A recent decision from the Southern District of Alabama provides more clarity as to the treatment of “dual purpose” telephone calls to wireless numbers that offer free goods and services. The Federal Communications Commission already has explained that “offers for free goods and services that are part of an overall marketing campaign to sell property, goods, or services” are advertisements under the TCPA and FCC regulations. The FCC also has explained that informational calls that are motivated in part by the intent to sell property, goods, or services are “in most instances” advertisements under the TCPA. This is true whether call recipients are encouraged to purchase, rent, or invest in property, goods, or services during the call or in the future (“such as in response to a message that provides a toll-free number”). Report and Order, In re Rules and Regulations Implementing the Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991, 18 FCC Rcd. 14014, ¶¶ 139-142 (2003).
In September, we reported that a court in the District ofNew Jersey denied the defendants’ motion for summary judgment in a “fax blast” class action, concluding that the defendants could be directly liable under the TCPA for fax advertisements they did not actually send, but rather that were sent by a third-party marketing firm to promote the defendants’ goods or services. See City Select Auto Sales, Inc. v. David Randall Associates, Inc., No. 11-2658, 2014 WL 4755487 (D.N.J. Sept. 24, 2014) (“City Select I”).
Six months later, relying heavily on that earlier ruling, the court has entered summary judgment on behalf of the plaintiff class and awarded it statutory damages of $22,405,000. City Select Auto Sales, Inc. v. David Randall Associates, Inc., et al., No. 11-2658, 2015 WL 1421539 (D. N.J. Mar. 27, 2015) (“City Select II”).
As we previously reported, on July 17, 2014, the FCC filed a letter brief in Palm Beach Golf Center-Boca, Inc. v. Sarris, No. 13-14013 (11th Cir.) (“Sarris”), in which it took the position that entities can be held directly liable under the TCPA whenever their products or services are advertised in an unsolicited fax—even if they did not actually send the fax, and even if they did not know the fax was going to be sent. The FCC’s letter brief stood in marked contrast to its decision last year in In re Joint Petition Filed by Dish Network, LLC, 28 F.C.C. Rcd. 6574 (2013) (“Dish Network”), where the FCC had limited direct liability to only “telemarketers” that “initiate” calls, and otherwise applied agency principles to determine whether “sellers” might be vicariously liable for calls made on their behalf. As readers may recall, the FCC’s letter brief does not articulate a policy reason why a “seller” in the voice call context should receive more protection than an entity whose goods and services are promoted through a fax advertisement. But whatever the merits of the letter brief, it has yet to be cited by the Eleventh Circuit (which has heard argument but not yet issued an opinion) or, at least for the past few months, any other court.
The FCC is not the only federal agency tasked with regulating telephone calls. The FTC also regulates telephone calls pursuant to the Telemarketing Sales Rule (“TSR”) (16 C.F.R. § 310 et seq.). And while the scope of the TCPA and the TSR differs, the two sets of regulations overlap in a key area—prerecorded calls. See 47 C.F.R. § 227(b)(1); 16 C.F.R. § 310(b)(iv). As we have noted in a previous post, these regulations are not entirely consistent.
A recently proposed class action settlement agreement illustrates the potential litigation perils when any established business relies on outsourced, undercapitalized marketing agents who lack either the assets or insurance to adequately defend TCPA class action litigation. Indeed, the only proposed recovery for the class is an agreement to provide testimony and documentary evidence of the co-defendant’s actual knowledge of the conduct that violated the TCPA, and its alleged authorization of the subject unlawful text messaging.