Does Unused “Capacity” Make a Dialer an ATDS? District Court Says “No” in Ruling on Pleading Requirements After Facebook

Three months after the Supreme Court’s landmark Facebook ruling, a growing number of trial courts have grappled with interpreting and applying the High Court’s directive.  One of the more interesting decisions came out of the Eastern District of Michigan recently.  In Barry v. Ally Fin., Inc., No. 20-cv-12378, 2021 WL 2936636, at *1-7 (E.D. Mich. July 13, 2021), the district court dismissed a putative TCPA class action on the grounds that the plaintiff failed to allege use of an ATDS.  More significantly, the district court interpreted Facebook to hold that to be an ATDS, the dialing system must actually use a random or sequential number generator to call the plaintiff, and not merely have the capacity to do so.

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District Court Weighs in On TCPA Fax Liability Standards in the Eighth Circuit

The Eastern District of Missouri recently granted a plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment against three defendants in a TCPA fax case.  Levine Hat Co. v. Innate Intelligence, LLC, No. 16-cv-01132, 2021 WL 1889869 (E.D. Mo. May 11, 2021).  The court’s opinion discusses two areas of law with limited Eighth Circuit authority and illustrates the uncertainty regarding how district courts in the jurisdiction may rule on these issues in the future.  Id. at *3-5.  Specifically, the opinion discusses the analysis a court may apply to determine if a fax is an “unsolicited advertisement.”  Id. at *3-4.  The opinion also enumerates the factors a court may consider when assessing whether a “fax broadcaster” demonstrates a sufficiently “high degree of involvement” in the transmission of a fax to render it liable for the transmission.  Id. at *3-5.

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FCC Order Causes Confusion Regarding Consent Required for Informational Calls to Residential Landlines

On December 30, 2020, the FCC issued a Report and Order (the December 2020 FCC Order) to implement Section 8 of the Pallone-Thune Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence Act (TRACED Act). The December 2020 FCC Order contains a critical internal inconsistency that has caused significant confusion regarding the level of consent required for certain prerecorded informational calls to residential landlines. As discussed below, the inconsistency is almost certainly the result of a drafting error.

The relevant terms of the TRACED Act state that the FCC must ensure that any exemptions to Section 227(b)(2)(B) or (C) of the TCPA include specific limits on “the number of such calls that may be made to a particular called party.” Dec. 2020 FCC Order ¶ 2 (citing TRACED Act, Pub. L. No. 116-105, 133 Stat. 3274, § 8 (2019)). The December 2020 FCC Order amends 47 C.F.R. § 64.1200(a)(3)(ii)-(iii) to limit the number of calls that a caller can make to a residential landline under the exemption for “informational” calls to three such calls within any thirty-day period.

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Is Florida Queasy About Creasy?

On the same day last week, two different judges in the Middle District of Florida issued divergent decisions regarding the effect of the Supreme Court’s holding in Barr v. AAPC, 140 S. Ct. 2335, 2347 (2020). One followed the Eastern District of Louisiana’s groundbreaking decision in Creasy v. Charter Communications and the Northern District of Ohio’s subsequent decision Lindenbaum v. Realgy. But the other is notable because it broke with those decisions, marking the first time a court has rejected them. Compare Hussain v. Sullivan Buick Cadillac-GMC Truck, No. 20-0038, 2020 WL 7346536 (M.D. Fla. Dec. 11, 2020) (following Creasy) with Abramson v. Fed. Ins. Co., No. 19-2523, 2020 WL 7318953 (M.D. Fla. Dec. 11, 2020) (rejecting Creasy).

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District Court Decertifies TCPA Class Due to Consent Issues

The Central District of California recently decertified a class of TCPA plaintiffs because consent issues were so individualized that the plaintiffs could not satisfy the predominance requirement. Trenz v. On-Line Administrators, Inc., No. 15-8356, 2020 WL 5823565 (C.D. Cal. Aug. 10, 2020). The case highlights that a defendant can defeat certification by showing that class members provided their numbers in different “transactional contexts,” which can give rise to individualized issues regarding the existence and scope of consent.

In 2008, Volkswagen Group of America, Inc. (“Volkswagen”) launched its Target and Retain Aftersales Customers (“TRAC”) program. Id. at *1. Through this program, it paid for over 900 dealerships across the country to retain Peak Performance Marketing Solutions, Inc. (“Peak”) to place service reminder calls to their customers. Id. A class action alleging the use of autodialers and automated voices to make calls without the plaintiff’s consent eventually followed. Id.

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Supreme Court To Hear Facebook ATDS Argument on December 8th

On September 16, the U.S. Supreme Court announced that it will conduct a telephonic oral argument for the Facebook, Inc. v. Duguid matter on December 8, 2020. As regular readers of our blog know, the Supreme Court granted Facebook, Inc.’s petition for certiorari in July and agreed to review the Ninth Circuit’s decision to reverse the dismissal of TCPA claims related to Facebook’s automated security text messages. The case promises to resolve the growing circuit split regarding the definition of an ATDS. We will provide continuing coverage of the Facebook case as it moves towards oral argument.

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Court Issues Sua Sponte Dismissal of Serial Plaintiff’s Complaint

The Eastern District of Pennsylvania recently dismissed a serial TCPA plaintiff’s complaint sua sponte because the court concluded that it did not have personal jurisdiction over the defendant. Perrong v. REWeb Real Estate, LLC, No. CV 19-4228, 2020 WL 4924533 (E.D. Pa. Aug. 21, 2020).  The case demonstrates that courts are becoming increasingly frustrated with “professional plaintiffs” who repeatedly file TCPA claims against businesses and pressure them “to settle independent of the merits of the case.” Id. at *3.

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Court Applies the Seventh Circuit’s Gadelhak Decision and Grants Summary Judgment Against Certified Class

The Southern District of Indiana recently entered summary judgment against a certified class of TCPA plaintiffs because it concluded that defendants’ SoundBite platform did not qualify as an ATDS under the standard the Seventh Circuit recently established in Gadelhak v. AT&T Services, Inc., 950 F.3d 458, 460 (7th Cir. 2020).  Lanteri v. Credit Prot. Ass’n, L.P., No. 13-cv-01501, 2020 WL 3200076, *8 (S.D. Ind. June 15, 2020).  Our previous coverage of Gadelhak can be found here.  The Lanteri v. Credit Protection Association, L.P. decision illustrates that Gadelhak provides defendants facing TCPA claims in the Seventh Circuit with strong defenses to ATDS allegations.

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Court Enters Summary Judgment Against Plaintiff, Finds No Triable Issues Regarding Revocation of Consent

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.

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Seventh Circuit Remands $280 Million TCPA Penalty Against DISH Network, LLC

The Seventh Circuit recently issued an opinion with significant implications for defendants evaluating the prospects for due process challenges to awards of statutory damages under the TCPA, as well as defendants facing claims of agency liability for the acts of their vendors or contractors. In an opinion by Judge Easterbrook, the Seventh Circuit ordered the District Court to reexamine a “whopping” $280 million penalty against DISH Network, LLC (“DISH”) for violations of the TCPA, the Telemarketing Sales Rule, 16 C.F.R. § 310 (the “Rule”), and related state laws. U.S. v. DISH Network, LLC, 2020 WL 141844, at *8 (7th Cir. Mar. 26, 2020). Although the Seventh Circuit suggested in dicta that the damages award was constitutionally acceptable, it held that the District Court erred because it only considered DISH’s “ability to pay” when calculating the award. Id. The court stated that the analysis should “start from harm rather than wealth, then add an appropriate multiplier.” Id.

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