Eleventh Circuit Denies Petition for Rehearing, Permits Split Decision Barring Incentive Awards to Stand

The Eleventh Circuit recently decided not to rehear en banc a panel decision which held that a TCPA class action settlement could not include an incentive award for the lead plaintiff.  See Johnson v. NPAS Sols., LLC, No. 18-12344, 2022 WL 3083717 (11th Cir. Aug. 3, 2022).

The matter arose from a putative class action complaint, which alleged that defendant NPAS Solutions, a medical debt collection company, violated the TCPA by repeatedly robocalling plaintiffs to collect debts that did not actually belong to them.  The lead plaintiff in the case, Charles Johnson, retained counsel and was actively engaged in the litigation, including negotiations that resulted in a $1.432 million class settlement.

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The Losses Mount for a Serial TCPA Plaintiff

In an ever-growing string of losses, the Seventh Circuit affirmed the Northern District of Indiana in denying class certification to serial TCPA plaintiff Gorss Motels, Inc. in Gorss Motels, Inc. v. Brigadoon Fitness, Inc., — F.4th —, 2022 WL 872639 (7th Cir. 2022).

The fact pattern in the present matter is consistent with the other cases Gorss Motels has filed, and the basic fact pattern can be found here. In the present case, Gorss Motels sued a franchisor-approved vendor, Brigadoon Fitness, Inc., for sending a fax advertisement for deals on fitness equipment. Gorss Motels was denied certification for a class of all recipients of this fax, Gorss Motels, Inc. v. Brigadoon Fitness, Inc., 331 F.R.D. 335 (N.D. Ind. 2019), which was denied again on reconsideration, Gorss Motels, Inc. v. Brigadoon Fitness, Inc., No. 1:16-CV-330-HAB, 2019 WL 5692168 (N.D. Ind. Nov. 4, 2019).

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Second Circuit Diverges from Third, Holds that an Unsolicited Invitation to Participate in a Survey is Not Actionable Under the TCPA

The Second Circuit recently addressed whether a faxed invitation to participate in a market research survey is an “unsolicited advertisement” actionable under the TCPA.  In Bruce Katz, M.D., P.C. v. Focus Forward LLC, 22 F.4th 368, 374 (2d Cir. 2022), the Court of Appeals held that under the plain text of the TCPA, an offer to participate in a survey, without more, is not an advertisement because it does not communicate the “availability or quality of any property, goods, or services.”  Id. at 372.

The dispute arose from defendant Focus Forward LLC’s two faxes to plaintiff Bruce Katz, M.D., P.C., a medical services company.  Id. at 370.  The faxes offered $150 in exchange for participation in a market research study.  Id.  Plaintiff initiated a putative class action lawsuit in the Southern District of New York alleging violations of the TCPA, but the federal district court dismissed the complaint, agreeing with Defendant that an invitation to participate in a market research survey was not an unsolicited advertisement within the bounds of 47 U.S.C. § 227.  Id.

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An Indiana District Court Foreshadows a Split in Authority as to Personal Liability of Corporate Officers

The District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, in Black v. First Impression Interactive, Inc., No. 21 C 3745, 2022 WL 169652 (Jan. 19, 2022), denied a motion to dismiss a TCPA claim and, in so doing, highlighted a potential split among authorities as to the extent of personal liability for corporate officers and employees.

Plaintiff brought suit against two individuals, “the only officers and employees of First Impression,” a defunct corporation that had dissolved prior to the lawsuit.  Id. at *1.  Because First Impression had dissolved and the defendants were named individually, the court considered three theories of personal liability:  “(1) ʻvicarious liability’; (2) ‘relief defendants’; and (3) ‘personal participation.’”  Id. at *2.

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Artful Pleading Won’t Circumvent Sovereign Immunity, Fourth Circuit Says

In Cunningham v. Lester, —F.3d—, 2021 WL 821467 (4th Cir. Mar. 4, 2021), the Fourth Circuit reiterated that the doctrine of sovereign immunity is alive and well and very much applicable to putative TCPA claims, and that crafty plaintiffs cannot artfully plead around the doctrine’s reach.

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) contains a provision requiring the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) to “establish a system” so applicants “receive notice of eligibility for an applicable State health subsidy program.” 42 U.S.C. §§ 18083(a), (b)(2), (e). CMS contracted with private company GDIT to fulfill CMS’s requirement that it contact individuals to inform them of their eligibility for participation in the subsidized health insurance plans offered through ACA’s health insurance exchanges. Defendants were individuals working for CMS in connection with the CMS-GDIT contract. Defendants instructed GDIT to prerecord a message and deliver it to approximately 680,000 individuals who had not consented to receive the message.

