Professional Plaintiff Who Manufactured Claims Can Sue But Can’t Represent Class

A recent denial of a professional plaintiff’s motion for class certification shows that, irrespective of whether such plaintiffs have standing to sue on their own behalf, courts are increasingly skeptical that contrived claims are amenable to class treatment. See Hirsch v. USHealth Advisors, LLC, No. 4:18-CV-00245-P, 2020 WL 7186380, at *1 (N.D. Tex. Dec. 7, 2020).

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What’s in a Name? Not a Certified Class

The Tenth Circuit kicked off the holiday season with a little TCPA humor. In Rivera v. Exeter Finance Corp., No. 20-1031, 2020 WL 6844032, at *1 (10th Cir. Nov. 23, 2020), the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals was confronted with a case about “[p]esky robocalls: we all get them, we all hate them, and yet we cannot seem to get rid of them, no matter how many times we unsubscribe, hang up, or share choice words with the machine on the other end of the line.” The plaintiff evidently “share[d] this sentiment” with Justices Tymkovich, Briscoe, and Murphy, but also figured that he was “not the only one suffering from [defendant]’s vexatious robocalls” and brought a putative class action. Id.

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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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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 Denies Class Certification in a TCPA Case for Lack of Numerosity and Predominance Despite Millions of Automated Calls

Recently, the Northern District of California joined other courts in more closely scrutinizing class certification motions in TCPA cases. In a case involving an automated phone call by a loan servicer regarding Plaintiff’s student loans, the district court held that the Plaintiff had failed to present evidence to satisfy Rule 23(a)’s numerosity requirement, even though the defendant had made millions of automated calls to millions of customers. Plaintiff also failed to satisfy Rules 23(b)(3) and (b)(2). The class failed under Rule 23(b)(3) because Plaintiff did not show that common questions predominated as to the consent defense and failed under Rule 23(b)(2) because Plaintiff primarily sought statutory damages rather than an injunction. Silver v. Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency, No. 14-cv-00652, 2020 WL 607054 (N.D. Cal. Feb. 7, 2020).

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Court Denies Class Certification Due to Plaintiff’s Lack of Objective Criteria and Lack of Evidence

The Western District of Michigan recently denied a motion to certify a class after holding that the class was not ascertainable and the plaintiff had not offered persuasive evidence in support of the motion. Visser v. Caribbean Cruise Line, Inc., No. 13-1029, 2020 WL 415845 (W.D. Mich. Jan. 27, 2020).

The plaintiff alleged that Caribbean Cruise Line had violated the TCPA by using either an ATDS or an artificial or prerecorded voice without his prior consent. Specifically, he alleged that the call began with a prerecorded message that was followed by a live person who told him that he had won a free all-inclusive cruise. The plaintiff stated the caller told him that he had entered his phone number into a website called “leadpile.com.” Not believing this was true, the plaintiff told the caller that he had questions about the cruise. The caller then transferred the plaintiff to an agent who answered Plaintiff’s questions and provided details about the cruise.

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Court Finds That Some Soundboard Calls Can Qualify As “Prerecorded Voice” Calls, At Least When They Do Not “Interact With the Customer Except In Preprogrammed And Meaningless Ways”

As we previously discussed, the need for clarification as to the TCPA’s treatment of outbound calls made using soundboard technology (“soundboard calls”) is particularly manifest in light of two pending petitions before the FCC and the Supreme Court’s refusal to review the FTC’s decision to treat soundboard calls as robocalls subject to the Telemarketing Sales Rules. [See here and here].  Plaintiffs have sought to exploit the uncertainty; a spate of lawsuits contend that soundboard calls are prerecorded calls prohibited by the TCPA if made without prior consent.  Recently, the Western District of Oklahoma attempted to set a standard for the permissibility of these calls, but the decision may only engender more uncertainty. While professing that soundboard calls are not “categorically prohibited,” the court’s ruling fails to provide a roadmap for what types of soundboard calls would be permissible, beyond stating that a “soundboard call which did not interact with the customer except in preprogrammed not to mention meaningless ways” violated the TCPA.

Soundboard technology allows call center agents to interact with consumers on a real-time basis using a combination of audio clips and the agent’s own voice.  Because a live agent selects the audio clips to play based on the statements made by the called party, companies using or offering the technology have argued that these calls feature a degree of human interaction that means they should not be considered “prerecorded calls” subject to the consent requirements of the TCPA.

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Court Denies Atypical Plaintiff’s Motion to Certify Unascertainable Fail-Safe Class

The Middle District of Florida has denied a motion for class certification, finding the proposed class definition would have created a fail-safe class, the class members were not ascertainable, and the plaintiff’s claims were not typical of the class. Fennell v. Navient Solutions, LLC, No. 17-2083, 2019 WL 3854815, at *2 (M.D. Fla. 2019)

The plaintiff in Fennell alleged that, despite her revocation of consent, Navient had used an ATDS to repeatedly call her to collect a debt. Id. at *1. In response, Navient argued that, although it had used predictive dialers to call other people, it had not used that equipment to call the plaintiff because her delinquent loans had been assigned to Navient’s “Cures Unit,” which only made calls through manual dialing. Id. at *1, *2.

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Federal Court Reverses Course and Decertifies Settlement Class

After preliminarily approving a TCPA settlement arising out of allegedly unsolicited faxes, the Middle District of Florida recently reversed course and rejected the settlement in light of the Eleventh Circuit’s finding that the district court had erred in denying a new party’s request to intervene. See Tech. Training Assocs., Inc. v. Buccaneers Ltd. P’ship, No. 16-1622, 2019 WL 4751799 (M.D. Fla. Sept. 30, 2019).

The plaintiffs (Technology Training Associates, Inc. and Back to Basics Family Chiropractic) sued the defendant (Buccaneers Limited Partnership) after they received allegedly unsolicited faxes offering Tampa Bay Buccaneers tickets. The plaintiffs further alleged that the faxes did not comply with the TCPA because they did not include the required opt-out notice.

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District Court Denies Class Certification Due to Lack of Ascertainability

Recently, the Middle District of Florida denied a motion for class certification, finding that the plaintiff had not sufficiently shown that the putative classes were ascertainable. Sliwa v. Bright House Networks, LLC & Advanced Telesolutions, Inc., No. 16-0235, 2019 WL 4744938 (M.D. Fla. Sept. 27, 2019).

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