FCC Acts to Curb Foreign-Originated Illegal Robocalls, Imposes Several New Requirements on Gateway Providers

Recently, on May 20, 2022, the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”) issued a Report and Order (“Order”), as well as a Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (all available here), with a plain objective:  to “take further steps to stem the tide of foreign-originated illegal robocalls and seek comment on additional ways to address all such calls.”  Order1.  As stated by the FCC, “reducing illegal robocalls that originate abroad is one of the most vexing challenges we face in tackling the problem of illegal robocalls.”  Id.  The Order was adopted by a unanimous, 4-0 vote by the FCC after it had received comments over the last nine months on various topics, including whether so-called “gateway providers” should be required to authenticate caller identification information and implement other efforts to reduce the number of illegal prerecorded and/or artificial voice “robocalls” originating overseas.

A “gateway provider” is a U.S.-based provider that acts as an intermediary for an international call by receiving a call directly from a foreign provider before transmitting that call downstream to other U.S.-based providers for termination.  Order ¶ 25.  This definition is not static but rather one that applies on a call-by-call basis, i.e., a provider is a gateway provider—and subject to the FCC’s new Order—only for those calls in which it acts as a gateway provider.  Id. ¶ 28.  Per the FCC, commenters “overwhelmingly” supported the imposition of additional requirements on gateway providers in order to “stop the flood of foreign-originated illegal calls.”  Id. ¶ 21.

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Single Fax Received by E-Mail Deemed Insufficient to Confer Article III Standing

As we have reported here and here, courts throughout the country, including most notably the Eleventh Circuit in Salcedo v. Hanna, have grappled with the question of whether a single unsolicited text message may constitute sufficient injury to satisfy the constitutional standing requirement in Article III. The Salcedo court held that one text message does not suffice.

But what about a single fax? That was the question recently presented to the Middle District of Florida in Daisy, Inc. v. Mobile Mini, Inc., No. 20-0017 (M.D. Fla. Sept. 24, 2020). The court similarly found that, at least under the relatively unique circumstances of the case, a single fax did not confer standing.

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FCC Issues Declaratory Ruling Regarding Whether P2P Text Messaging Platforms Are Autodialers

On June 25, 2020, the FCC issued a Declaratory Ruling that granted a Petition that had been filed in 2018 by the P2P Alliance—a “coalition of providers and users of peer-to-peer (P2P) text messaging services.” The Petition had asked the FCC to clarify whether texts sent via its messaging platform were subject to the TCPA restrictions on automated dialing. The FCC did not decide if the Petitioner’s messaging platform is an autodialer, as the record was not sufficient to do so. But it did clarify in the abstract that, “if a texting platform actually requires a person to actively and affirmatively manually dial each recipient’s number and transmit each message one at a time and lacks the capacity to transmit more than one message without a human manually dialing each recipient’s number… then such platform would not be an ‘autodialer’ that is subject to the TCPA.”

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Florida Federal Court Stays Putative Class Action to Await Guidance from the FCC and Eleventh Circuit as to What Constitutes an ATDS

It can fairly be said that the statutory definition of “automatic telephone dialing system” (“ATDS”) has generated far more questions than answers—for courts and litigants alike. This is especially true in the wake of ACA International v. FCC, 885 F.3d 687 (D.C. Cir. 2018), where the D.C. Circuit set aside the FCC’s sweeping interpretation of the ATDS definition, and thus handed the baton back to the Commission to provide guidance on what is (and is not) an ATDS. But almost two years later, the FCC has yet to issue its ruling.

In the many TCPA cases that turn on the definition of ATDS, defendants may wish to file a motion to stay the action so that the court can await guidance from the FCC’s anticipated ruling on this issue. Indeed, over the course of the last year, multiple federal judges, at least in Florida, have been willing to grant such motions, particularly because the ATDS definition is also center stage in an appeal pending before the Eleventh Circuit. See Glasser v. Hilton Grand Vacations Co., LLC, No. 18-14499 (11th Cir. filed Oct. 24, 2018).

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Florida Federal Court Rejects ATDS Allegations, Grants Motion to Dismiss

In a text message case, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida recently granted Atlantic Coast Enterprise, LLC’s (“Ace”) motion to dismiss upon finding that the plaintiff had failed to plausibly allege Ace’s use of an automatic telephone dialing system (“ATDS”). See Turizo v. Jiffy Lube International, Inc., et al., No. 19-61140, 2019 WL 4737696 (S.D. Fla. Sept. 27, 2019) (available here).

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Florida U.S. District Court Grants Victory for Defendant, Finds its Dialing Equipment Is Not an ATDS

In many TCPA cases, the sufficiency of a plaintiff’s allegations, particularly those concerning the defendant’s alleged use of an automatic telephone dialing system (“ATDS”), are tested at the pleadings stage through a motion to dismiss. No matter which side prevails, a trial court’s ruling at that procedural moment is limited to whether ATDS allegations are plausible—not whether any evidence actually proves that an ATDS was, in fact, used. And because so many lawsuits are resolved through an early settlement, a defendant often does not have a day in court on the question of whether its dialing equipment as configured and used constitutes an ATDS.

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California District Court Sends Plaintiff Back to the Drawing Board to Clarify Which of Six Defendants Actually Called Him

Plaintiffs often employ the spaghetti-against-the-wall tactic of asserting every conceivable claim against every conceivable defendant. But as a recent decision from the Southern District of California confirms, this strategy is not without risk.

In Ewing v. Encor Solar, LLC, No. 18-2247, 2019 WL 277386 (S.D. Cal. Jan. 22, 2019), the court dismissed a TCPA claim with leave to amend because the plaintiff had failed to allege a fundamental fact: which of the six named defendants actually called him. Continue reading   »

District Court Grants Summary Judgment for Defendant, Finding its Dialing System Is Not an ATDS

As consumers and businesses await clarity from the FCC regarding the definition of “automatic telephone dialing system” (“ATDS”), district courts throughout the country continue to grapple with competing appellate decisions in order to resolve pending cases within this uncertain and fast-changing legal landscape. A recent decision, Roark v. Credit One Bank, N.A., No. 16-173, 2018 WL 5921652 (D. Minn. Nov. 13, 2018) (available here), provides an illustration of this current climate, as a Minnesota federal judge had to address four appellate cases concerning the ATDS definition from this year alone, including the seminal ACA International decision. The decision is also notable because the court concluded that the defendant’s “predictive dialing systems” did not violate the TCPA. Continue reading   »

District Court Denies Class Certification Due to Individualized Issues of Consent

A federal district court recently rejected a plaintiff’s bid at class certification in a TCPA case. See Bais Yaakov of Spring Valley v. ACT, Inc., No. CV 12-40088-TSH, 2018 WL 5281746 (D. Mass. Oct. 24, 2018) (available here). The decision provides a useful illustration of how individualized issues of consent may defeat a plaintiff’s attempt to show that common questions “predominate,” as required by Rule 23(b)(3). Continue reading   »