Taking Side on Circuit-Splitting Issue, Texas District Court Holds that Facebook Promotional Texts Were Not Sent Using ATDS

The Western District of Texas recently dismissed with prejudice a TCPA suit against Facebook brought by Colin Suttles, an individual who claimed he received thirty-two unsolicited texts from the company encouraging him to visit Facebook.com. Suttles v. Facebook, Inc., No. 1:18-CV-1004, at 2 (W.D. Tex. May 20, 2020).

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Southern District of Florida Court Holds that TCPA Plaintiff is Not the “Called-Party” Due to Call Forwarding

A court in the Southern District of Florida recently held that the plaintiff in a TCPA suit was not the “called party” under the statute because he received the calls in question only because his cousin rerouted them to the plaintiff’s phone. Thompson v. Portfolio Recovery Associates, LLC, No. 19-62220 (S.D. Fla. Apr. 25, 2020).

In Thompson v. Portfolio Recovery Associates, LLC, Plaintiff Andrew Thompson brought a TCPA suit against PRA—a debt collection company—for seventeen calls made to the Plaintiff’s cousin’s VoIP number that were automatically rerouted by the Plaintiff’s cousin to Plaintiff’s phone and answered by Plaintiff.

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District of New Jersey Adopts Narrow ATDS Definition as Circuit Split Grows; Supreme Court Clarification Required

As readers of this blog know, a robust Circuit split has developed regarding the meaning of an ATDS. The Second and Ninth Circuits have taken one approach, while the Third, Seventh, and Eleventh Circuits have taken another. While we await Supreme Court guidance, lower courts continue to grapple with the ATDS issue. In Eisenband v. Pine Belt Automotive, Inc., No. 17-8549 (FLW) (LHG), 2020 WL 1486045 (D.N.J. Mar. 27, 2020), the District of New Jersey analyzed the definition of an ATDS and concluded that equipment that dials numbers from a manually prepared list  does not constitute an ATDS.

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Supreme Court Holds Oral Argument via Teleconference in Barr v. American Association of Political Consultants

On May 6, 2020, the Supreme Court held oral argument via teleconference in Barr v. American Association of Political Consultants. The argument focused on the two questions presented in Barr.  First, whether the Telephone Consumer Protection Act’s (TCPA) government debt exception is an unconstitutional content-based restriction on speech. And second, if the government debt exception is unconstitutional, whether the remedy is to sever the exception or instead strike the TCPA’s restrictions on automated telephone equipment in their entirety. A recording of the argument is available below (audio begins at the :30 mark) and a transcript is available on the Supreme Court website.

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Second Circuit Joins Ninth Circuit in Adopting Expansive Interpretation of ATDS, But Carves Out Smartphones

In a decision released on April 7, the Second Circuit joined the Ninth Circuit in adopting an expansive interpretation of what qualifies as an Automatic Telephone Dialing System (ATDS), finding that online texting platforms that use human-generated lists and require a human to click “send” on a screen to initiate the texts falls within the statutory definition. Duran v. La Boom Disco, Inc., No. 19-600, 2020 WL 1682773, at *8–9 (2d Cir. Apr. 7, 2020). In an effort to respond to expected critics of their approach, the court explained its view of why “so-called smartphones” and other modern devices do not qualify as an ATDS despite having similar functionality to the online texting platforms at issue (the ability to store a list of numbers and to dial them by simply clicking “send”). Id. at *8 n.39. The decision deepens the divide between circuit courts on what qualifies as an ATDS.

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District of Massachusetts Grants Dismissal of Threadbare ATDS Claims

The U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts recently granted a TCPA defendant’s motion to dismiss, in part, because the plaintiff failed to allege plausible facts supporting an assertion that the defendant, QuoteWizard, used an ATDS to send two text messages to his phone. Mantha v. QuoteWizard.com, LLC, No. 19-cv-12235, 2020 WL 1274178 (D. Mass. Mar. 16, 2020). The case highlights an important point, namely that defendants can still prevail on ATDS-related claims at the motion to dismiss stage, even despite a recent decision from the jurisdiction applying the expansive definition of an ATDS from the Ninth Circuit’s opinion in Marks v. Crunch San Diego, LLC, 904 F.3d 1041, 1043 (9th Cir. 2018). See, e.g., Gonzalez v. HOSPO Corp., 371 F. Supp. 3d 26, 34 (D. Mass. 2019) (applying the Marks definition of an ATDS).

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Seventh Circuit Disagrees with Ninth Circuit and Joins the Third and Eleventh Circuit in Adopting a Narrow Interpretation of ATDS

In a decision released on February 19 that relied principally on rules of grammar, the Seventh Circuit held that to be an ATDS under the TCPA, a device must be capable of storing or producing telephone numbers using a random or sequential number generator, not merely capable of storing numbers. Gadelhak v. AT&T Services, Inc., No. 19-1738 (7th Cir. Feb. 19, 2020). As such, it affirmed the District Court’s decision (albeit based on a different interpretation of the TCPA) that granted summary judgment in favor of AT&T where AT&T’s customer management tool “dials numbers only from a customer database.” In so holding, the Seventh Circuit joined the Third Circuit’s and the Eleventh Circuit’s (which we blogged about here) narrow interpretation of ATDS and widened the split with the Ninth Circuit’s expansive interpretation. Compare Glasser v. Hilton Grand Vacations Co., 2020 WL 415811 (11th Cir. Jan. 27, 2020) & Dominguez v. Yahoo, Inc., 894 F.3d 116, 119 (3d Cir. 2018) with Marks v. Crunch San Diego, 904 F.3d 1041 (9th Cir. 2018).

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Eleventh Circuit Narrows ATDS Definition

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.

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Supreme Court Agrees To Review The Constitutionality of the TCPA

Given how often TCPA cases are filed—and how often they push the envelope of the statute’s scope and the courts’ jurisdiction—it should come as no surprise that the Supreme Court is often asked to bring some sanity to the statute’s enforcement.  Last year was no exception.

For example, a plaintiff petitioned the Supreme Court to reverse the Third Circuit’s decision that facsimiles that merely ask to confirm contact information are not “advertisements” for purposes of the TCPA.  Such facsimiles are advertisements, the plaintiff had argued, because businesses send them “to enhance the accuracy of their database and thus increase their profits.”  That may be so, the Third Circuit held, but that does not mean that they qualify as “advertisements” that promote goods or services.  “After all,” the court observed, “a commercial entity takes almost all of its actions with a profit motivation.”  The Supreme Court declined to review that decision in November.  See Robert W. Mauthe, M.D., P.C. v. Optum, Inc., No. 19-413, 2019 WL 6257433 (U.S. Nov. 25 2019).

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