Independent Contractor vs. Agent under the TCPA

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals went back to the basics in addressing whether a telemarketing vendor acted as defendant’s authorized agent for purposes of TCPA liability. In Jones v. Royal Admin. Servs., Inc., No. 15-17328, 2017 WL 3401317 (9th Cir. Aug. 9, 2017) (“Jones”), the Ninth Circuit endorsed the time-honored multi-factor test set forth in Restatement (Second) Of Agency, and on that basis affirmed the district court’s grant of summary judgment. The decision provides further reassurance that traditional agency principles apply in assessing potential TCPA exposure related to calls.

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District Court Finds a Text Message Sent to Complete a Transaction is Not Telemarketing

As customers increasingly elect text messaging as their preferred means of communication during online ordering, such messages can raise the risk of a potential TCPA claim asserting that the text is “telemarketing” for which the customer did not provide prior express written consent, as required by the statute. A recent and informative decision rejected such a claim, finding that such messages are not telemarketing if they simply “complete a transaction” initiated by the customer. Continue reading   »

Promotion of Company’s Product on a Prohibited Fax Advertisement Held Insufficient to Sue the Company as the “Sender” Under the TCPA

The Eastern District of Michigan recently rejected an expansive interpretation of “sender” liability for unsolicited fax advertisements alleged to violate the TCPA, ruling that the mere inclusion of a company’s products on fax advertisements sent by a third party is not enough, standing alone, to saddle the company with liability for sending the faxes. Rather, to be liable for the faxes, the company must have taken affirmative steps to advertise its products through the faxes. This common-sense ruling, which further aligns Sixth and Seventh Circuit case law on this important issue, should provide ammunition for companies defending TCPA claims based on faxes sent by others in the distribution chain without the authorization or approval of the defendant. The Court also issued another in the litany of recent decisions confirming the limits on personal jurisdiction over foreign corporations. Continue reading   »

Courts Rein In TCPA “Revocation Of Consent” Claims

In TCPA Blog’s latest column for Law360, Mike Daly and Dan Brewer discuss the increasingly common “revocation of consent” claim. After the FCC held that consent can be revoked through “any reasonable method,” businesses found themselves struggling to comply with that directive, and plaintiffs found themselves with yet another “gotcha” claim to assert:

The two years that followed the FCC’s ruling have been marked by a dramatic uptick in what had already been a staggering number of TCPA filings, particularly “revocation of consent” claims of the sort predicted by Chairman Pai. Entrepreneurial plaintiffs have even taken to manufacturing such claims by ignoring prompts to text “STOP” and replying instead with “halt,” “cease,” “desist,” “discontinue,” “refrain,” or some other response that is designed to slip through the sender’s automated system for recognizing and registering revocations of consent. Although such contrivances are anything but “reasonable,” plaintiffs know that defending such claims are not without cost or inconvenience, and businesses continue to receive complaints and demand letters every day.

The article then details how a number of courts have started to push back on such claims, for example because the attempt to revoke consent was not “reasonable,” or because consent had been provided in a bilateral contract and therefore could not be unilaterally revoked.

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FCC Proposes $120 Million in Fines for Serial Spoofer and Warns that Spoofer’s TCPA and Wire Fraud Activities Must Cease

At its monthly Open Meeting on June 22, the FCC voted to issue a Notice of Apparent Liability for Forfeiture (NAL) finding that Adrian Abramovich (Abramovich) apparently perpetrated one of the largest spoofed robocall campaigns that the agency has ever investigated. The FCC, through its Enforcement Bureau, concurrently released a separate Citation and Order notifying Abramovich that he also violated the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) as well as the federal wire fraud statute by making these same illegal telemarketing calls to emergency lines, wireless phones, and residential phones, and that the calls included prerecorded messages falsely claimed affiliation with well-known U.S. travel and hotel companies, thus defrauding unsuspecting consumers receiving these calls. Continue reading   »

House Judiciary Subcommittee Holds Hearing on Abusive TCPA Litigation

On Tuesday, June 13, 2017, the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice held a hearing on “Lawsuit Abuse and the Telephone Consumer Protection Act.”

