District Court Departs from Supreme Court Plurality to Find Government-Debt Collector Retroactively Liable Under TCPA — But Rejects Statutory Damages

For nearly five years, the TCPA explicitly excluded from liability calls made to collect government-backed debt. Naturally, government debt collectors relied on this exception and called debtors without fear of TCPA liability. In 2020, the Supreme Court ruled that this exception was unconstitutional and severed it from the statute. Now, a federal district court has ruled that government debt collectors may be liable for calls made prior to the Supreme Court Ruling, despite their reasonable reliance on the exception. In doing so, the court brushed aside due process concerns.

As previously reported, the government debt exception was severed from the statute by the Supreme Court’s decision in Barr v. AAPC. The AAPC decision was highly fractured—with the Court issuing four opinions but none commanding a majority.  Since, district courts have been grappling with AAPC means for the statute.

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Sixth Circuit Rejects Strict Liability for Products Advertised via Fax, “Some Level of Knowledge” Required

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit recently re-affirmed its position that manufacturers of products advertised in unsolicited fax messages do not face strict liability under the TCPA’s junk-fax provision.  To face liability, the manufacturers must at least be aware that fax advertisements are being sent.

In Lyngaas v. Curaden AG, a dentist sued a Swiss toothbrush manufacturer, Curaden AG, and its American subsidiary, Curaden USA, for sending unsolicited fax advertisements for their toothbrushes.  992 F.3d 412, 417 (6th Cir. Mar. 24, 2021).  The district court concluded that Curaden AG could not be held liable for the faxes because Curaden USA had designed and broadcasted the faxes on its own, without parent authorization.  Id. at 423.  On appeal, the dentist argued that FCC regulation extended liability to any entity “whose goods or services are advertised or promoted” in a fax, regardless of knowledge.  Id. at 424 (quoting 47 C.F.R. § 64.1200(f)(10)).

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Seventh Circuit Reaffirms Gadelhak, Rejects Challenge to Narrow ATDS Definition

The Seventh Circuit last week affirmed its holding in Gadelhak v. AT&T Services, Inc., 950 F.3d 458 (7th Cir. 2020) that, to qualify as an “automatic telephone dialing system” (ATDS) under the TCPA, a device or calling system must have the ability to randomly or sequentially generate the phone numbers that it calls. As we reported here and here, this interpretation of the statute’s ATDS definition excludes systems and devices that place calls from a premade list of numbers, such as a list of customers’ mobile numbers. Courts remain divided on how to interpret the ATDS definition and the Supreme Court is expected to address the issue in a case that is currently before it, Facebook, Inc. v. Duguid.

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Eastern District of California Adds to Creasy Split

As we have reported on here, here, here, and here, a growing number of district courts are issuing opinions addressing whether they have subject matter jurisdiction over TCPA claims alleging robocall violations that occurred when the government debt exception invalidated by Barr v. APPC, 140 S. Ct. 2335 (2020), was part of the statute.  The Eastern District of California recently added to this line of cases, joining courts that have held that “the TCPA remains enforceable, at least against non-government debt collectors, as to calls made between November 2015 and July 6, 2020.”  See Stoutt v Travis Credit Union, No. 2:20-cv-01280, 2021 WL 99636, at *3 (E.D. Cal. Jan. 12, 2021).

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District Court Dismisses Ex-Attorney and TCPA Serial Litigant’s Claims with Prejudice

On January 6, 2021, the District of Maryland dismissed a TCPA claim (and a derivative claim under Maryland’s MDTPCA) against Discount Power, Inc. (“Discount”). See Worsham v. Discount Power, Inc., No. 20-0008, 2021 WL 50922 (D. Md. Jan. 6, 2021). The decision is a helpful reminder that a number’s purpose can be a critical component of a TCPA claim and that defendants should therefore develop that fact during preliminary investigation and, if necessary, during formal discovery.

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Court Dismisses Claims that Shopping Platform was Directly or Vicariously Liable for Retailer’s Texts

The Northern District of California recently granted a motion to dismiss, finding the plaintiff failed to plausibly allege that e-commerce platform Shopify was directly or vicariously liable for the alleged TCPA violations of a retailer using the platform. Sheski v. Shopify (USA) Inc., No. 19-CV-06858, 2020 WL 2474421 (N.D. Cal. May 13, 2020).

The plaintiff filed a putative class action complaint alleging, among other claims, that the defendants Shopify (USA) Inc. and Shopify Inc. (collectively, “Shopify”) violated the TCPA due to Shopify’s “unlawful practice of making, facilitating and participating in an unauthorized text message marketing campaign en masse to consumers’ cellular telephones.”

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District Court Sharpens Focus on Injury-in-Fact Requirement in Text Messaging Cases

The Southern District of Florida recently dismissed a TCPA putative class action for lack of standing, finding that the plaintiff could not show he suffered a concrete injury-in-fact.  Reinforcing Eleventh Circuit precedent, the court held both that the number and infrequency of the text messages at issue was insufficient to support plaintiff’s loss of privacy, waste of time, and intrusion upon seclusion allegations and that he failed to show by a preponderance of the evidence that the texts depleted his cell phone battery or negatively impacted his data and messaging plan. Eldridge v. Pet Supermarket Inc., No. 18-22531, 2020 WL 1475094 (S.D. Fla. Mar. 10, 2020).

In Eldridge, plaintiff alleged that defendant used an ATDS to send him seven advertising and telemarketing text messages without his consent, in violation of the TCPA. Plaintiff received the first two messages after he texted defendant’s number in order to enter a raffle for free pet food. They confirmed plaintiff’s entry in the raffle, provided a link to the raffle’s rules, and stated that plaintiff consented to receive automated text messages from defendant. The next five messages, sent over approximately three months, contained coupon codes and information regarding upcoming pet adoption events. Plaintiff alleged that all seven text messages “‘invaded [his] privacy, intruded upon his seclusion and solitude, wasted his time by requiring him to open and read the messages, depleted his cellular telephone battery, and caused him to incur a usage allocation deduction to his text messaging or data plan.’” Id. at *2.

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Central District of California Grants Motion for Summary Judgment After Finding That Plaintiff Failed to Revoke Prior Express Consent To Be Called

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.

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Court Applies Wrong Lyrical Analysis—But Right Legal Analysis—In Setting High Bar to Recovering Treble Damages in Reassigned Number Case

The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida recently entered summary judgment on the issue of treble damages, finding that there was no genuine issue of material fact regarding whether the defendant had called plaintiff’s cell phone number “willfully or knowingly.” Floyd v. Sallie Mae, Inc., No. 12-22649, 2018 WL 7144330 (S.D. Fla. Dec. 27, 2018). The case highlights the facts a defendant can develop to avoid a treble damages award, particularly in a case involving a reassigned number. Continue reading   »

One Court Declines to Rule that Pharmacy Prescription Calls are Per Se Protected by the Emergency Purposes Exception, Rejecting Cases Holding Otherwise

Last week, in Smith v. Rite Aid Corporation, 2018 WL 5828693 (W.D.N.Y. Nov. 7, 2018), a court rejected the argument – supported by previous cases – that pharmacy prescription reminder calls categorically come within the TCPA’s statutory emergency purposes exception. This decision creates uncertainty for all pharmacies and may chill their ability to provide important health care notifications to their patients. Continue reading   »