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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.