As we have reported on here, here, here, and here, a growing number of district courts are issuing opinions addressing whether they have subject matter jurisdiction over TCPA claims alleging robocall violations that occurred when the government debt exception invalidated by Barr v. APPC, 140 S. Ct. 2335 (2020), was part of the statute. The Eastern District of California recently added to this line of cases, joining courts that have held that “the TCPA remains enforceable, at least against non-government debt collectors, as to calls made between November 2015 and July 6, 2020.” See Stoutt v Travis Credit Union, No. 2:20-cv-01280, 2021 WL 99636, at *3 (E.D. Cal. Jan. 12, 2021).
A district court from the Central District of California cast its lot against the growing argument that federal courts lack jurisdiction over TCPA claims based on conduct that occurred when the government debt exception was part of the statute. See Shen v. Tricolor California Auto Group, LLC, No. 20-7419, 2020 WL 7705888, at *1 (C.D. Cal. Dec. 17, 2020).
As our regular readers know, the government debt exception—a relatively new addition to the TCPA—was recently severed from the statute by the Supreme Court’s decision in Barr v. AAPC. Since, several federal district courts have questioned whether they may enforce the statute as to claims based on conduct that allegedly occurred while the exception was part of the statute, i.e. from November 2, 2015 through July 6, 2020. Most notably, the Eastern District of Louisiana concluded in Creasy v. Charter Communications that the Barr decision held that the TCPA was unconstitutional in its entirety during the pendency of the exception, that courts lack authority to enforce a constitutional statute, and that courts therefore cannot hear claims based on conduct during that period.
On the same day last week, two different judges in the Middle District of Florida issued divergent decisions regarding the effect of the Supreme Court’s holding in Barr v. AAPC, 140 S. Ct. 2335, 2347 (2020). One followed the Eastern District of Louisiana’s groundbreaking decision in Creasy v. Charter Communications and the Northern District of Ohio’s subsequent decision Lindenbaum v. Realgy. But the other is notable because it broke with those decisions, marking the first time a court has rejected them. Compare Hussain v. Sullivan Buick Cadillac-GMC Truck, No. 20-0038, 2020 WL 7346536 (M.D. Fla. Dec. 11, 2020) (following Creasy) with Abramson v. Fed. Ins. Co., No. 19-2523, 2020 WL 7318953 (M.D. Fla. Dec. 11, 2020) (rejecting Creasy).
A few weeks ago, the Eastern District of Louisiana held that courts cannot impose liability under Sections 227(b)(1)(A) or (b)(1)(B) of the TCPA for calls that were made before the Supreme Court cured those provisions’ unconstitutionality by severing their debt collection exemptions. The first-of-its-kind decision reasoned that courts cannot enforce unconstitutional laws, and severing the statute applied prospectively, not retroactively. Plaintiffs privately panicked but publicly proclaimed that the Creasy decision was “odd” and would not be followed.
Charter Communications may have just helped literally thousands of TCPA defendants snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.
As our regular readers know, the Supreme Court recently held in Barr v. AAPC that a recent addition to the TCPA—specifically, an exemption for calls to collect federal debts—was a content-based regulation of speech that violated the First Amendment. It then severed that exception from the rest of the statute, and in doing so dashed the hopes of defendants that had advocated for invalidating all of 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.
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.
The Supreme Court announced today that it will hold oral argument via teleconference for Barr v. American Association of Political Consultants and a number of other cases that have come before it this term. The Barr case poses two questions about the TCPA: First, whether the TCPA’s exception for calls regarding “debt owed to or guaranteed by” the United States is an unconstitutional content-based restriction on speech; and second, if the government-debt exception is indeed unconstitutional, whether the proper remedy is simply to sever that exception, or instead to strike the statute’s restrictions on automated telephone equipment in their entirety. The Court’s willingness to conduct remote oral argument for Barr indicates a desire to decide the case before the end of the current term.
Oral argument for Barr is to be held at some point in May, depending on the availability of counsel. The Court plans to broadcast a live audio feed of the oral argument.
On April 1, 2020, nine amicus briefs were filed in Barr, et al. v. American Association of Political Consultants, et al., currently pending in the Supreme Court, in support of an attempt to invalidate the TCPA’s ban on autodialed calls and texts to cellphones. The ban generally restricts persons or entities from placing automated calls or texts to cell phones without the recipients’ prior express consent. A host of businesses and associations affected by the ban—including Facebook and businesses from the energy, financial services, and tech industries—filed the amicus briefs and argued the TCPA’s blanket ban on autodialed calls and texts to cell phones should be struck down.
TCPA Blog’s Mike Daly was quoted in a Law360 article analyzing the potential impact of the Supreme Court’s decision to review the constitutionality of the TCPA’s restrictions on the use of automatic telephone equipment.