New Petition Seeking FCC Clarification That Calls Using Soundboard Technology Are Not “Entirely Prerecorded Calls” Prohibited By the TCPA

The FCC’s TCPA docket now has two pending petitions for declaratory ruling on the question as to whether outbound telemarketing calls made through soundboard technology are prohibited communications if made without prior consent under the TCPA. As we predicted in April 2019, industries using soundboard technology to streamline their telemarketing operations are increasing their efforts before the FCC in seeking review of this very issue.

The FCC recently issued a Public Notice seeking comments on a Petition for Declaratory Ruling filed by Yodel Technologies, a Florida-based company providing other entities with outbound telemarketing services using soundboard technology. The Yodel Petition “fully supports” “a currently pending Petition for Emergency Declaratory Ruling filed by NorthStar Alarm Services, LLC, that sets forth a litany of persuasive reasons why the Commission should rule that use of soundboard technology does not violate the TCPA.” The Yodel Petition also “submits its own justifications” to assist the FCC in reaching this conclusion or, alternatively, in waiving application of any rules prohibiting soundboard technology prior to May 12, 2017.

According to Yodel, as “calls using recorded audio clips specifically selected and presented by a human operator in real-time,” soundboard technology should not be considered “prerecorded voice message.” Yodel argues that the FCC’s 1992 TCPA Report and Order implied that prerecorded voice message only refers to calls and messages that are entirely prerecorded. In support, it observes that the FCC has always been and has only been using examples of fully automated calls when discussing TCPA implementing rules in the past twenty-seven years.Yodel’s Petition emphasizes that a caller’s ability to “ascertain the propriety of proceeding with a message” is an important characteristic in distinguishing between live and prerecorded calls – a view supported by case law in the Ninth Circuit. As such, Yodel advocated that outbound calls using soundboard technology would not be prerecorded calls when live operators would remain “available to interact with every called party from inception.”

After the Supreme Court declined in April 2019 to review a challenge to a Federal Trade Commission decision treating outbound telemarketing calls made through soundboard technology as robocalls, a wave of litigation ensued. Many federal courts, including the Eleventh Circuit (with appellate jurisdiction over Florida), have not examined soundboard technology in the context of TCPA claims in the past. Others have not had a consistent view on soundboard technology. As Yodel put it, clarity is needed because of the “serious reliance interests at stake.”

Interested parties have until October 21, 2019 to submit comments to the FCC on the Petition. Reply comments are due on November 4, 2019. Drinker Biddle’s TCPA team will continue to monitor this docket and related developments.

Florida U.S. District Court Grants Victory for Defendant, Finds its Dialing Equipment Is Not an ATDS

In many TCPA cases, the sufficiency of a plaintiff’s allegations, particularly those concerning the defendant’s alleged use of an automatic telephone dialing system (“ATDS”), are tested at the pleadings stage through a motion to dismiss. No matter which side prevails, a trial court’s ruling at that procedural moment is limited to whether ATDS allegations are plausible—not whether any evidence actually proves that an ATDS was, in fact, used. And because so many lawsuits are resolved through an early settlement, a defendant often does not have a day in court on the question of whether its dialing equipment as configured and used constitutes an ATDS.

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The Eleventh Circuit Holds That Receipt of a Single Text Does Not Satisfy Article III

The Eleventh Circuit recently held that receiving a single unsolicited text message does not amount to the harm required to sustain a TCPA claim. In Salcedo v. Hanna, John Salcedo brought a TCPA claim against his former attorney after receiving one multimedia text message offering a ten percent discount on future legal services. Salcedo filed suit in district court as the representative of putative class members of former Hanna clients who received similar texts. The district court denied the defendants’ motion to dismiss for lack of standing. In an unusual step, the Eleventh Circuit agreed to hear the case on interlocutory appeal, and reversed the district court’s decision. In so doing, it created a circuit split on Article III standing and a significant hurdle for certifying TCPA class actions in the Eleventh Circuit.

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N.D. Ohio Court Dismisses TCPA Claim, Finding Insufficient Allegations Regarding Consent

The Northern District of Ohio recently granted a motion to dismiss a TCPA claim because the plaintiff failed to allege plausibly that he had not consented to receive the calls.  Whiteacre v. Nations Lending Corp., et al., No. 19-CV-809, 2019 WL 3477262 (N.D. Ohio Jul. 31, 2019).  The decision reinforces the requirement that to plead a TCPA claim, the plaintiff cannot rely on conclusory allegations that he never consented (or revoked any consent that was previously provided).  To state a plausible claim, the complaint must provide factual allegations, not mere labels or legal conclusions.

