Supreme Court Agrees To Review ATDS Definition

Earlier today, the United States Supreme Court granted the petition for certiorari in which Facebook had asked the Court to resolve the growing circuit split regarding the definition of an ATDS. The Court limited its review to the second question presented, namely “whether the definition of ATDS in the TCPA encompasses any device that can ‘store’ and ‘automatically dial’ telephone numbers, even if the device does not ‘us[e] a random or sequential number generator.’” This comes hot on the heels of the Court’s ruling earlier this week on the constitutionality and severability of the government-debt exception to the statute’s restrictions on automated telephone equipment.

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Supreme Court Strikes Government-Debt Exception But Saves Other Restrictions on Automated Telephone Equipment

On July 6, 2020, the Supreme Court issued a highly anticipated—and highly fractured—ruling in Barr v. American Association of Political Consultants. The nine Justices produced four opinions, none of which commanded a majority. But six of the Justices agreed that the TCPA’s government-debt exception violated the First Amendment, and seven agreed that it could be severed from the rest of the TCPA. The result, then, is that the exception was stricken but the restrictions on automated telephone equipment were saved.

Writing for the plurality, Justice Kavanaugh made quick work of the government’s argument that the exception was content-neutral: “A robocall that says, ‘Please pay your government debt’ is legal. A robocall that says, ‘Please donate to our political campaign’ is illegal. That is about as content-based as it gets.” Because the exception was content-based, the plurality applied strict scrutiny—a standard that the government had conceded it could not satisfy.

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Text Messages Inviting Independent Voters to Political Speeches by Former Presidential Hopeful Howard Schultz Were Not “Solicitations” For His Book Tour

The Western District of Washington recently held in Vallianos. v. Schultz, C19-0464-JCC, 2019 WL 4980649 (W.D. Wash. Oct. 8, 2019), that two text messages encouraging recipients to view a livestream of a political speech by the former chairman and CEO of Starbucks Howard Schultz did not amount to “solicitations” under the TCPA. While exploring a run for President, Schultz released a book, “From the Ground Up,” and went on a three-month long cross-country book tour. He also collected from voter records the phone numbers of individuals registered as having “No Party Affiliation” and sent them the text messages at issue. Named plaintiffs Cassandra Vallianos, Stacey Karney, and Mike Barker brought a putative TCPA class action against Schultz alleging that the text messages were sent to them without their consent after they had placed their cell phone numbers on the national Do Not Call Registry.

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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   »

Mind the Details: Defendant Observes that Key FCC Order Never Took Effect; Wins Judgment on Pleadings

A new case out of Indiana, Sanford v. Navient Solutions, LLC, 2018 WL 4699890 (S.D. IN Oct. 01, 2018), underscores the importance of delving into the details of the FCC materials on which plaintiffs rely to support their claims.

In Sanford, relatively straightforward allegations—the defendant’s continued use of autodialed calls after the plaintiff revoked consent—were complicated by the fact that the federal government owned the debt at issue in the calls. The TCPA prohibits “mak[ing] any call (other than a call made for emergency purpose or made with the prior express consent of the called party) using any automatic telephone dialing system or an artificial or prerecorded voice” to “a cellular telephone service   . . . unless such call is made solely to collect a debt owed to or guaranteed by the United States.” 47 U.S.C. § 227(b)(1)(A)(iii) (emphasis added). Continue reading   »

FCC Seeks Further Comment on the Definition of an ATDS Following the Ninth Circuit’s Decision in Marks v. Crunch San Diego, LLC

On October 3, 2018, the FCC issued a Public Notice requesting further comment on “what constitutes an automatic telephone dialing system” under the terms of the TCPA in light of the Ninth Circuit’s recent decision in Marks v. Crunch San Diego, LLC, No. 14-56834, 2018 WL 4495553 (9th Cir. Sept. 20, 2018). Continue reading   »

Trial Courts Split On Whether Consumers Can Unilaterally Revoke Contractual Consent

As we discussed last year, the Second Circuit has held that consumers cannot unilaterally revoke consent that was provided as part of a bilateral contract. See Reyes v. Lincoln Automotive Fin. Servs., 861 F.3d 51 (2017). In doing so, it explained that it is “black letter law” that a “party may not alter a bilateral
contract . . . without the consent of a counterparty,” and that nothing in the TCPA purports to “permit a consumer to revoke his consent to be called when that consent forms part of a bargained-for exchange.” Although this seemingly straightforward statement is now settled within the Second Circuit, see, e.g., Harris v. Navient Solutions, LLC, No. 15-0546, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 140317 (D. Conn. Aug. 7, 2018), it remains unsettled elsewhere. Continue reading   »

Following ACA Int’l, Third Circuit Holds that Yahoo!’s Email-to-Text System is not an ATDS

The Third Circuit recently affirmed the Eastern District of Pennsylvania’s finding that Yahoo!’s email-to-text alert system does not qualify as an automatic telephone dialing system (“ATDS”). (Our previous discussions of this case are here, here, and here.) Following the District of Columbia Circuit’s decision in ACA Int’l v. FCC, 885 F.3d 687 (D.C. Cir. 2018), the Third Circuit held that the system at issue must be analyzed using a “present capacity” standard and that the plaintiff had failed to present any evidence to show that, under this standard, the system could function as an autodialer. Continue reading   »

Allegedly Revoked Consent Torpedoes Both Class Certification and Summary Judgment

A recent decision from the District of Maryland denied the Defendant’s motion for summary judgment because the Plaintiff had in the Court’s view raised a genuine issue of material fact regarding whether he had revoked his consent to receive automated debt-related calls. But the Court also denied the Plaintiff’s motion for class certification for the same reason, finding that individualized issues regarding the provision and revocation of that consent would predominate over any alleged common issues. See Ginwright v. Exeter Fin. Corp., No. 16-0565 (D. Md. Nov. 28, 2017). Continue reading   »

Seventh Circuit Rejects Political Speech Challenge to Indiana’s Anti-Robocall Statute

We’ve previously discussed First Amendment challenges to the TCPA and state law counterparts in the context of political speech here, here, and here. Recently, the Seventh Circuit rejected a nonprofit group’s argument that Indiana’s anti-robocall statute violated the First Amendment because it did not exempt robocalls involving political speech. Patriotic Veterans, Inc. v. Zoller, No. 16-2059, 2017 U.S.App. LEXIS 47 (Jan. 3, 2017). Continue reading   »