Based on the testimony, statements, and questions at the hearing, it seems that the Subcommittee is in the very early stages of considering possible reforms to the TCPA. Although there is no draft legislation yet, nor even an agreement in principle of what changes to pursue, several members of the Subcommittee—including Subcommittee chairman Steve King and Judiciary Committee chairman Bob Goodlatte—seem committed to find a way to rein in the statute’s disproportionately high social costs while maintaining its core purpose of protecting consumer privacy. Indeed, both Representatives expressed significant concern regarding the concrete harms that the current wave of TCPA litigation is having—injuring businesses trying in good faith to comply with the law; depriving consumers of desired (and, in some cases, sorely needed) communications; and enriching a small cohort in the legal profession who are pursuing their personal profit rather than the welfare of the American consumer. Continue reading   »

D.C. Circuit’s Guidance Still Needed After Recent Decisions on TCPA Pleading Requirements

For years, courts, litigants, and commentators have grappled with the TCPA’s definition of “automatic telephone dialing system” (“ATDS”). As a result of the FCC’s July 2015 Declaratory Ruling and Order, the debate has focused on the question of capacity, i.e., whether a device must have the present capacity to “(a) store or produce telephone numbers to be called, using a random or sequential number generator; and (b) to dial such numbers” or—as the FCC found—if the potential capacity is sufficient. Continue reading   »

Allegedly Deficient Opt-Out Language in Fax Did Not Give Rise to a Concrete Injury Under Spokeo

We’ve previously reported on the D.C. Circuit’s March 31 decision, which held that “the FCC’s 2006 Solicited Fax Rule is . . . unlawful to the extent that it requires opt-out notices on solicited faxes.” Bais Yaakov of Spring Valley v. FCC, No. 14-1234, Slip. Op. at 4 (D.C. Cir. 2017). And as we recently discussed, the plaintiff intervenors in that case have sought a rehearing en banc. Given the significance of the D.C. Circuit’s decision in TCPA class actions, it would not be a surprise if the en banc petition is just the beginning of the plaintiffs’ bar’s efforts to attack the D.C. Circuit’s decision. While the D.C. Circuit’s ruling is welcome news to defendants in TCPA actions, the Eastern District of Missouri recently dealt another blow to the plaintiffs’ bar. In that regard, shortly before the D.C. Circuit’s ruling, a district court held that an allegedly deficient opt-out notice in a fax the plaintiff invited did not give rise to a concrete injury under Spokeo, and dismissed the case for lack of Article III standing. St. Louis Heart Ctr., Inc. v. Nomax, Inc., No. 4:15-CV-517 RLW, 2017 U,S., Dist, LEXIS 39411 (E.D. Mo. Mar. 20, 2017). Continue reading   »

Are Insurance Renewal Notifications Telemarketing? Maybe.

As discussed here, the Central District of California recently granted summary judgment in favor of an insurance company after finding that a prerecorded call to the insured’s mobile phone, which reminded her to review her health plan options for the following year, was not telemarketing and therefore did not require “prior express written consent.” See Smith v. Blue Shield of Cal. Life & Health Ins. Co., No. SACV 16-00108-CJC-KES (C.D. Cal. Jan. 13, 2017).

But just a few weeks ago, a different judge in the Central District reached the opposite conclusion in a similar case, and denied the defendant’s motion to dismiss. See Flores v. Access Ins. Co., No. 2:15-cv-02883-CAS-AGR (C.D. Cal. Mar. 13, 2017) (available here). These two decisions illustrate how courts continue to grapple with the distinction between “telemarketing” and “informational” calls. Continue reading   »

Plaintiffs Continue to Target Retail Text Programs

In TCPA Blog’s latest column for Law360, Mike Daly and Meredith Slawe discuss the “unrelenting” pace of TCPA litigation in 2017, particularly claims targeting retail text message programs. They discuss the FCC’s rulings on number of issues and explore the different approaches of the previous administration and the current administration under Chairman Ajit Pai. They also recount what Chairman Pai has described as the “ridiculous lengths” to which some plaintiffs have gone to exploit the TCPA:

That was, if anything, an understatement. Some plaintiffs have taken to buying phones and requesting area codes for regions where debt collection calls are common,  hiring staff to log calls in order to file hundreds of lawsuits,  porting a repeating digit phone number from a landline to a cellphone,  asking employees to text ‘JOIN’ to unknown company numbers,  and even teaching classes on how to sue telemarketers. Others have sent demand letters after purporting to revoke their consent—often moments after enrolling in a text program—by using anything other than the obvious word “stop.” These plaintiffs will receive text advising them that they can opt out by texting “stop” but will try to trap businesses by responding with unorthodox synonyms such as “cease,” “desist,” “refrain,” or “halt,” which will not trigger many opt-out mechanisms. Responses such as these are not even believable, let alone “reasonable.” And the certification of a class of such people would be inappropriate for a whole host of reasons. But plaintiffs know that defending even these claims would not be without cost or inconvenience, and businesses continue to receive demand letters every day.

They conclude that, “[i]n the absence of meaningful congressional or regulatory reform and as we await a ruling from the D.C. Circuit on the proper interpretation of the statute, retailers should continue to mitigate their TCPA risk by observing best practices and engaging in active vendor management.”

Click here to read the full article.