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Two More District Courts Disagree with Creasy

Confusion continues amongst federal district courts in the wake of Barr v. American Association of Political Consultants, Inc. (“AAPC”), 140 S. Ct. 2335 (2020), the Supreme Court decision that held the TCPA’s government-debt exception—instituted via a 2015 amendment to the statute—violated the First Amendment. Courts recently have dealt with the issue of whether plaintiffs can bring TCPA claims for conduct occurring between 2015 and July 2020, the date the unconstitutional amendment was passed and the date the Supreme Court declared the amendment unconstitutional and ordered it severed from the TCPA. The Eastern District of Louisiana said the answer to this question is no. Creasy v. Charter Communications, Inc., 2020 WL 5761117 (E.D. La. Sept. 28, 2020). The district courts for the Southern District of California and the Northern District of Ohio disagree, as we discuss below. Our prior posts on this issue, which we have been following closely, can be found here.

In McCurley et al. v. Royal Sea Cruises, Inc., 2021 WL 288164 (S.D. Cal. Jan. 28, 2021), and Less v. Quest Diagnostics Incorporated, 2021 WL 266548 (N.D. Ohio Jan. 26, 2021), defendants argued that TCPA claims arising during the above-mentioned time period were barred because the TCPA was entirely unconstitutional during that period. Both the McCurley and the Less courts disagreed, though the two courts differed in their rationales.

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Parroting the Elements of the Statute—Without Pleading Any Substantive Facts—Isn’t Good Enough Under Rule 8 for the District of Connecticut

The United States District Court for the District of Connecticut recently granted a Defendant’s motion to dismiss Plaintiffs’ TCPA claims because Plaintiffs failed to adequately allege facts supporting an inference that Defendant (1) used an automatic telephone dialing system (“ATDS”) and (2) failed to maintain an internal do-not-call list. Sterling v. Securus Technologies, Inc., 2020 WL 2198095 (D. Conn. May 6, 2020). Plaintiffs originally sued multiple Defendants for negligent and willful violations of the TCPA. Id. at *1. Defendants removed the case to federal court and filed motions to dismiss the original Complaint. Id. Plaintiff amended, and Defendants again moved to dismiss. Id. The Court dismissed all claims against Defendants. Id. The Court then granted Plaintiffs’ motion for leave to file a Second Amended Complaint. Id. at *2. Plaintiffs’ Second Amended Complaint only named Defendant Securus, and Defendant again moved to dismiss. Id.

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Court Denies Class Certification in a TCPA Case for Lack of Numerosity and Predominance Despite Millions of Automated Calls

Recently, the Northern District of California joined other courts in more closely scrutinizing class certification motions in TCPA cases. In a case involving an automated phone call by a loan servicer regarding Plaintiff’s student loans, the district court held that the Plaintiff had failed to present evidence to satisfy Rule 23(a)’s numerosity requirement, even though the defendant had made millions of automated calls to millions of customers. Plaintiff also failed to satisfy Rules 23(b)(3) and (b)(2). The class failed under Rule 23(b)(3) because Plaintiff did not show that common questions predominated as to the consent defense and failed under Rule 23(b)(2) because Plaintiff primarily sought statutory damages rather than an injunction. Silver v. Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency, No. 14-cv-00652, 2020 WL 607054 (N.D. Cal. Feb. 7, 2020).

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Court Finds that Professional Plaintiffs’ Standing “Boils Down to” Purpose of Phone Line

Last year, this blog analyzed whether and when professional plaintiffs have standing to assert TCPA claims. A Massachusetts District Court recently examined that issue and held that a plaintiff’s standing “boils down to” how a plaintiff uses a given phone line.

In Rhodes v. Liberty Power Holdings, LLC, No. 18-10506, 2019 WL 4645524 (D. Mass. Sept. 24, 2019), the Court examined TCPA claims brought by two representatives of a putative class. One of them, Samuel Katz (“Katz”), fits the profile of a professional plaintiff, as he is a “frequent litigant in TCPA cases” who “closely tracks the telemarketing calls he receives.” Katz has served over two dozen TCPA demand letters and has filed at least nine TCPA lawsuits. In the present matter, he alleges that he received thirteen automated calls to a “residential landline that he maintained for emergencies.”

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Nasty Political Campaign Results In Potential Liability For VoIP Providers But Not Voice Actors

As we approach the November 2018 midterm elections, we expect that we will once again see (i) an uptick in the volume of political calls; (ii) a reminder from the FCC that the TCPA applies to those calls (emphasizing that such calls are prohibited if made to cell phones without the consent of the called party, and that all prerecorded calls to cell phones or landlines must comply with certain identification and line release requirements); and (iii) a handful of new lawsuits filed against campaigns, candidates, and committees that allegedly failed to heed the FCC’s warning—all topics we have covered here before. Two recent decisions from a federal court in West Virginia pertaining to the 2016 election serve as a reminder that these lawsuits can linger long after the election ends

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