Artful Pleading Won’t Circumvent Sovereign Immunity, Fourth Circuit Says

In Cunningham v. Lester, —F.3d—, 2021 WL 821467 (4th Cir. Mar. 4, 2021), the Fourth Circuit reiterated that the doctrine of sovereign immunity is alive and well and very much applicable to putative TCPA claims, and that crafty plaintiffs cannot artfully plead around the doctrine’s reach.

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) contains a provision requiring the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) to “establish a system” so applicants “receive notice of eligibility for an applicable State health subsidy program.” 42 U.S.C. §§ 18083(a), (b)(2), (e). CMS contracted with private company GDIT to fulfill CMS’s requirement that it contact individuals to inform them of their eligibility for participation in the subsidized health insurance plans offered through ACA’s health insurance exchanges. Defendants were individuals working for CMS in connection with the CMS-GDIT contract. Defendants instructed GDIT to prerecord a message and deliver it to approximately 680,000 individuals who had not consented to receive the message.

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Two More District Courts Disagree with Creasy

Confusion continues amongst federal district courts in the wake of Barr v. American Association of Political Consultants, Inc. (“AAPC”), 140 S. Ct. 2335 (2020), the Supreme Court decision that held the TCPA’s government-debt exception—instituted via a 2015 amendment to the statute—violated the First Amendment. Courts recently have dealt with the issue of whether plaintiffs can bring TCPA claims for conduct occurring between 2015 and July 2020, the date the unconstitutional amendment was passed and the date the Supreme Court declared the amendment unconstitutional and ordered it severed from the TCPA. The Eastern District of Louisiana said the answer to this question is no. Creasy v. Charter Communications, Inc., 2020 WL 5761117 (E.D. La. Sept. 28, 2020). The district courts for the Southern District of California and the Northern District of Ohio disagree, as we discuss below. Our prior posts on this issue, which we have been following closely, can be found here.

In McCurley et al. v. Royal Sea Cruises, Inc., 2021 WL 288164 (S.D. Cal. Jan. 28, 2021), and Less v. Quest Diagnostics Incorporated, 2021 WL 266548 (N.D. Ohio Jan. 26, 2021), defendants argued that TCPA claims arising during the above-mentioned time period were barred because the TCPA was entirely unconstitutional during that period. Both the McCurley and the Less courts disagreed, though the two courts differed in their rationales.

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Parroting the Elements of the Statute—Without Pleading Any Substantive Facts—Isn’t Good Enough Under Rule 8 for the District of Connecticut

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.

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Court Denies Class Certification in a TCPA Case for Lack of Numerosity and Predominance Despite Millions of Automated Calls

Recently, the Northern District of California joined other courts in more closely scrutinizing class certification motions in TCPA cases. In a case involving an automated phone call by a loan servicer regarding Plaintiff’s student loans, the district court held that the Plaintiff had failed to present evidence to satisfy Rule 23(a)’s numerosity requirement, even though the defendant had made millions of automated calls to millions of customers. Plaintiff also failed to satisfy Rules 23(b)(3) and (b)(2). The class failed under Rule 23(b)(3) because Plaintiff did not show that common questions predominated as to the consent defense and failed under Rule 23(b)(2) because Plaintiff primarily sought statutory damages rather than an injunction. Silver v. Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency, No. 14-cv-00652, 2020 WL 607054 (N.D. Cal. Feb. 7, 2020).

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