Texas District Court Joins the Third, Sixth, and Eleventh Circuit Courts of Appeal, Permitting a Private Right of Action for Violation of Section 64.1200(d)

The Northern District of Texas, in Powers v. One Technologies, LLC, joined its sister courts and the Third, Sixth, and Eleventh Circuit Courts of Appeal to hold that 47 C.F.R. § 64.1200(d), which prohibits certain telemarketing communications to “residential telephone subscriber[s]” without properly maintaining a list of persons on the national do-not-call list, provides a private right of action under the TCPA. 2022 WL 2992881, at *2 (N.D. Tex. July 28, 2022).

The plaintiffs sued under Section 64.1200(d), alleging that One Technologies violated the TCPA when the plaintiffs received unsolicited, unlawful text messages.  Specifically, they alleged that One Technologies did not have or maintain “a procedure for maintaining a do-not-call list.”

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Southern District of New York Denies Motion to Dismiss Because Plaintiff Sufficiently Alleged That He Was a “Residential Subscriber”

The TCPA’s Do Not Call (DNC) regulations prohibit telephone solicitations to “residential telephone subscriber[s]” who have “registered [their] telephone number on the national do-not-call registry.” See 47 C.F.R. § 64.1200(c)(2). However, as we noted in a recent post, several district courts have found that the term “residential telephones,” as used in the DNC regulations, may include cell phones under certain circumstances, such as when cell phones are used primarily for “personal, family, and household” matters. See Hunsinger v. Alpha Cash Buyers, LLC, 3:21-cv-1598-D, 2022 WL 562761, at *2 (N.D. Tex. Feb. 24, 2022) (collecting cases). Nonetheless, other courts have rejected this proposition. See id. at *2 (citing Callier v. GreenSky, Inc., EP-20-CV-00304, 2021 WL 2688622, at *6 (W.D. Tex. May 10, 2021)).

In Rose v. New TSI Holdings, Inc., the Southern District of New York recently held that a plaintiff alleged sufficient facts to survive a motion to dismiss arguing that plaintiff’s cell phone could not qualify as a “residential telephone.” No. 21-CV-5519, 2022 WL 912967 (S.D.N.Y. Mar. 28, 2022).  Specifically, plaintiff alleged that he received twelve unsolicited calls from 2018 through 2021 after he visited Boston Sports Club even though his number had been listed on the DNC Registry since 2004. He alleged that he received the messages even after he told defendant to stop calling/texting him at least five times, and that some of the calls included identical prerecorded promotional messages.

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Internal DNC Policies Not Prerequisite to Using EBR Defense, Ohio Southern District Holds

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.

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Texts Regarding COVID Vaccine Eligibility Are Not Actionable Under TCPA, Texas Northern District Holds

The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas recently held that unsolicited text messages that simply inform recipients of the availability of a free COVID-19 vaccine are protected by the “emergency purposes” exception to the TCPA’s prior express consent requirement and also do not qualify as telephone “solicitations” prohibited by the FCC’s do-not-call (DNC) rules.

In Horton v. Tarrant County Hospital District, No. 4:22-CV-9-P, 2022 WL 702536 (N.D. Tex. Feb. 4, 2022), the plaintiff alleged that he received a single unsolicited text message from the defendant, a public hospital district, announcing that “everyone ages 12 and up is eligible for the COVID vaccine.” Mr. Horton alleged that the text was sent without his consent in violation of the TCPA’s prohibition on autodialed calls as well as the rule against solicitations to telephone numbers on the national DNC list.

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Personal Cell Phones May Qualify as “Residential Telephones” Subject to DNC Rules, but Calls Made to a Pre-produced List Are Not ATDS Calls, Texas Northern District Holds

Last week, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas held that mobile phones may qualify as “residential telephones” when used (as the Complaint alleged) primarily for “personal, family, and household use,” and thus be subject to the TCPA’s do-not-call rules (47 C.F.R. §§ 64.1200(c) & (d)).  This issue has sewn disharmony among federal district courts and may draw attention from higher courts.  But the court also joined the growing number of courts following Facebook, Inc. v. Duguid, 141 S. Ct. 1163 (2021), that have agreed that calls specifically directed to persons on a pre-produced list (like plaintiff) are not calls made using a “random or sequential number generator” and thus are not subject to the TCPA’s prior express consent requirement for calls made using an ATDS.

In Hunsinger v. Alpha Cash Buyers, LLC, 3:21-cv-1598-D, 2022 WL 562761 (N.D. Tex. Feb. 24, 2022), the plaintiff alleged that, over the course of last year, he received eight unsolicited phone calls and six SMS text messages on his cell phone from a number he didn’t recognize.  Hunsinger picked up one of the calls and spoke with a representative for the defendant, to whom Hunsinger gave his email address.  Hunsinger subsequently received several calls and texts from the defendant referring to Hunsinger’s conversation with the representative and asking if he was still interested in a transaction.  These calls and texts were sent using an ATDS, Hunsinger alleged.  At all relevant times, Hunsinger’s number was on the national DNC list.  Id. at *1.

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Private Cause of Action Exists for Violations of Do-Not-Call Rule, North Carolina Federal Judge Says

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.

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S.D. Cal. Court Dismisses Claims, Finding Text Messages at Issue Were Not “Telephone Solicitations”

The Southern District of California recently granted (in part) a motion to dismiss in Gross v. GG Homes, Inc., 2021 WL 2863623 (S.D. Cal. 2021), because the text messages at issue were not “telephone solicitations” within the meaning of the TCPA. Notably, the Court found that the text messages did not qualify as solicitations because they were “targeted at procuring services from Plaintiff” (as opposed to selling something to Plaintiff).

Plaintiff alleged that Defendant (a real estate firm) violated the TCPA when it sent text messages (and placed calls) to her cell phone. Defendant filed a motion to dismiss challenging her Article III standing as well as the sufficiency of her factual allegations for her TCPA claims. The Court began by rejecting Defendant’s arguments that Plaintiff lacked standing, that Plaintiff failed to allege facts showing that Defendant might be responsible for the texts at issue, and that Plaintiff failed to allege that Defendant used an ATDS to send the text messages. But the Court agreed with Defendant that Plaintiff’s § 227(c) claims—based on sending the text messages to a number on the national Do-Not-Call Registry—must be dismissed.

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Business or Residential? Ambiguity Surrounding Number on Do Not Call Registry Can Defeat Class Certification

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.

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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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Seventh Circuit Remands $280 Million TCPA Penalty Against DISH Network, LLC

The Seventh Circuit recently issued an opinion with significant implications for defendants evaluating the prospects for due process challenges to awards of statutory damages under the TCPA, as well as defendants facing claims of agency liability for the acts of their vendors or contractors. In an opinion by Judge Easterbrook, the Seventh Circuit ordered the District Court to reexamine a “whopping” $280 million penalty against DISH Network, LLC (“DISH”) for violations of the TCPA, the Telemarketing Sales Rule, 16 C.F.R. § 310 (the “Rule”), and related state laws. U.S. v. DISH Network, LLC, 2020 WL 141844, at *8 (7th Cir. Mar. 26, 2020). Although the Seventh Circuit suggested in dicta that the damages award was constitutionally acceptable, it held that the District Court erred because it only considered DISH’s “ability to pay” when calculating the award. Id. The court stated that the analysis should “start from harm rather than wealth, then add an appropriate multiplier.” Id.

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