This morning, the United States Supreme Court issued its highly anticipated ruling in Barr v. American Association of Political Consultants. The decisions are fractured, but a majority of the Justices coalesced around finding that the federal debt-collection exception (1) violated the First Amendment but (2) could be severed from the statute such that the restrictions on automated telephone equipment remain in place. Notably, however, Justice Gorsuch filed and Justice Thomas joined a separate opinion that poked holes in the remedy—which is to say, the absence of a remedy—and urged the Court to revisit its approach to severability in general. We are reviewing the various opinions and will report back with a more thorough analysis shortly.
A divided panel of the Third Circuit Court of Appeals recently reversed the dismissal of TCPA claims, finding that the faxes at issue were advertisements within the meaning of the TCPA. Fischbein v. Olson Research Group, Inc., 959 F.3d 559 (3d Cir. 2020). The Court made this finding even though the faxes at issue did not attempt to sell anything, but rather contained offers to buy the recipients’ services.
In Fischbein, the Third Circuit heard two consolidated appeals in which plaintiffs alleged that the defendants had violated the TCPA by sending them faxes that offered money in exchange for responses to market research surveys. Id. at 561. In both cases, the trial court dismissed the claims because the faxes were not an attempt to sell anything, and thus were not “advertisements” such that the sender needed a recipient’s prior express consent. A divided panel of the Third Circuit disagreed because, in its view, an offer to buy products, goods, or services can also qualify as an advertisement under the TCPA. Id. at 561.
The FCC’s Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau last week issued a declaratory ruling resolving a long-pending Petition on the question of whether certain healthcare-related calls, given their significance and value for consumers, should be entirely exempted from the TCPA’s prior express consent requirement, or at least exempted as long as consumers are allowed to opt out of the calls. The Bureau declined the petitioner’s invitation to create new healthcare exemptions or expand the scope of exemptions already in place for certain types of health-care-related calls.
The Eastern District of California recently entered summary judgment against a plaintiff because it found that the plaintiff failed to revoke his consent to receive auto-dialed calls on his cell phone. Wright v. USAA Savings Bank, No. 19-0591, 2020 WL 2615441, at *1-5 (E.D. Cal. May 22, 2020). The case illustrates that defendants in the Ninth Circuit can still prevail on consent and other issues even though they may face an uphill battle on ATDS issues.
The plaintiff in Wright applied for a credit card and listed his cell phone number on the application. Id. at *1. He developed terminal cancer in 2018 and failed to make payments on the credit card. Id. Between July 2018 and January 2019, defendants’ agent called Mr. Wright’s cellphone number using the Aspect Dialing System to collect the credit card debt. Id. Evidence established that the Aspect Dialing System is a predictive dialer that does not have and is not capable of using a random or sequential number generator to dial numbers. Id.
A court in the Southern District of Florida recently held that the plaintiff in a TCPA suit was not the “called party” under the statute because he received the calls in question only because his cousin rerouted them to the plaintiff’s phone. Thompson v. Portfolio Recovery Associates, LLC, No. 19-62220 (S.D. Fla. Apr. 25, 2020).
In Thompson v. Portfolio Recovery Associates, LLC, Plaintiff Andrew Thompson brought a TCPA suit against PRA—a debt collection company—for seventeen calls made to the Plaintiff’s cousin’s VoIP number that were automatically rerouted by the Plaintiff’s cousin to Plaintiff’s phone and answered by Plaintiff.
The United States District Court for the District of Connecticut recently granted a Defendant’s motion to dismiss Plaintiffs’ TCPA claims because Plaintiffs failed to adequately allege facts supporting an inference that Defendant (1) used an automatic telephone dialing system (“ATDS”) and (2) failed to maintain an internal do-not-call list. Sterling v. Securus Technologies, Inc., 2020 WL 2198095 (D. Conn. May 6, 2020). Plaintiffs originally sued multiple Defendants for negligent and willful violations of the TCPA. Id. at *1. Defendants removed the case to federal court and filed motions to dismiss the original Complaint. Id. Plaintiff amended, and Defendants again moved to dismiss. Id. The Court dismissed all claims against Defendants. Id. The Court then granted Plaintiffs’ motion for leave to file a Second Amended Complaint. Id. at *2. Plaintiffs’ Second Amended Complaint only named Defendant Securus, and Defendant again moved to dismiss. Id.
The Eleventh Circuit recently affirmed the district court’s summary judgment ruling that a defendant’s calls did not violate the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (“TCPA”) because consumers cannot unilaterally revoke consent that was part of a bilateral contract.
In Medley v. Dish Network, LLC, No. 18-13841, 2020 WL 2092594 (11th Cir. May 1, 2020), Medley entered a two-year contract with DISH for satellite television services. As part of the service contract, Medley provided her cell phone number to DISH and expressly authorized DISH “‘to contact [her] regarding [her] DISH Network account or to recover any unpaid portion of [her] obligation to DISH, through an automated or predictive dialing system or prerecorded messaging system.’” Medley, 2020 WL 2092594, at *1. Approximately eleven months later, Medley temporarily suspended her service under an optional provision of the contract, which triggered a $5.00 monthly fee in lieu of service charges. Medley then underwent bankruptcy, which discharged approximately $800 that she owed to DISH. Following this discharge, DISH called Medley to recover outstanding fees accrued as a result of her temporary pause in service. In response to emails from DISH, Medley’s bankruptcy lawyer sent DISH faxes stating that the lawyer represented Medley with regard to her debts. DISH continued to contact Medley following these faxes.