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.
In an interesting decision from the District Court of Oregon, United States Magistrate Judge Youlee Yim You recommended granting a motion to deny class certification where uncertainty about the appropriate classification of a cell phone number’s use was enough to make the plaintiff an inadequate class representative with atypical claims. Mattson v. New Penn Fin., LLC, No. 3:18-cv-00990, 2021 WL 1406875 (D. Or. Mar. 8, 2021).
In Mattson, the plaintiff filed a TCPA class action, claiming the defendant, New Penn Financial, LLC, called his cell phone while it was registered on the national Do Not Call Registry in violation of 47 C.F.R. § 64.1200(c). Id. at *1. As readers of this blog will note, 47 C.F.R. § 64.1200(c)(2) prohibits telephone solicitations made to residential telephone subscribers who are registered on the Do Not Call Registry. New Penn sought denial of class certification, arguing the uncertainty of Plaintiff’s standing made his claims atypical, rendering him an inadequate class representative. Id. In considering the motion, the Court identified an issue unique to the plaintiff—whether the cell phone number at issue was properly considered a residential or business telephone number. Id. at *5.
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.