In the wake of the Supreme Court’s April 2021 Facebook v. Duguid decision, plaintiffs prosecuting class actions across the nation have been searching hard to mine other potential ambiguities in the TCPA to support allegations about the use of an ATDS. One area of focus has been on whether that term – which is defined as equipment that can “store or produce telephone numbers to be called, using a random or sequential number generator” – applies to equipment that assigns random or sequential identifiers to stored numbers that were not randomly or sequentially generated.
The retroactivity of the Supreme Court’s decision in Barr v. AAPC is back before the Supreme Court to decide—if, that is, it grants the petition for certiorari that was just filed by the Defendant in Lindenbaum v. Realgy.
Some background may help. As our regular readers know, Barr v. AAPC held that the TCPA’s exemption for federal debt-collection calls—and only federal debt-collection calls—was a content-based regulation of speech that violated the First Amendment. But rather than strike down all of the statute’s restrictions on automated equipment, the Court saved them by severing that one exemption from the statute.
Courts in the Southern District of California and District of Arizona recently added to the line of decisions addressing ATDS pleading requirements in the wake of the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling in Facebook v. Duguid. Declining to infer that targeted text messages warranted an inference that the sender used an ATDS, the courts in Wilson v. rater8, LLC, et al., No. 20-cv-1515, 2021 WL 4865930 (S.D. Cal. Oct. 18, 2021), and DeClements v. Americana Holdings LLC, No. CV-20-00166-PHX-DLR, 2021 WL 5138279 (D. Ariz. Nov. 4, 2021), dismissed plaintiffs’ complaints for failure to sufficiently allege the use of an ATDS.
In Wilson v. rater8, the plaintiff filed a class action alleging that defendants violated the TCPA by sending him, after a medical examination, a text asking him to provide feedback regarding his examining physician. 2021 WL 4865930. The plaintiff alleged that the text was sent using an ATDS. The court granted defendants’ motion to stay pending the outcome of the Supreme Court’s decision in Facebook. Following that ruling, defendants moved to dismiss, arguing that plaintiff did not allege sufficient facts to support the claim that an ATDS was used.
Earlier this week, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri granted summary judgment for a pharmacy benefit manager (PBM) that allegedly violated the TCPA by sending unsolicited advertisements via fax to thousands of healthcare providers. The defendant was entitled to judgment as a matter of law, the court concluded, because the fax simply notified recipients of changes to insured patients’ coverage and did not promote any products or services.
The case began when a St. Louis healthcare provider (BPP) filed a complaint alleging that defendant CaremarkPCS Health, LLC, violated the TCPA when it sent an unsolicited fax to over 55,000 providers notifying them of new limits on insurance coverage for opioid prescriptions for pediatric and adolescent patients in plans sponsored by Caremark’s clients. BPP v. CaremarkPCS Health, LLC, No. 4:20-cv-126, 2021 WL 5195785, at *1 (E.D. Mo. Nov. 9, 2021). Caremark, which manages prescription drug benefits for various health insurers, asked for summary judgment on the ground that the fax was not an “advertisement” under the TCPA and that plaintiff’s claim therefore failed as a matter of law. Id.
After years of discussion and planning, the FCC’s Reassigned Numbers Database opened for commercial use on November 1, 2021. Now business callers can register for a paid subscription with the FCC’s designated Administrator, SomosGov, to query both the connection and permanent disconnection status of over 152 million U.S. telephone numbers through this web-based platform. This information can let subscribing callers know whether customers who had previously given consent to receive calls and texts from the business have disconnected their phone numbers and whether these phone numbers have since been reassigned to others. By reducing the likelihood of unwittingly making calls to unintended recipients, the Reassigned Numbers Database is expected to prevent millions of “unwanted calls intended for someone who previously held their phone number,” which should provide callers some protection against TCPA allegations of calling without adequate prior consent.
Initially adopted in December 2018, the Reassigned Numbers Database proposal and framework underwent many rounds of public comments on various aspects of its implementation, had nearly three years of preparation, and had a three-month beta test. Since April 2021, nonexempt communications service providers have been reporting permanent disconnections to the Reassigned Numbers Database each month, accumulating data about over 152 million U.S. telephone numbers (including toll-free numbers). Smaller communications service providers began reporting their records into the Reassigned Numbers Database on October 15, 2021.
