FCC and District Court Provide Additional Clarity to the TCPA’s Emergency Purpose Exception

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Over two years ago, we first argued that a pharmacist’s prescription refill reminder calls fell within the emergency purpose exception to the TCPA in Kolinek v. Walgreen Co. (N.D. Ill.).  The TCPA, of course, prohibits many types of autodialed or pre-recorded/artificial voice calls to cell phones if made without the prior express consent of the called party, except where the calls are made “for emergency purposes.” 47 U.S.C. § 227(b)(1)(A). In Kolinek, the court held at the motion to dismiss stage that further factual development was necessary to evaluate whether the emergency purpose exemption precluded plaintiff’s claims because the complaint did not allege sufficient detail regarding the nature of the calls. Although the case settled before the court had the opportunity to rule on the issue on summary judgment, the court acknowledged the viability of the emergency purposes defense as a basis for approving the class action settlement despite objections that the settlement fund was a tiny fraction of potential liabilities. Continue reading

Sixth Circuit Affirms Dismissal Of TCPA Claims Against Healthcare Providers’ Debt Collector

The Sixth Circuit recently affirmed the entry of summary judgment against plaintiffs who had not given their phone numbers to the debt collector that had called them or to the creditor to which they owed money. See Baisden v. Credit Adjustments, Inc., No. 15-3411, 2016 U.S. App. LEXIS 2465 (6th Cir. Feb. 12, 2016). In doing so, it agreed with the FCC and the Eleventh Circuit that “prior express consent” can be “obtained and conveyed via intermediaries,” in this case the hospital to which the plaintiffs had voluntarily given their numbers.

The plaintiffs were former patients at a hospital (Mount Carmel Hospital) who owed debts that were transferred from an affiliated anesthesiology practice (Consultant Anesthesiologists) to a debt collector (Credit Adjustments, Inc.). Both of the plaintiffs had signed admission forms that permitted the hospital to release their “health information” to third parties for purposes of “billing and payment” or “billing and collecting monies due,” among other things. Id. at *2-6. After the plaintiffs received calls from the debt collector regarding their debts, they filed a putative class action against the debt collector, the anesthesiology practice, and the hospital. Continue reading

Ninth Circuit Confirms That Providing A Business With Phone Number Constitutes Express Consent To Be Called Under The TCPA

In a recent decision, the Ninth Circuit held that the named plaintiff in a putative TCPA class action expressly consented to receive a text message when she provided an airline with her phone number, even though she claimed she only provided her number because she thought it was required to purchase airline tickets and had no intention of consenting to be contacted. Baird v. Sabre, Inc., No. 14-55293, 2016 WL 424778, at *1 (9th Cir. Feb. 3, 2016).

When Shaya Baird booked flights online, she was prompted to provide contact information and was informed that “‘[a]t least one phone number is required.’” Baird v. Sabre, Inc., 995 F. Supp. 2d 1100, 1101 (C.D. Cal. 2014). Three weeks later, Sabre, which was contracted by Hawaiian Airlines to provide traveler notification services, sent Baird a text message asking if she wanted to receive flight notifications. Baird did not respond and Sabre sent no other messages. Baird subsequently filed a putative class action. Continue reading

District Court Dismisses TCPA Claims Based on Good Faith Defense

The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina recently adopted a magistrate judge’s recommendation that summary judgment be entered in favor of a defendant because it had a good faith belief that it had consent to call the plaintiff’s number.

In Danehy v. Time Warner Cable Enterprises, Case No. 14-cv-133 (E.D.N.C.), a pro se plaintiff (“Plaintiff”) alleged that Time Warner violated the TCPA by using an automated telephone dialing system (“ATDS”) to call his cellular phone that was registered on the national do-not-call registry. The phone number at issue had previously belonged to a Time Warner customer who had provided the phone number as a secondary contact for Time Warner to use when he could not be reached at his primary phone number. Time Warner had made calls to, and received calls from, the customer using the number numerous times in the past. The number was eventually assigned to Plaintiff in August or September 2013.

