Businesses may dial large volumes of numbers daily for a variety of legitimate purposes. These calls now appear to have become swept up and conflated with illegal robocalls, with a number of undesirable consequences. Certainly policy makers at the FCC, in reacting to understandable concerns about fraudulent and illegal calling, have been introducing more and more opportunities for voice service and app providers to apply non-transparent, subjective standards to block calls, and further muddy the water for business callers. Continue reading
The House Energy and Commerce Committee held a hearing entitled “Legislating to Stop the Onslaught of Annoying Robocalls” on April 30, 2019, that focused on seven bills pending before the Committee. While lawmakers and witnesses generally agreed that illegal and abusive robocalls are a problem, the fix or immediate solution in the form of new legislation was less clear.
Chairman Mike Doyle (D-PA) opened the hearing by summarizing the current state of pervasive robocalls and calling for voice service providers to make available call-blocking services to all customers free of charge. Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR) shared this sentiment, emphasizing the need for a bipartisan solution with wide support. As Walden observed, robocalling is a topic that comes up at every single town hall meeting held in recent months. Several bill sponsors made opening statements regarding their respective bills, which we summarize briefly below. Continue reading
A two-year legal battle in the federal courts has come to an end, the Supreme Court announced last week. On April 15, 2019, it declined to review the Soundboard Association’s challenge to the legality of a Federal Trade Commission decision in 2016 that outbound telemarketing calls made through soundboard technology are robocalls.
Soundboard technology allows call center agents to interact and converse with consumers on a real-time basis using a combination of audio clips and the agent’s own voice. It may involve reading a pre-determined script, responding to queries and interjections from consumers by playing a pre-recorded audio clip, using “response keys” to generate common interactive conversational responses (such as “I understand,” “exactly,” “yeah,” or a recorded statement that the agent is a real person using audio clips to communicate with the consumer), or giving the consumer the option to speak with a live operator’s own voice for the duration of the call. It has been widely used by call centers in the last two decades. Continue reading
Multiple district courts have recently examined whether, and in what circumstances, providing one’s phone number suffices to establish consent to be called under the TCPA. The issue is complicated, turning on whether prior express consent must be in writing, a determination which, in turn, requires examination of whether the call in question constitutes “telemarketing” or “advertising.”
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.
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