Fourth Circuit Expands Liability by Striking Federal Debt Exemption—But Not Entire TCPA—on First Amendment Grounds

Just as political campaign season begins to heat up, the Fourth Circuit has delivered what must be an unsatisfying victory to a group of political consultants, pollsters, and organizations that had challenged the constitutionality of the TCPA on First Amendment grounds. Am. Ass’n of Political Consultants, Inc. v. FCC, No. 18-1588 (4th Cir. Apr. 24, 2019). Although the challenge had been brought by political groups, the Fourth Circuit’s decision has wide-ranging implications for organizations that collect federal debts. Indeed, the Fourth Circuit may have handed an unexpected gift to the plaintiffs’ bar.   Continue reading   »

Defendant in Marks v. Crunch San Diego, LLC Abandons Appeal

As we previously reported here, last fall the court in Marks v. Crunch San Diego, LLC, No. 14-56834, 2018 WL 4495553 (9th Cir. Sept. 20, 2018) purported to expand the definition of an automatic telephone dialing system (“ATDS”) by holding that an ATDS is any “equipment which has the capacity—(1) to store numbers to be called or (2) to produce numbers to be called, using a random or sequential number generator—and to dial such numbers automatically (even if the system must be turned on or triggered by a person).” (emphasis added). Continue reading   »

Court Denies “Individualized Challenges” to Class Members’ Right to Recover

The Northern District of Illinois recently issued an order that denied defendants an opportunity to present “individualized challenges” to the members of a certified class in a TCPA fax case. The court determined that the defendants waived their right to challenge whether certain members of the class were entitled to recover because defendants did not assert their objections at the time the court approved the initial class notice. Continue reading   »

District Court Applies TCPA’s Plain Language to Grant Defendants Summary Judgment

Recently, the Eastern District of Michigan granted a motion for summary judgment in Gary v. Trueblue, Inc., No. 17-10544, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 175021 (E.D. Mich. Oct. 11, 2018), after finding that a plaintiff failed to show that defendants’ telephone dialing system qualified as an ATDS under the statute’s plain language. This decision adds to the growing list of cases applying the plain language of the statute in the wake of ACA International. Continue reading   »

Two New Putative TCPA Class Actions Filed Against Political Campaigns

On Tuesday last week, we noted that as we approach the November 2018 midterm elections, we expect to see an uptick in the number of TCPA lawsuits filed against campaigns, candidates, and committees. On cue, on Friday two new such putative class action TCPA lawsuits were filed: Norton v. 1863 PAC, Ltd., No. 18cv173 (N.D. W. Va. Oct. 19, 2018) and Syed v. Beto for Texas, No. 18cv2791 (N.D. Tex. Oct. 19, 2018). Continue reading   »

Nasty Political Campaign Results In Potential Liability For VoIP Providers But Not Voice Actors

As we approach the November 2018 midterm elections, we expect that we will once again see (i) an uptick in the volume of political calls; (ii) a reminder from the FCC that the TCPA applies to those calls (emphasizing that such calls are prohibited if made to cell phones without the consent of the called party, and that all prerecorded calls to cell phones or landlines must comply with certain identification and line release requirements); and (iii) a handful of new lawsuits filed against campaigns, candidates, and committees that allegedly failed to heed the FCC’s warning—all topics we have covered here before. Two recent decisions from a federal court in West Virginia pertaining to the 2016 election serve as a reminder that these lawsuits can linger long after the election ends Continue reading   »

Ninth Circuit Expands the Definition of an ATDS

The very first clause in the TCPA is the definition of an Automatic Telephone Dialing System, which the statute defines as “equipment which has the capacity—(A) to store or produce telephone numbers to be called, using a random or sequential number generator; and (B) to dial such numbers.” 47 USC 227(a)(1). Notwithstanding this limited definition, the Ninth Circuit today ruled in Marks v. Crunch San Diego, LLC that an ATDS means more than what the statute says. It did so by reordering the aforementioned definition’s words and replacing a conjunctive “and” with a disjunctive “or,” and holding that the term ATDS actually “means equipment which has the capacity—(1) to store numbers to be called or (2) to produce numbers to be called, using a random or sequential number generator—and to dial such numbers automatically (even if the system must be turned on or triggered by a person).” (emphasis added). By separating and reordering these clauses to de-couple the “random or sequential number generator” requirement from the storage requirement, the Ninth Circuit appears to have re-introduced (at least in the Ninth Circuit, and at least for now) the same over breadth and uncertainty that the D.C. Circuit appeared to rectify with its decision in ACA International. Continue reading   »

