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.
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.
After adopting orders reflecting the majority of implementation deadlines set by the TRACED Act and the Supreme Court’s highly anticipated TCPA decision interpreting the statutory definition of automatic telephone dialing system in the first half of 2021, all eyes are on what the FCC has planned. Midsummer seems like a good time for a year-to-date review to track where the FCC has been and where it is headed next in its TCPA oversight and enforcement roles.
STIR/SHAKEN Call Authentication Framework
Last week, the FCC adopted its January 2021 proposal and issued a Report and Order establishing what the FCC describes as “a fair and consistent process” that a voice service provider can use to challenge a decision by the STIR/SHAKEN framework Governance Authority to strip that provider of the “digital token” that authenticates calls on that provider’s Internet-Protocol (IP) networks.
Three months after the Supreme Court’s landmark Facebook ruling, a growing number of trial courts have grappled with interpreting and applying the High Court’s directive. One of the more interesting decisions came out of the Eastern District of Michigan recently. In Barry v. Ally Fin., Inc., No. 20-cv-12378, 2021 WL 2936636, at *1-7 (E.D. Mich. July 13, 2021), the district court dismissed a putative TCPA class action on the grounds that the plaintiff failed to allege use of an ATDS. More significantly, the district court interpreted Facebook to hold that to be an ATDS, the dialing system must actually use a random or sequential number generator to call the plaintiff, and not merely have the capacity to do so.
TCPA Blog’s Mike Daly co-authored an article for the ABA about the impact of the Supreme Court’s recent ruling in Facebook, Inc. v. Duguid, which clarifies the TCPA’s definition of an ATDS. The article explains that the unanimous decision is a victory for businesses because it limits the scope of the statute’s restriction on autodialing and because it should drastically decrease the volume of litigation arising under that part of the statute, which has been one of the most active areas of litigation in recent years. But the article also predicted that the ruling may cause plaintiffs’ counsel to focus on other calling restrictions, for example its restrictions on artificial or prerecorded voices, Do-Not-Call restrictions, and even faxes.
TCPA Blog’s Michael Daly will be participating in a webinar titled “Supreme Court’s Facebook Decision Upends TCPA Litigation Landscape.” This webinar on Thursday, April 22, 2021, will delve into the Supreme Court’s decision in Facebook v. Duguid, which resolved a split among the lower courts over how to interpret the TCPA’s definition of an “automatic telephone dialing system.” The panelists from the Consumer Litigation Committee of the American Bar Association’s Litigation Section will analyze the decision and discuss the future of TCPA litigation.
For more information and to register, please click here.
In a decision issued this morning, the Supreme Court settled a long-running debate over the scope of the TCPA’s “automatic telephone dialing system” definition: “whether that definition encompasses equipment that can ‘store’ and dial telephone numbers, even if the device does not ‘us[e] a random or sequential number generator.” Facebook, Inc. v. Duguid, 592 U.S. — (2021).
The Court unequivocally held that devices that merely store numbers from a premade list do not qualify as autodialer systems subject to the TCPA. “To qualify as an [ATDS],” explained Justice Sotomayor, writing for Court, “a device must have the capacity either to store a telephone number using a random or sequential generator or to produce a telephone number” using either form of generation. Id. at 1.
The Southern District of California recently dismissed the TCPA case Hildre v. Heavy Hammer, Inc., No. 3:20-cv-00236, 2021 WL 734431 (S.D. Cal. Feb. 25, 2021), for the plaintiff’s failure to adequately allege that the defendants had used an automatic telephone dialing system (“ATDS”) when placing calls.
The plaintiff alleged that the defendants called him using an ATDS without first obtaining his consent. Specifically, he claimed that the out-of-state defendant called him twice using a California telephone number. After the first call, plaintiff claimed that he asked to be removed from the call list. When plaintiff received the second call, he alleges that there was a “noticeable pause” after he answered.
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.