The explosion of litigation under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (“TCPA”) has continued through the second quarter of 2017. Businesses have been anxiously awaiting a ruling from the D.C. Circuit in the appeal of the Federal Communications Commission’s (“FCC”) July 2015 Declaratory Ruling and Order as well as reforms from the FCC itself. As the wait continues, promising developments have been emerging from the courts. On June 22, 2017, the Second Circuit—in a common sense and practical opinion in Reyes v. Lincoln Auto. Fin. Servs., No. 16-2104 (2d Cir.)—acknowledged that contract is king and that a party cannot unilaterally modify its terms. In affirming summary judgment in favor of the defendant, the court cited the Restatement (Second) of Contracts and explained that “[i]t is black letter law that one party may not alter a bilateral contract by revoking a term without the consent of a counterparty.” Its opinion in this TCPA action has significant implications for businesses that have standard contracts with their customers. And it is a welcome step in the right direction. Continue reading
In TCPA Blog’s latest column for Law360, Mike Daly and Meredith Slawe discuss the “unrelenting” pace of TCPA litigation in 2017, particularly claims targeting retail text message programs. They discuss the FCC’s rulings on number of issues and explore the different approaches of the previous administration and the current administration under Chairman Ajit Pai. They also recount what Chairman Pai has described as the “ridiculous lengths” to which some plaintiffs have gone to exploit the TCPA:
That was, if anything, an understatement. Some plaintiffs have taken to buying phones and requesting area codes for regions where debt collection calls are common, hiring staff to log calls in order to file hundreds of lawsuits, porting a repeating digit phone number from a landline to a cellphone, asking employees to text ‘JOIN’ to unknown company numbers, and even teaching classes on how to sue telemarketers. Others have sent demand letters after purporting to revoke their consent—often moments after enrolling in a text program—by using anything other than the obvious word “stop.” These plaintiffs will receive text advising them that they can opt out by texting “stop” but will try to trap businesses by responding with unorthodox synonyms such as “cease,” “desist,” “refrain,” or “halt,” which will not trigger many opt-out mechanisms. Responses such as these are not even believable, let alone “reasonable.” And the certification of a class of such people would be inappropriate for a whole host of reasons. But plaintiffs know that defending even these claims would not be without cost or inconvenience, and businesses continue to receive demand letters every day.
They conclude that, “[i]n the absence of meaningful congressional or regulatory reform and as we await a ruling from the D.C. Circuit on the proper interpretation of the statute, retailers should continue to mitigate their TCPA risk by observing best practices and engaging in active vendor management.”
On July 10, 2015, a sharply divided FCC issued a Declaratory Ruling and Order (the “July 2015 Order”) that missed the mark. The July 2015 Order purported to expand the scope of the TCPA through its unsupported redefinition of an “automatic telephone dialing system,” create an untenable one call “safe harbor” for reassigned number liability, and permit parties to revoke consent through any “reasonable” means. The July 2015 Order is presently on appeal in the D.C. Circuit, and there is hope that the Court, which heard argument on October 19, 2016, will undo its pronouncements, which have had broad implications for businesses that place calls and send text messages to consumers for telemarketing or informational purposes. These companies have faced potentially crushing liability through a huge wave of TCPA actions (both proposed class actions and individual claims) as well as pre-suit demands, many of which have been initiated by opportunistic plaintiffs’ lawyers and serial plaintiffs. Continue reading
TCPA Blog’s Michael Daly and Meredith Slawe were recently quoted in the Law360 article, “3 Factors to Weigh in Deciding to Fight or Fold TCPA Suits.” They explained that “[t]he best approach to defending TCPA cases is to master the facts of each case as early as possible and map out multiple paths to victory. Oftentimes, the smallest details can mean the difference between whether or not a call qualifies as ‘telemarketing’ or a consumer provided ‘consent’ or equipment qualifies as an ‘automatic telephone dialing system.’” The remainder of the article examines other factors from both plaintiffs’ and defendants’ perspectives.
A much-anticipated TCPA class action trial was set to begin next week in Birchmeier et al. v. Caribbean Cruise Line Inc., et al., in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. According to published reports, however, a class-wide settlement was reached yesterday in this protracted litigation with a history of controversial rulings by the District Court.
