Ever since the Supreme Court confirmed that the TCPA’s autodialer restrictions apply only to devices that generate numbers randomly or sequentially, the plaintiffs’ bar has been digging deep for new theories of liability to fill the void. One example of that is Hall v. Smosh Dot Com, in which the plaintiff posits that minors cannot provide consent for purposes of the TCPA, and as a result that calls to minors with DNC-registered numbers necessarily violate the statute. That theory is hard to square with both tort law (which tells us that minors consent to more intrusive things all the time) and contract law (which tells us that contracts with minors are voidable rather than void). But the Ninth Circuit recently handed Hall a procedural win in the case—albeit one that should end up being Pyrrhic.
The case arises from five text messages sent over the course of seven months. Undeterred by the fact that her teenage son had requested the messages, the Plaintiff filed suit—in a class action, of course—under the TCPA’s DNC provisions. See 47 U.S.C. § 227(c)(5). The trial court dismissed the case for lack of Article III standing, finding that the Plaintiff had failed to allege that she was either the “actual user” of the phone or the “actual recipient” of the messages. The Plaintiff appealed, arguing that she could have Article III standing even if she was neither of those things. The Ninth Circuit has now agreed, reversed the trial court, and remanded for further proceedings consistent with its opinion.
A recent decision from the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas reaffirms the FCC’s interpretation that calls and text messages regarding consumer surveys and other market research do not qualify as restricted “telephone solicitations” or “telemarketing” under the TCPA or its implementing regulations. Although the outcome in this case is a positive development, organizations that engage in these types of communications should continue to monitor and assess the state of the law in other jurisdictions.
In Hunsinger v. Dynata LLC, the plaintiff was a serial pro se TCPA litigant whose phone number was registered on the FCC’s national do-not-call list at all relevant times. No. 22-cv-136-G-BT, 2023 WL 2377481, at *1 (N.D. Tex. Feb. 7, 2023). Mr. Hunsinger alleged that he received a single call from an unidentified caller asking him to visit Dynata’s website. Id. Hunsinger thereafter sent a letter demanding a copy of Dynata’s DNC policy, but Dynata declined and argued that Hunsinger had no legal basis for his demand. Id. Hunsinger claimed that he directed Dynata to place his number on its internal DNC list but that he subsequently received a single SMS text message that contained a link to another website affiliated with Dynata. Id. at *2.
Earlier this month, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio clarified that a TCPA defendant need not maintain an internal do-not-call list and policies in order to invoke the “established business relationship” defense for telemarketing calls to numbers on the national DNC registry.
By way of background, the TCPA prohibits businesses from making “telephone solicitations” to phone numbers on the national DNC registry. 47 U.S.C. § 227(c); 47 C.F.R. § 64.1200(c). However, telemarketing calls and messages can be sent to such numbers where the caller has an “established business relationship” with the recipient. 47 U.S.C. § 227(a)(4); 47 C.F.R. § 64.1200(f)(15)(ii). The FCC has defined an “established business relationship” (“EBR”) as a “relationship formed by a voluntary two-way communication” regarding a telephone subscriber’s recent purchase of or inquiry about a product sold by the caller. 47 C.F.R. § 64.1200(f)(5). A subscriber can terminate the EBR at any moment by making a clear and specific request for the calls and/or messages to stop. Id. § 64.1200(f)(5)(i). Separately, 47 C.F.R. § 64.1200(d) requires entities who place telemarketing calls to keep an internal list of individuals who have requested not to receive calls and to maintain policies to ensure that the list is honored.
Last week, Judge James C. Dever III of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina handed down a decision of first impression for that court: the FCC’s do-not-call rule, 47 C.F.R. § 64.1200(d), creates a private right of action for telephone subscribers who receive calls in violation of that rule’s “minimum standards.” The decision widens the growing split among federal courts as to which provision of the TCPA gives life to the DNC rule.
On its motion to dismiss, the defendant argued that the plaintiff could not maintain an action for alleged violations of § 64.1200(d) because the FCC promulgated that rule under 47 U.S.C. § 227(d), which does not create a private right of action for violations of implementing regulations. Fischman v. MediaStratX, LLC, No. 2:20-CV-83-D, 2021 WL 3559639, at *4 (E.D.N.C. Aug. 10, 2021). In opposition, the plaintiff argued that the rule was actually passed pursuant to 47 U.S.C. § 227(c), which does create a private right of action for such violations. Id.