Plaintiff in Facebook v. Duguid Files Supreme Court Brief Supporting Broad Interpretation of ATDS Definition

The Plaintiff in Facebook, Inc. v. Duguid—the case that promises to resolve the growing circuit split over the TCPA’s definition of an ATDS—has filed his merits brief in the Supreme Court.

Recall that the TCPA defines an ATDS as equipment that has the capacity “(A) to store or produce telephone numbers to be called, using a random or sequential number generator; and (B) to dial such numbers.”  47 U.S.C. § 227(a)(1).  With help from noted grammarian Bryan Garner, who signed the brief as his new co-counsel, Duguid argues that the language of the statute and the canons of construction make clear that the adverbial phrase “using a random or sequential number generator” modifies the verb “to produce” but not the verb “to store.”  For example, he argues that the “distributive-phrasing canon” requires that modifying phrases apply only to words “which, by context, they seem most properly to relate.”  Brief at 20.  Because the verb “to store” does not in his view relate to the phrase “using a random or sequential number generator,” he argues that the Court need not interpret the phrase as modifying “to store.”  Id.; see also id. at 15 (calling this outcome a “semantic mismatch between a modifier and a verb”).  He similarly argues that the “last-antecedent canon”—which provides that a modifying phrase “should ordinarily be read as modifying only the [verb] that it immediately follows”—counsels in favor of construing the adverbial phrase as modifying only the adjacent verb “to produce” and not the other verb “to store.”  Id. at 20-21.

Continue reading   »

First-of-its-Kind Decision Rejects Liability for Calls Made Before Supreme Court Cured TCPA’s Unconstitutionality by Invalidating Debt-Collection Exception

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.

Continue reading   »

A Divided Eleventh Circuit Holds that Incentive Awards are Prohibited

In a decision that may have far-reaching consequences, a divided panel of the Eleventh Circuit ruled that incentive awards to named plaintiffs—which are routine in TCPA and other class action settlements—are improper. See Johnson v. NPAS Solutions, LLC, No. 18-12344, 2020 WL 5553312, at *1 (11th Cir. Sept. 17, 2020). Despite acknowledging that incentive payments are commonplace in modern class action litigation, the majority held that such awards are prohibited under “on-point Supreme Court precedent” from the late 1800s and required reversal of the district court’s approval of a $1.4 million class settlement.

Continue reading   »

Supreme Court To Hear Facebook ATDS Argument on December 8th

On September 16, the U.S. Supreme Court announced that it will conduct a telephonic oral argument for the Facebook, Inc. v. Duguid matter on December 8, 2020. As regular readers of our blog know, the Supreme Court granted Facebook, Inc.’s petition for certiorari in July and agreed to review the Ninth Circuit’s decision to reverse the dismissal of TCPA claims related to Facebook’s automated security text messages. The case promises to resolve the growing circuit split regarding the definition of an ATDS. We will provide continuing coverage of the Facebook case as it moves towards oral argument.

Continue reading   »

Facebook and U.S. Government File Supreme Court Briefs Supporting Narrow Interpretation of ATDS Definition

Last Friday, Facebook and the United States government filed briefs in Facebook, Inc. v. Duguid, the Supreme Court case that promises to resolve the growing circuit split over the interpretation of the definition of an ATDS. The Supreme Court granted certiorari in July, agreeing to review a Ninth Circuit decision that had reversed the dismissal of claims targeting Facebook’s login text alerts.

Continue reading   »

The Sixth Circuit Adopts Expansive Interpretation of ATDS

In Allan v. Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency, the Sixth Circuit weighed in on the definition of an ATDS, joining the Second and Ninth Circuits in reading it expansively.  The opinion was issued twenty days after the Supreme Court agreed to review this issue, following a growing split among the circuit courts. (Click these links for our previous blogposts about decisions from the Second, Seventh, Eleventh, Ninth, Third, and D.C. Circuits.)

Continue reading   »

Supreme Court Agrees To Review ATDS Definition

Earlier today, the United States Supreme Court granted the petition for certiorari in which Facebook had asked the Court to resolve the growing circuit split regarding the definition of an ATDS. The Court limited its review to the second question presented, namely “whether the definition of ATDS in the TCPA encompasses any device that can ‘store’ and ‘automatically dial’ telephone numbers, even if the device does not ‘us[e] a random or sequential number generator.’” This comes hot on the heels of the Court’s ruling earlier this week on the constitutionality and severability of the government-debt exception to the statute’s restrictions on automated telephone equipment.

Continue reading   »

Supreme Court Strikes Government-Debt Exception But Saves Other 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.

Continue reading   »

Supreme Court Issues Highly Anticipated First Amendment Ruling in Barr v. AAPC

This morning, the United States Supreme Court issued its highly anticipated ruling in Barr v. American Association of Political Consultants. The decisions are fractured, but a majority of the Justices coalesced around finding that the federal debt-collection exception (1) violated the First Amendment but (2) could be severed from the statute such that the restrictions on automated telephone equipment remain in place. Notably, however, Justice Gorsuch filed and Justice Thomas joined a separate opinion that poked holes in the remedy—which is to say, the absence of a remedy—and urged the Court to revisit its approach to severability in general. We are reviewing the various opinions and will report back with a more thorough analysis shortly.

District of New Jersey Adopts Narrow ATDS Definition as Circuit Split Grows; Supreme Court Clarification Required

As readers of this blog know, a robust Circuit split has developed regarding the meaning of an ATDS. The Second and Ninth Circuits have taken one approach, while the Third, Seventh, and Eleventh Circuits have taken another. While we await Supreme Court guidance, lower courts continue to grapple with the ATDS issue. In Eisenband v. Pine Belt Automotive, Inc., No. 17-8549 (FLW) (LHG), 2020 WL 1486045 (D.N.J. Mar. 27, 2020), the District of New Jersey analyzed the definition of an ATDS and concluded that equipment that dials numbers from a manually prepared list  does not constitute an ATDS.

Continue reading   »