The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan recently dismissed a TCPA complaint upon finding the plaintiff’s factual allegations insufficient to satisfy the pleading standards imposed by both Rule 8(a) and the Supreme Court’s opinions in Twombly and Iqbal. The Court’s order provides useful guidance concerning the oft-litigated issue of whether a complaint contains sufficient facts to plausibly allege a defendant’s use of an ATDS.
Although, as we have previously covered, decisions from various courts have already established that a plaintiff must do more than simply allege that a TCPA defendant used an automatic telephone dialing system (“ATDS”) to make calls that allegedly violate the TCPA, two recent decisions help illustrate the level of specificity in pleading required to survive a motion to dismiss. Depending on the District Court, that level does not appear to be exceedingly high.
In a TCPA action involving allegedly unsolicited cellular telephone calls made using an automated telephone dialing system (“ATDS”), the Middle District of Florida ruled that plaintiff had merely recited the elements for a claim under the TCPA rather than allege adequate factual support, and dismissed plaintiff’s complaint without prejudice. See Hunter v. Diversified Consultants, Inc., No. 8:14-cv-2198, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 165355 (M.D. Fla. Nov. 26, 2014). The complaint contained only the following factual allegations: First, that “[d]uring the past 48 months prior to the filing of this complaint, Defendant contacted Plaintiffs’ [sic] cell phone without express permission with an automated dialing system”; and second, “Defendant called Plaintiffs’ [sic] cell phone intentionally and repeatedly, without express permission and with an automated telephone dialing system…” Id. at *2.
In a TCPA action involving allegedly unsolicited fax advertisements, the Northern District of Illinois applied the plausibility standard articulated in Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007) and Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009) to affirmative defenses. See Mussat v. Power Liens, LLC, No. 13-7853, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 141561 (N.D. Ill. Oct. 6, 2014). We recently discussed a similar TCPA case where the court held that the plausibility standard did not apply, and in doing so sided with the majority view that the textual differences between Rule 8(a)(2) (claims) and Rules 8(b)(1)(A) (defenses) and 8(c)(1) (affirmative defenses) prevented the application of the plausibility standard to affirmative defenses. See Exclusively Cats Veterinary Hospital, P.C. v. Pharmaceutical Credit Corp., No. 13-14376, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 132440 (E.D. Mich. Sept. 22, 2014). Perhaps because the defendant focused elsewhere in its briefing, the Mussat court simply cited a 25-year-old decision from the Seventh Circuit holding that courts can strike affirmative defenses that do not satisfy federal pleading standards and then recited the requirements of the Twombly/Iqbal plausibility standard. Mussat, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 141561 at *2.
In a TCPA action concerning allegedly unsolicited fax advertisements, the Eastern District of Michigan recently rejected the argument that the plausibility standard articulated in Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007) and Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009) applies to affirmative defenses. See Exclusively Cats Veterinary Hospital, P.C. v. Pharmaceutical Credit Corp., No. 13-14376, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 132440 (E.D. Mich. Sept. 22, 2014).
On April 17, Judge Robert Bell of the Western District of Michigan found that a plaintiff does not state a claim under the TCPA if she does not plead the telephone number at which she allegedly had been called. See Strand v. Corinthian Colleges, Inc., No. 13-1235, 2014 U.S. Dist. Lexis 52963 (W.D. Mich. Apr. 17, 2014). The decision is a welcome one for defendants who have encountered counsel who only disclose a plaintiff’s telephone number as part of reciprocal (and inevitably asymmetrical) discovery.