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 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.
On March 30, 2020, the American Bankers Association (“ABA”) and several other associations of banks and credit unions (together, “petitioners”) effectively asked the FCC to exempt all COVID-related calls and texts to consumers from TCPA liability as communications “made for emergency purposes.” Petition for Expedited Declaratory Ruling, Certification, or Waiver of the American Bankers Association et al., CG Docket No. 02-278, at 4 (Mar. 30, 2020) [hereinafter “ABA Petition”].
Acknowledging that “effective communications with the American public” is “a critical component” to efforts to slow the spread of the coronavirus, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) released on its own motion, a declaratory ruling on March 20, 2020, addressing the applicability of the “emergency purposes” exception to the TCPA’s prohibition against making automated and prerecorded calls without prior express consent. This declaratory ruling is meant to provide “hospitals, health care providers, state and local health officials, and other government officials” peace of mind when sending important COVID-19 information through automated calls or texts.
As readers of the blog are well aware, the TCPA contains an exception to its consent requirements for calls made for “emergency purposes.” 47 U.S.C. §§ 227(b)(1)(A)-(B). The FCC’s rules define “emergency purposes” to mean “calls made necessary in any situation affecting the health and safety of consumers.” 47 C.F.R. § 64.1200(f)(4). The FCC’s declaratory ruling officially acknowledges the undeniable point that the COVID-19 pandemic constitutes an “emergency” under the TCPA. Earlier this month, on March 13, 2020, the White House declared a national emergency in light of the COVID-19 outbreak in the United States. As of March 20, 2020, all fifty states and the District of Columbia had declared states of emergency, which have led to many cities closing schools, workplaces, parks, restaurants, and houses of worship. Public safety organizations and institutions providing healthcare services, in particular, are changing modes of operation and means of handling some public-facing tasks. For example, many health care clinics have broadened their telemedicine programs or have begun conducting new patient intake “virtually” to triage patients with flu-like symptoms. These changes need to be communicated to existing and prospective patients in a timely manner on a large scale.
One area of continued confusion and conflict among courts reviewing TCPA cases has been how each approaches the scope of the statutory definition of an autodialer, as this critical matter can spell the difference between calls being deemed violative of the statute or acceptable. Last week, the Eleventh Circuit addressed a pair of appeals disputing the scope of the definition of “automatic telephone dialing system” (“ATDS”) under the TCPA. In Glasser v. Hilton Grand Vacations Co., the Eleventh Circuit determined that ATDS should include only equipment that generates numbers randomly or sequentially and then dials them automatically—effectively excluding equipment that dials numbers from preexisting lists. 2020 WL 415811, at *2 (11th Cir. Jan. 27, 2020). This places the Eleventh Circuit squarely at odds with the Ninth Circuit’s expansive definition of ATDS in Marks v. Crunch San Diego.
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.
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
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.