District Courts Debate Whether Providing a Phone Number Establishes Consent

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.”

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District Court Finds Text Message With Link To Sender’s App Might Qualify As Advertising

As businesses increasingly elect to use text messaging to communicate with consumers, they should be mindful that text messages are a frequent target of TCPA claims. FCC regulations require different degrees of consent depending on whether communications are commercial or informational; whereas businesses must have only “prior express consent” for purely informational texts, they must have “prior express written consent” for texts that include an advertisement or constitute telemarketing. (Certain other texts, for example those sent for an emergency purpose, are exempt from those requirements.) That begs the question: what qualifies as advertising or telemarketing such that the higher degree of consent is required? Continue reading   »

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   »

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   »

Central District of California Holds That Insurance Renewal Notifications Are Not Telemarketing Under the TCPA

The Central District of California recently granted summary judgment to a health insurer after finding that a pre-recorded message delivered to the insured’s cell phone reminding her to review her health plan options for the coming year was not telemarketing. Smith v. Blue Shield of Cal. Life & Health Ins. Co., No. 16cv108 (C.D. Cal. Jan. 13, 2017), ECF No. 73.

In Smith, the plaintiff completed an application for health insurance through California’s Affordable Care Act Healthcare Marketplace, Covered California. As part of that application process, Plaintiff provided her cell phone number as “the best number at which to contact her.” As required by law, the insurance was set to automatically renew for 2016, and in 2015, Blue Shield attempted to contact Smith by sending written materials to her mailing address (as also required by law) to inform her of the changes to her plan and provide her with alternatives. Plaintiff’s materials, however, were returned to Blue Shield as undeliverable. As with other insureds whose materials were returned, Blue Shield followed up with a pre-recorded message stating in relevant part: “This is an important message from Blue Shield of California. It’s time to review your 2016 health plan options and see what’s new. Earlier this month, we mailed you information about your 2016 plan and benefit changes. It compares your current health plan to other options from Blue Shield. You can also find out more online at blueshieldca.com. If you have not received your information packet in the mail, or if you have any questions, please call the number on the back of your member ID card.” Plaintiff received the call on December 3, 2015; on December 6, 2015, she completed an application for a different insurance plan for the 2016 year. Continue reading   »

FTC Issues Annual National DNC Registry Data Book

On December 9th, the Federal Trade Commission released its annual National Do Not Call Registry Data Book for Fiscal Year 2016, which spans from October 1, 2015 through September 30, 2016. The Data Book contains statistical information regarding the number of telephone numbers registered on the Do Not Call Registry, the number of entities that access phone numbers on the Do Not Call Registry, and the number of complaints submitted to the FTC about companies allegedly violating the do-not-call rules. Statistics regarding numbers registered and complaints submitted are also categorized by state and area code in the appendix. Some highlights from the Data Book include:

  • There were 226,001,288 telephone numbers on the Do Not Call Registry compared to 222,841,484 telephone numbers the year before;
  • There were 5,340,234 consumer complaints compared to 3,578,711 consumer complaints the year before; and
  • There were 2,353 entities who paid fees to access the Do Not Call Registry, 17,634 entities who accessed five or fewer area codes from the Do Not Call Registry at no charge, and 503 exempt entities that engaged in calls that either did not involve the sale of goods or services or were directed to persons whom they have an established business relationship with or whom they have obtained express written agreement to call.

This is the eighth year that the FTC has released a National Do Not Call Registry Data Book.

FCC Seeks Public Comment on Lifetime Petition For Declaratory Ruling or Retroactive Waiver

The FCC’s Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau has issued a public notice seeking comment on a December 11, 2015 petition by Lifetime Entertainment Services, LLC (“Lifetime”).  The petition asked the FCC to clarify that the TCPA’s limitations on prerecorded calls do not apply to calls by cable operators and networks that merely inform subscribers about content that they are already entitled to watch.  In the alternative, Lifetime sought a grant of retroactive waiver for a call that it had allegedly placed to inform subscribers that a reality television program had moved to Lifetime, and was accordingly available under the subscriber’s current plan.  Lifetime argued that, because it was not urging the subscriber to make a new purchase, and indeed, provided no information on how to make any purchase, the call should be viewed as informational, not telemarketing.  In support of this conclusion, Lifetime cited Sandusky Wellness Center, LLC v. Medco Health Solutions, which deemed informational several faxes that were “not sent with hopes to make a profit.”  788 F.3d 218, 221 (6th Cir. 2015).  The FCC has set the deadlines for comments and reply comments on this petition at March 7, 2016 and March 21, 2016, respectively.

Missouri Attorney General Files Telemarketing Actions Against Charter Communications, Inc. and Farmers Insurance; Resolves Action Against Farmers with Simultaneously-filed Consent Judgment

The Missouri Attorney General’s Office recently filed a complaint in the Eastern District of Missouri against Charter Communications, Inc. (“Charter”), a cable, internet, and telephone company. The complaint alleges violations of the TCPA, the Telemarketing Sales Rule, the Missouri No-Call Law, and the Missouri Telemarketing Practices Law, and seeks what amounts to multi-millions of dollars in civil penalties. See State of Missouri ex rel. v. Charter Commc’ns, Inc., No. 15-01593 (E.D. Mo. filed Oct. 19, 2015).

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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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