A court in the Northern District of California recently granted a defense motion for summary judgment, finding that the defendants were not vicariously liable for a subcontractor’s supposed TCPA violations because the record showed that they had neither given the subcontractor authority to violate the TCPA nor ratified its acts.
In Schick v. Caliber Home Loans, Inc., defendant Caliber hired defendant NextLevel to generate leads for its home loan refinancing business. No. 20-CV-00617-VC, 2021 WL 4166906, at *1 (N.D. Cal. Sept. 14, 2021). Their contract mandated that NextLevel “perform or provide” its services “in full compliance with … all applicable federal, state, and local laws, regulations and ordinances.” Id. The contract further required that NextLevel “not allow any subcontractor … to perform or provide” services “without … prior written consent.” Id. Without Caliber’s consent, in violation of the subcontractor provision, NextLevel hired subcontractor Driving Force to provide leads. Id. After allegedly receiving two calls on a number on the national “Do Not Call” Registry, Plaintiff filed suit and sought to hold the defendants vicariously liable. Id.
Last week, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas concluded that plaintiffs can bring claims for violations of 47 U.S.C. § 227(b) that arose while the government-debt exception (“GDE”) to that provision was still on the books. The decision comes amid growing contention among courts in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last year in Barr v. American Association of Political Consultants, 140 S. Ct. 2335 (2020), which struck down the GDE as an unconstitutional content-based restriction on speech.
The FCC recently announced a public comment period for a new Petition for Declaratory Ruling that seeks to have the FCC “clarify that delivery of a voice message directly to a voicemail box through ringless voicemail (RVM) technology does not constitute a ‘call’” subject to TCPA prohibitions. The Petition was filed by the U.S. Senate campaign for David Perdue – Perdue for Senate, Inc. (Perdue) stemming from litigation in Georgia related to primary election delivery of RVMs to voters. Interested parties have until October 4, 2021, to submit comments and until October 19, 2021, to submit reply comments.
The Sixth Circuit recently became the first federal court of appeals to weigh in on whether plaintiffs can bring TCPA claims for conduct occurring between November 2015 and July 2020—the respective dates on which the unconstitutional government debt exception was passed and the Supreme Court’s decision in Barr v. AAPC declared it unconstitutional and severed it from the statute. Some district courts, such as the District of Louisiana in Creasy v. Charter Communications, Inc., 2020 WL 5761117 (E.D. La. Sept. 28, 2020), have concluded plaintiffs cannot—reasoning that the TCPA was void while an unconstitutional provision was part of it. As covered in our prior posts, district courts have come down on both sides of the issue—leading to significant confusion.
Enter the Sixth Circuit’s decision in Lindenbaum v. Realgy, LLC, No. 20-4252, 2021 WL 4097320 (6th Cir. Sept. 9, 2021), which considered the Chief Judge of the Northern District of Ohio’s decision that dismissed a putative class action arising from prerecorded calls.
The Federal Communications Commission has proposed to slap a Virginia political firm and two of its principals with a $5,134,500 fine for placing over one thousand prerecorded phone calls to cell phones across the country without prior consent from recipients, in violation of the TCPA and Commission rules. The action is the FCC’s first big enforcement matter under the recently enacted Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence (“TRACED”) Act and demonstrates the Commission’s willingness to use that statute to assess hefty penalties against noncompliant entities.
Under the 2019 TRACED Act, the Commission may issue a “Notice of Apparent Liability for Forfeiture” to an entity that violates the TCPA’s prohibitions on prerecorded voice messages and autodialing systems, without first having to issue a warning to the entity. See Pub. L. No. 116-105, 133 Stat. 3274, Sec. 3(a). The defendant then has an opportunity to challenge the allegations before the Commission issues a final decision on liability and fines. See FCC, Enforcement Primer (“FCC-Initiated Investigations”). Prior to the TRACED Act, FCC rules required the Commission to issue a citation to an alleged violator of § 227(b) before it could seek to impose a forfeiture penalty upon them.