Under the terms of the agreement, defendants will pay in the range of $56-$76 million, to settle the claims of class including approximately one million people who received robocalls from defendants in 2011-2012. Class members will reportedly receive $500 for each call received, with the total amount paid to be determined based on how many claims are made.
The case has a long history, including controversial decisions by the District Court to certify the class in 2014, and a decision earlier this year to maintain certification despite the United States Supreme Court’s affirmation in Spokeo v. Robins that a mere statutory violation does not support Article III jurisdiction. The upcoming trial, which had been scheduled to begin on September 12, 2016, appeared to mark one of the few instances in which a TCPA class action would be resolved through trial and potential appeal.
While specific details are yet to arrive, this settlement illustrates the very real risks of TCPA class action litigation given the current uncertainty of the law. While the outcome at settlement is perhaps unique to this litigation, in part due to the District Court’s decisions to this point, further clarity on these key issues arising under the statute remains much needed.
In TCPA Blog’s latest Law360 column, Mike Daly, Meredith Slawe, and Dan Brewer discuss why courts should temporarily stay TCPA cases pending the regulatory appeal of the FCC’s July 10, 2015 Order, which is set for oral argument before the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit on October 19, 2016. The article addresses the flaw in plaintiffs’ argument that they are prejudiced while awaiting a decision: Continue reading
Yesterday, the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit scheduled oral argument for October 19, 2016 at 9:30 a.m. in the consolidated appeal from the FCC’s July 10, 2015 Declaratory Ruling and Order (“Order”). As we previously reported, ACA International filed the first petition for review on the same day the Order was issued. That and subsequent appeals were centralized in the D.C. Circuit by the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation. The Joint Petitioners filed their opening brief on November 25, 2015, Rite Aid filed a separate brief the same day that focused on healthcare-related issues, the FCC responded to both briefs on January 15, 2016, and the parties filed final briefs on February 24, 2016. Continue reading
Following up on our March 9 reminder, and just in time for Super Tuesday II, the Federal Communications Commission’s Enforcement Bureau issued an Enforcement Advisory on March 14 titled, “Biennial Reminder for Political Campaigns about Robocall and Text Abuse.” The advisory (similar to past advisories) is a reminder to “political campaigns and calling services that there are clear limits on the use of autodialed calls or texts (known as ‘robocalls’) and prerecorded voice calls.” The advisory summarizes the TCPA’s regulations on (1) calls to cell phones, (2) calls to landlines, (3) identification requirements for prerecorded voice messages, and (4) “line seizure” restrictions. The advisory also includes an “At a Glance” summary of regulations as applied to Political Calls and a series of Frequently Asked Questions with contact information for the Enforcement Bureau for those who have unanswered questions or lingering concerns. Continue reading
With election season under way, it bears repeating that candidates for office are not immune from the restrictions imposed by the TCPA. As the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau explained in an advisory that we discussed previously here, while “[p]olitical prerecorded voice messages or autodialed calls—whether live or prerecorded—to most landline telephones are not prohibited, so long as they adhere to the identification requirements” mandated for all prerecorded messages, the “broad prohibition” on calls to cell phones and other specific types of phone numbers (e.g., health care/emergency lines) “covers prerecorded voice and autodialed political calls, including those sent by nonprofit/political organizations.” Candidates (or their supporters) who are not aware of the TCPA (or confused about the difference between the restrictions on informational calls to cellular phones versus such calls to residential landlines and not aware of the difficulties in managing recycled number issues) risk finding their campaign embroiled in litigation, as evidenced by a new TCPA filing last week. Continue reading
On Friday, January 15, 2016, the Federal Communications Commission filed its response to the arguments of the joint Petitioners in the consolidated appeal from its July 10, 2015 Omnibus Ruling. The Commission’s brief addresses the scope of its statutory authority, the definition of an “automatic telephone dialing system” (“ATDS”), the meaning of “called party” and the potential liability for calls to recycled numbers, the ability to revoke consent, healthcare-related calls and the emergency purpose exception, and First Amendment challenges to the Commission’s interpretations of the statute. Its main arguments are summarized below.