Seventh Circuit Affirms District Court Ruling That TCPA Fax Regulations Are Not Strict Liability

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On March 21, 2016, the Seventh Circuit issued its decision in Bridgeview Health Care Ctr., Ltd. v. Clark, Nos. 14-3728 & 15-1793, holding that agency rules apply to determine whether a fax is sent “on behalf of” a principal and affirming the district court’s decision that the defendant was liable only for those faxes he authorized.

As previously reported, the lead issue on appeal in this fax-based TCPA case involved whether a defendant is liable for all faxes sent by the fax broadcaster or another third party, or only for those faxes the fax broadcaster or third party was authorized by the defendant to send (in this case, only within a 20-mile radius of the defendant’s businesses).  The district court held that because the TCPA is not a strict liability statute, a totality of the circumstances approach “assessing a variety of factors surrounding a defendant’s role in providing direction to a third party” must be used to determine whether a defendant is liable as a “sender” of the fax for purposes of the TCPA. Bridgeview Health Care Ctr., Ltd. v. Clark, 09cv5601, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 45710, at *20-21 (N.D. Ill. Apr. 8, 2015).  After evaluating those factors, the district court found that the defendant was only liable for the faxes sent within geographic radius he authorized. Id. at *21-22. Continue reading

FCC Releases Order Denying Club Texting’s 2009 Petition on Text Broadcaster Liability Standards

On January 11, 2016, the FCC’s Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau (“Bureau”) acted on a petition filed in 2009, and denied Club Texting, Inc.’s (“Club Texting”) petition for declaratory ruling, which asked the FCC to clarify that text broadcasters are subject to the same TCPA liability standard as that applied to fax broadcasters. See In the Matter of Rules and Regulations Implementing the Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991; Petition of Club Texting, Inc. for Declaratory Ruling, Order, CG Docket 02-278 (Jan. 11, 2016) (“Jan. 11 Order”); see also Club Texting, Inc. Petition for Declaratory Ruling that Text Broadcasters Are Not “Senders of Text Messages Under § 227(b)(1) of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, CG Docket 02-278 (Apr. 25, 2009) (“Club Texting Petition”).

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Who Bears Liability For That Call Or Fax? Courts Continue To Wrestle With Direct And Vicarious Liability

Whenever more than one individual or entity is allegedly involved in the “sending” of a fax or the making of a call or text, two key questions in the litigation are: (i) what must be pleaded to state a claim against each party and (ii) if indeed there was a violation, who bears responsibility for it?

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Illinois Federal Court Follows Eleventh Circuit’s Broad Definition of “Sender” in Blast Fax Case

Through prior posts (see here, here, and here), we have monitored the FCC’s somewhat perplexing distinction between calls and faxes in the context of analyzing direct and vicarious liability under the TCPA. Just two months ago, the FCC’s position, as originally set forth in a letter brief, was adopted by the Eleventh Circuit in Palm Beach Golf Center-Boca, Inc. v. Sarris, 781 F.3d 1245 (11th Cir. 2015) (“Sarris”). The Sarris court held that “a person whose services are advertised in an unsolicited fax transmission, and on whose behalf the fax is transmitted, may be held liable directly” under the TCPA.

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New Jersey Federal Court Rejects FCC’s Dish Network Ruling in Blast Fax Case, Relies on FCC’s Letter Brief in Sarris

As we previously reported, on July 17, 2014, the FCC filed a letter brief in Palm Beach Golf Center-Boca, Inc. v. Sarris, No. 13-14013 (11th Cir.) (“Sarris”), in which it took the position that entities can be held directly liable under the TCPA whenever their products or services are advertised in an unsolicited fax—even if they did not actually send the fax, and even if they did not know the fax was going to be sent. The FCC’s letter brief stood in marked contrast to its decision last year in In re Joint Petition Filed by Dish Network, LLC, 28 F.C.C. Rcd. 6574 (2013) (“Dish Network”), where the FCC had limited direct liability to only “telemarketers” that “initiate” calls, and otherwise applied agency principles to determine whether “sellers” might be vicariously liable for calls made on their behalf. As readers may recall, the FCC’s letter brief does not articulate a policy reason why a “seller” in the voice call context should receive more protection than an entity whose goods and services are promoted through a fax advertisement. But whatever the merits of the letter brief, it has yet to be cited by the Eleventh Circuit (which has heard argument but not yet issued an opinion) or, at least for the past few months, any other court.

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Ninth Circuit Addresses TCPA Text Message Claims

In Gomez v. Campbell-Ewald Co., No. 13-55486, 2014 WL 4654478 (9th Cir. Sept. 19, 2014), a panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals addressed several recurring issues in TCPA litigation, including: the efficacy of Rule 68 offers to moot putative class actions; potential First Amendment defenses; and vicarious liability.

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FCC Letter Brief Suggests That Faxes and Phone Calls are Different for Purposes of Direct Liability Under the TCPA

At the invitation of the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, the FCC recently filed a letter brief in Palm Beach Golf Center-Boca, Inc. v. Sarris, No. 13-14013 (11th Cir.). The letter brief took the position that defendants can be held directly liable any time their products or services are advertised via a fax that violates the TCPA—even if they did not send the fax or even know that it was going to be sent.

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