Does a “call placed in violation of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, without any allegation or showing of injury—even that plaintiffs heard the phone ring—suffice to establish concrete injury for purposes of Article III [of the Constitution?]” Recently, Dish Network petitioned the Supreme Court to resolve this question and overturn a verdict rendered by a North Carolina federal jury that was later trebled to $61 million and upheld by the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. Briefing on Dish Network’s petition is now complete and we now await the Court’s decision on whether it will review the case.
The Eleventh Circuit last week issued a common-sense ruling vacating class certification in a TCPA case—an area of the law where common sense does not always prevail. In Cordoba v. DIRECTV, LLC, No. 19-12077 (11th Cir. Nov. 15, 2019), the named plaintiff claimed that DIRECTV violated the TCPA when Telecel, the company it had contracted with to provide telemarketing services, failed to maintain an internal “do-not-call list” of individuals who had requested not to receive telemarketing calls on behalf of DIRECTV. Cordoba sought to represent a class of all persons who had received more than one telemarketing call during the period of time that Telecel had failed to maintain a do-not-call list for DIRECTV. The district court certified the class, failing to consider that the class as defined would include many members—mostly members, potentially—who had never asked to be placed on the do-not-call list. Having never made this request, the Eleventh Circuit said, those members lacked standing because their injuries were not traceable to Telecel’s alleged failure to maintain the list. Furthermore, because distributing an award would require the district court to confirm whether a class member had a traceable injury, individualized inquiries predominated over common questions. The district court’s failure to consider these individualized questions of standing and predominance doomed its certification order.
As we previously discussed, the need for clarification as to the TCPA’s treatment of outbound calls made using soundboard technology (“soundboard calls”) is particularly manifest in light of two pending petitions before the FCC and the Supreme Court’s refusal to review the FTC’s decision to treat soundboard calls as robocalls subject to the Telemarketing Sales Rules. [See here and here]. Plaintiffs have sought to exploit the uncertainty; a spate of lawsuits contend that soundboard calls are prerecorded calls prohibited by the TCPA if made without prior consent. Recently, the Western District of Oklahoma attempted to set a standard for the permissibility of these calls, but the decision may only engender more uncertainty. While professing that soundboard calls are not “categorically prohibited,” the court’s ruling fails to provide a roadmap for what types of soundboard calls would be permissible, beyond stating that a “soundboard call which did not interact with the customer except in preprogrammed not to mention meaningless ways” violated the TCPA.
Soundboard technology allows call center agents to interact with consumers on a real-time basis using a combination of audio clips and the agent’s own voice. Because a live agent selects the audio clips to play based on the statements made by the called party, companies using or offering the technology have argued that these calls feature a degree of human interaction that means they should not be considered “prerecorded calls” subject to the consent requirements of the TCPA.
The Central District of California recently granted summary judgment to the defendant on a TCPA claim in Mendoza v. Allied Interstate LLC, SACV 17-885 JVS (KESx), 2019 WL 5616961 (C.D. Cal. Oct. 22, 2019), finding that the plaintiff had not sufficiently proven revocation of consent to be called about two credit card accounts when he had revoked consent to be called about two other accounts serviced by the same card issuer.
In the span of fifteen days, TCPA defendants in two separate cases asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review two distinct but interwoven Ninth Circuit decisions on the constitutionality of the TCPA. Specifically, Facebook, Inc. and Charter Communications, Inc. are each asking the Court to rule that the TCPA’s prohibitions on calls made using an ATDS or an artificial or prerecorded voice contravene the First Amendment because they are “content-based” restrictions on speech and that the Ninth Circuit erred in “remedying” the constitutional violation—by severing the TCPA’s exemption for calls made to collect a government debt—rather than invalidating the entire statute. Facebook, Inc. v. Duguid, Petition for Writ of Certiorari, No. 19-511 (Oct. 17, 2019) (“Facebook Petition”); Charter Commc’ns, Inc. v. Gallion, Petition for Writ of Certiorari, No. 19-575 (Nov. 1, 2019) (“Charter Petition”). The two cases represent the most recent escalation of the growing trend in litigation challenging the TCPA’s ability to withstand First Amendment scrutiny.
The Middle District of Florida has denied a motion for class certification, finding the proposed class definition would have created a fail-safe class, the class members were not ascertainable, and the plaintiff’s claims were not typical of the class. Fennell v. Navient Solutions, LLC, No. 17-2083, 2019 WL 3854815, at *2 (M.D. Fla. 2019)
The plaintiff in Fennell alleged that, despite her revocation of consent, Navient had used an ATDS to repeatedly call her to collect a debt. Id. at *1. In response, Navient argued that, although it had used predictive dialers to call other people, it had not used that equipment to call the plaintiff because her delinquent loans had been assigned to Navient’s “Cures Unit,” which only made calls through manual dialing. Id. at *1, *2.
After preliminarily approving a TCPA settlement arising out of allegedly unsolicited faxes, the Middle District of Florida recently reversed course and rejected the settlement in light of the Eleventh Circuit’s finding that the district court had erred in denying a new party’s request to intervene. See Tech. Training Assocs., Inc. v. Buccaneers Ltd. P’ship, No. 16-1622, 2019 WL 4751799 (M.D. Fla. Sept. 30, 2019).
The plaintiffs (Technology Training Associates, Inc. and Back to Basics Family Chiropractic) sued the defendant (Buccaneers Limited Partnership) after they received allegedly unsolicited faxes offering Tampa Bay Buccaneers tickets. The plaintiffs further alleged that the faxes did not comply with the TCPA because they did not include the required opt-out notice.
The 2016 amendments to the TCPA—which created an exemption for calls that are made “solely to collect a debt owed to or guaranteed by the United States”—have inadvertently reshaped the way that TCPA claims are litigated. While early decisions in Indiana, Alabama, and Florida rejected claims under the FCC’s proposed implementing rules because they never became effective, more recent decisions have focused on whether the exemption, and by extension the entire statute, violates the First Amendment. The first of those was the Fourth Circuit’s decision in American Association of Political Consultants v. FCC, which was soon followed by the Ninth Circuit and the Southern District of Florida.