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FCC’s Enforcement Bureau Commends PayPal for Modifying its User Agreement

We previously advised that the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau, in an unusual move, on June 11 published a letter it sent to PayPal warning that PayPal’s proposed changes to its User Agreement that contained robocall contact provisions might violate the TCPA. These proposed revisions conveyed user consent for PayPal to contact its users via “autodialed or prerecorded calls and text messages … at any telephone number provided … or otherwise obtained” to notify consumers about their accounts, to troubleshoot problems, resolve disputes, collect debts, and poll for opinions, among other things. The Bureau’s letter highlighted concerns with the broad consent specified for the receipt of autodialed or prerecorded telemarketing messages and the apparent lack of notice as to a consumer’s right to refuse to provide consent to receive these types of calls.

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FCC Warns that Unilateral PayPal User Agreement Changes May Violate the TCPA

In advance of the FCC’s highly anticipated June 18 meeting, during which it is likely to vote on an omnibus order disposing of a wide range of pending petitions for declaratory ruling, the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau took an early shot across the bow at a proposed change to  PayPal Inc.’s User Agreement. In an unusual move, the Bureau sent a public letter to PayPal warning it that its new broad “consent to contact” provision may violate the TCPA.

The updates to the User Agreement authorize PayPal to contact a consumer by “autodialed or prerecorded calls and text messages … at any telephone number provided … or otherwise obtained” in order to notify the consumer about his or her account, to troubleshoot problems, or resolve a dispute, collect a debt, poll for opinions, to contact a consumer with promotions, or “as otherwise necessary.” The terms lack an opt-out mechanism for consumers who do not wish to receive these calls. Further, PayPal’s PayPal’s Policy Updates page uses bold and capital letters to make consent to contact a condition of use: “IF YOU DO NOT AGREE TO THE AMENDED USER AGREEMENT, PRIVACY POLICY OR ACCEPTABLE USE POLICY, YOU MAY CLOSE YOUR ACCOUNT BEFORE JULY 1, 2015 AND YOU WILL NOT BE BOUND BY THE AMENDED TERMS.”

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What’s the Purpose of the Emergency Purpose Statutory Exemption?

As we’ve noted in the past, there are a number of TPCA petitions for declaratory ruling or requests for interpretation of the TCPA statute or FCC rules on a range of issues relating to the definition of an autodialer, seeking a range of common sense rules or processes for dealing with recycled number issues, among others. A recently filed Petition, by Blackboard, Inc. (“Blackboard”), represents a new wrinkle in the fabric of interesting technological and practical challenges under the TCPA that can adversely affect the delivery of important and timely information to parties interested in receiving it.   Blackboard is an educational services platform provider seeking clarification from the FCC that the TCPA does not apply to “informational, non-commercial, non-advertising, and non-telemarketing autodialed and prerecorded messages sent by Blackboard’s educational institution customers because those calls are made for ‘emergency purposes.’”

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Eighth Circuit Reverses Summary Judgment, Directs Trial Court to Determine Whether Consent Was Revoked

In an unpublished, per curiam decision, the Eighth Circuit recently reversed the entry of summary judgment in favor of a defendant and directed the district court to address whether the plaintiff had revoked his consent to being called on his cell phone. Brenner v. Am. Ed. Servs., No. 14-1340, 2014 U.S. App. LEXIS 18416 (8th Cir. Sept. 26, 2014).

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FCC Seeks Comment on Petition Concerning Prior Express Consent

On August 1, 2014, the FCC issued a Public Notice seeking comment on a petition filed by Santander Consumer USA, Inc. (“Santander”), which requests an expedited declaratory ruling from the FCC to clarify the meaning of “prior express consent” with respect to non-telemarketing calls and text messages to cellular telephones, which include informational messages (e.g., messages regarding school closings or messages containing flight status information) and debt collection messages under the TCPA. Comments in response to the Public Notice are due September 2, 2014, and reply comments are due September 15, 2014.

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