Plaintiff alleged that defendants Nations Lending Corporation and its alleged loan servicer, LoanCare, violated the TCPA when LoanCare called him through an automated voice messaging system.  Id. at *2.  The Plaintiff alleged that he “expressed his lack of consent to automated calls,” but the court noted that “Plaintiff does not describe how he ‘expressed his lack of consent,’ nor does he give any other details about the prerecorded calls.”  Id. at *3 (emphasis added).  Defendants moved to dismiss the TCPA claim, arguing that Plaintiff’s conclusory allegations failed as a matter of law.

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Court Grants Plaintiff’s Motion for Summary Judgment on Vicarious Liability Issues

The Western District of Oklahoma recently granted a plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment against NorthStar Alarm Services, LLC (“NorthStar”) in a certified class action.  The court held, in part, that NorthStar was vicariously liable for telemarketing calls that sales lead generator Yodel Technologies, LLC (“Yodel”) placed on its behalf.  Braver v. NorthStar Alarm Services, LLC, No. 17-cv-0383, 2019 WL 3208651, at *1 (W.D. Okla. July 16, 2019).  The case illustrates the factors that one court found relevant in a particular factual context when assessing vicarious liability issues related to a lead generator’s telemarketing calls. Continue reading   »

FCC Amends Its Caller ID Rules to Broaden their Scope and Effect

The FCC on August 1 voted to adopt enhanced Truth in Caller ID rules that will subject a broader range of “spoofed” calls to new heftier statutory civil penalty and potentially criminal sanctions for willful and knowing violations of these FCC requirements. Companies using spoofing technology should have until early 2020 to assess their operations to ensure compliance prior to these amended rules taking effect.

At its Open Meeting, the FCC adopted a Report and Order (R&O) to amend the current Truth in Caller ID rules. The text of the adopted version of the R&O was released on August 5, 2019 and largely remains unchanged since the release of the draft Second R&O. It appears that the rules adopted build upon the framework the FCC proposed in its Notice of Proposed Rulemaking from in February 2019 (click here for our earlier summary of the Notice). Overall, the Second R&O mirrors most of the FCC’s original proposals. The differences we highlight below are relatively technical, reflecting the FCC’s attempt to grapple with and clarify the scope of rule changes in light of foreseeable business use cases that may cause problems that the RAY BAUM’S Act intended to prevent.

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TCPA Class Allegations Stricken Due to “Unique Defenses Peculiar to Plaintiff’s Case”

The Northern District of Illinois recently clarified that a “revocation class” that defines a putative class as those having made “a request to stop calling [their] number” does not satisfy Rule 23(b)(3)’s predominance requirement. This memorandum opinion again highlights the significance of individualized issues of consent in a TCPA class certification process. Continue reading   »

Court Rejects Attempt to Treble $925 Million Statutory Damages Award

The District of Oregon recently denied a motion for treble damages following a jury verdict finding that defendant made over 1.8 million advertising calls to the named plaintiff and other members of a certified class. Wakefield v. ViSalus, Inc., No. 15-cv-1857, 2019 WL 2578082, at *1 (D. Or. June 24, 2019). The court found that enhanced damages simply were not appropriate under the circumstances of the case. Continue reading   »

Eighth Circuit Finds that Telemarketer’s Plausible Belief of Consent to Calls Supports Radical Reduction of Statutory Damages Award

In Golan v. FreeEats.com, Inc., No. 17-3156 (8th Cir. July 16, 2019), the Eighth Circuit affirmed a trial court’s radical, post-trial reduction of damages in a TCPA case.

Although the trial court originally awarded the plaintiffs more than $1.6 billion in statutory damages, it later slashed the award by 98 percent to approximately $32.4 million. The plaintiffs appealed that decision. (The plaintiffs also appealed the trial court’s rejection of their preferred jury instruction on direct liability, which the Eighth Circuit also affirmed.) Continue reading   »

By Clicking Continue . . .

The Northern District of Illinois recently denied a motion to compel arbitration in a putative class action, and in doing so found that the plaintiff had not agreed to arbitrate the dispute when navigating through one of the defendants’ websites. See Anand v. Heath, et al., No. 19-0016, 2019 WL 2716213 (N.D. Ill. June 28, 2019).

The plaintiff in Anand registered and completed a survey for a gift card on a website owned and operated by a subsidiary of one of the defendants. As part of her registration, she submitted her contact information, including her telephone number. After she received allegedly unsolicited telemarketing calls, the plaintiff filed a putative class action and two of the defendants moved to compel arbitration pursuant to the website’s terms and conditions.

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