class action litigation given the current uncertainty of the law. While the outcome at settlement is perhaps unique to this litigation, in part due to the District Court’s decisions to this point, further clarity on these key issues arising under the statute remains much needed.

FCC Issues Report and Order Implementing 2015 Bipartisan Budget Act Exemption for Calls Made to Collect on Federally-Owned or -Guaranteed Debt

On August 11, 2016, the FCC released a Report and Order implementing Section 301 of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 (the “Budget Act”), which exempts autodialed and prerecorded calls “made solely to collect a debt owed to or guaranteed by the United States” from the TCPA’s prior express consent requirement. The Budget Act provision also authorizes the FCC to adopt rules to “restrict or limit the number and duration” of any wireless calls made to collect debts owed to or guaranteed by the federal government. Continue reading