Another District Court Rejects FCC Prior Orders on ATDS in Light of ACA International

One of the central issues before the D.C. Circuit in ACA International v. FCC was whether the FCC’s vague and expansive definition of an ATDS would withstand judicial scrutiny. It did not, and as we explained at the time the decision was issued, the D.C. Circuit set aside not only the portion of the FCC’s July 2015 Declaratory Ruling and Order pertaining to ATDS, but also the FCC’s prior rulings dating back to 2003. Following ACA International, and while the FCC considers how to amend its now-invalidated prior rulings, the plaintiffs’ bar has attempted to narrow the reach of ACA International, arguing that the D.C. Circuit set aside only the 2015 Declaratory Ruling and Order, and that the validity of the FCC’s prior rulings was not under review. Just as the D.C. Circuit rejected this argument, district courts across the country continue to reject this argument, most recently a federal district court in the Central District of California. Continue reading   »

Senators Urge FCC to Act in the Face of ACA Int’l

On April 18, 2018, a group of fifteen Democratic senators addressed a letter to FCC Chairman Pai related to the D.C. Circuit’s recent decision in ACA Int’l v. Fed. Commc’ns Comm’n, 885 F.3d 687 (D.C. Cir. 2018). The letter notes that the ACA decision “struck down portions of a 2015 Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Omnibus Declaratory Ruling and Order limiting the definition of automatic telephone dialing systems (auto dialers), which are technologies that can be used to rapidly call and text large groups of consumers,” and expresses concern that “[w]hile the Court maintained the right to revoke consent, the Court’s ruling could be interpreted to suggest that callers could limit consumers’ method to revoke consent to receive robocalls and robotexts through provisions buried in contracts or service agreements,” which would “upend the meaning and the goals of the TCPA.” The senators ask Chairman Pai and the FCC to take the following actions: Continue reading   »

Supreme Court Denies Petition Seeking Review of D.C. Circuit Fax Decision Holding that FCC Exceeded Its Authority

The Supreme Court today denied the petition for certiorari filed by the class action plaintiffs in Bais Yaakov of Spring Valley v. FCC, thus leaving in place the D.C. Circuit’s ruling that “although the [Telephone Consumer Protection Act] requires an opt-out notice on unsolicited fax advertisements, the Act does not require a similar opt-out notice on solicited fax advertisements . . . . [nor does it] grant the FCC authority to require opt-out notices on solicited fax advertisements.”  852 F.3d 1078, 1082 (D.C. Cir. 2017).  Our summary of the briefing on the petition is available here.

As we’ve discussed previously, the D.C. Circuit’s ruling (binding nationwide pursuant to the Hobbs Act) makes it much tougher for plaintiffs in TCPA fax suits to certify a class.  The plaintiffs’ bar has typically sought to certify classes based on violations of the opt-out notice requirement for solicited faxes, because a class defined in such a way side-stepped the inherently individualized issue of whether the fax was solicited or not. With the opt-out notice requirement for solicited faxes eliminated, plaintiffs’ attorneys have a much tougher challenge.  Indeed, in Alpha Tech Pet, Inc. v. Lagasse, LLC, No. 16 C 513, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 182499 (N.D. Ill. Nov. 3, 2017), a district court relying on the D.C. Circuit’s decision found that individualized issues of consent precluded certification of a class of fax recipients where certification could not be premised on whether the faxes included an opt-out notice.  The plaintiff in Alpha Tech has appealed that decision, arguing (among other things) that the D.C. Circuit’s decision is not binding in the Seventh Circuit.  Given the significance of this issue for the plaintiff’s bar, we can expect to continue to see collateral challenges like this to the repeal of the FCC’s solicited fax rule notwithstanding that the D.C. Circuit’s decision in Bais Yaakov is now final.