The First Amendment Battleground: SCOTUS Asked to Review Two Ninth Circuit Decisions on the Constitutionality of the TCPA

In the span of fifteen days, TCPA defendants in two separate cases asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review two distinct but interwoven Ninth Circuit decisions on the constitutionality of the TCPA. Specifically, Facebook, Inc. and Charter Communications, Inc. are each asking the Court to rule that the TCPA’s prohibitions on calls made using an ATDS or an artificial or prerecorded voice contravene the First Amendment because they are “content-based” restrictions on speech and that the Ninth Circuit erred in “remedying” the constitutional violation—by severing the TCPA’s exemption for calls made to collect a government debt—rather than invalidating the entire statute. Facebook, Inc. v. Duguid, Petition for Writ of Certiorari, No. 19-511 (Oct. 17, 2019) (“Facebook Petition”); Charter Commc’ns, Inc. v. Gallion, Petition for Writ of Certiorari, No. 19-575 (Nov. 1, 2019) (“Charter Petition”). The two cases represent the most recent escalation of the growing trend in litigation challenging the TCPA’s ability to withstand First Amendment scrutiny.

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As Courts Grapple With The Severability of The Federal Debt-Collection Exemption, SCOTUS Is Asked to Resolve The Issue

The 2016 amendments to the TCPA—which created an exemption for calls that are made “solely to collect a debt owed to or guaranteed by the United States”—have inadvertently reshaped the way that TCPA claims are litigated. While early decisions in Indiana, Alabama, and Florida rejected claims under the FCC’s proposed implementing rules because they never became effective, more recent decisions have focused on whether the exemption, and by extension the entire statute, violates the First Amendment.  The first of those was the Fourth Circuit’s decision in American Association of Political Consultants v. FCC, which was soon followed by the Ninth Circuit and the Southern District of Florida.

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Fourth Circuit Expands Liability by Striking Federal Debt Exemption—But Not Entire TCPA—on First Amendment Grounds

Just as political campaign season begins to heat up, the Fourth Circuit has delivered what must be an unsatisfying victory to a group of political consultants, pollsters, and organizations that had challenged the constitutionality of the TCPA on First Amendment grounds. Am. Ass’n of Political Consultants, Inc. v. FCC, No. 18-1588 (4th Cir. Apr. 24, 2019). Although the challenge had been brought by political groups, the Fourth Circuit’s decision has wide-ranging implications for organizations that collect federal debts. Indeed, the Fourth Circuit may have handed an unexpected gift to the plaintiffs’ bar.   Continue reading   »

Northern District of California Rejects First Amendment Challenge to the TCPA

A federal judge in the Northern District of California recently denied a motion to dismiss a putative class action accusing Facebook of violating the TCPA by sending text messages reminding users about their friends’ birthdays. In so doing, the court rejected Facebook’s First Amendment challenge and found that the TPCA survived strict scrutiny. Brickman v. Facebook, Inc., No. 16-0751, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 11849 (C.D. Cal. Jan. 27, 2017).  Continue reading   »

Seventh Circuit Rejects Political Speech Challenge to Indiana’s Anti-Robocall Statute

We’ve previously discussed First Amendment challenges to the TCPA and state law counterparts in the context of political speech here, here, and here. Recently, the Seventh Circuit rejected a nonprofit group’s argument that Indiana’s anti-robocall statute violated the First Amendment because it did not exempt robocalls involving political speech. Patriotic Veterans, Inc. v. Zoller, No. 16-2059, 2017 U.S.App. LEXIS 47 (Jan. 3, 2017). Continue reading   »

First Amendment Protects Automated Calls Made for Political Campaigns in Arkansas

As we’ve previously discussed, while First Amendment challenges to the TCPA have largely been unsuccessful, First Amendment challenges to restrictions on calls or texts made in connection with political campaigns may fare differently. Further evidence of this distinction came last week, when a district court in the Eastern District of Arkansas declared Arkansas’s restriction on using automated or prerecorded  telephone calls to “‘solicit[] information, gather[] data, or for any other purpose in connection with a political campaign’” unconstitutional as “a content-based regulation that does not survive strict scrutiny.” Gresham v. Rutledge, No. 16cv241, 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 97964, at *2-3 (E.D. Ark. July 27, 2016) (quoting Ark. Code Ann. § 5-63-204(a)(1)). Continue reading   »

The TCPA As Great Uniter? Democrats and Tea Party Republicans Join Forces, File Suit Seeking To Have The TCPA Declared Unconstitutional

Friday afternoons typically see a high volume of notices of new TCPA complaints. Those complaints usually offer little variation: while the names of the parties and counsel sometimes change, they all typically name businesses as defendants and challenge their compliance with the TCPA. Friday, May 13th was no different, except in one key respect: one of those new complaints names Attorney General Loretta Lynch as the defendant and challenges the TCPA itself. Continue reading   »

The Big Chill: How The FCC’s Reading Of The TCPA Violates The First Amendment And Demands The Impossible

As the defense bar’s preeminent public resource on TCPA litigation and regulation, TCPA Blog has been invited to contribute a regular column to Law360. In the first such column, Bradley Andreozzi, Michael Daly, and Justin Kay discuss how the FCC’s interpretations of the TCPA violate the First Amendment rights. They write:

For an agency charged with regulating communications, the Federal Communications Commission has shown itself to be remarkably indifferent to First Amendment rights. In its recent brief in the consolidated appeal from its July 2015 omnibus ruling on the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, the FCC blandly assured the D.C. Circuit that “[e]very court” has held that the TCPA’s restrictions “easily pass muster under the First Amendment.” FCC Brief at 73-74. But it all but ignored that, rather than “directly challenge the TCPA’s constitutionality,” the petitioners in that appeal challenge the FCC’s “interpretations of the statute.” Id. at 72-73. On that issue, the D.C. Circuit will be writing on a clean slate, and the First Amendment challenges are serious.

They then highlight three serious First Amendment concerns, specifically that the FCC’s: (1) healthcare exemption restricts necessary speech; (2) recycled numbers ruling demands the impossible; and (3) ATDS interpretation is unconstitutionally vague.

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