The Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991 (TCPA) restricts many types of calls to residential and wireless telephone numbers if they are made without the prior express consent of the called party or a statutory exemption applies, but the statute authorizes the FCC to exempt certain calls from these restrictions. In 2020, the FCC in its TCPA Exemptions Order adopted measures to implement the 2019 Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence Act (TRACED Act). The TRACED Act required that the FCC ensure that any exemption to TCPA prior express consent that the FCC grants under section 227(b)(2)(B) or (C) of the Communications Act, allowing callers to make artificial voice, prerecorded voice, or autodialed calls without prior consent, include certain conditions. Specifically section 8(a) of the TRACED Act requires that any exemption contain requirements with respect to: “(i) the classes of parties that may make such calls; (ii) the classes of parties that may be called; and (iii) the number of such calls that a calling party may make to a particular called party.” The FCC in 2020 determined it would limit the number of exempted calls that can be made to residential phone lines; require that callers making exempt calls allow consumers to opt out of receiving future exempt calls; and codify existing FCC exemptions for certain types of calls to wireless numbers, including calls by package delivery companies, financial institutions, prison inmate calling services, and healthcare providers.
The District of New Jersey recently endorsed the view that calls regarding the availability of free services may plausibly qualify, at the pleadings stage, as “telephone solicitations,” and as such be subject to the Do Not Call prohibition, where the calls are part of a larger marketing program for the defendant’s services. It also held, as the FCC has ruled, that the FCC’s exemption for calls that deliver a “health care message,” from a HIPAA-covered entity or its business associates, treats the calls differently based on whether the calls are delivered to a cell phone or a residential landline. Calls from such entities about health care, when made to wireless numbers, are exempt only from the requirement for written consent that applies to telemarketing calls. Unlike health care calls to residential landlines, these calls are not exempt from the TCPA’s general “prior express consent” requirement for prerecorded and autodialed phone calls, the court held.
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.
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.
Confusion continues amongst federal district courts in the wake of Barr v. American Association of Political Consultants, Inc. (“AAPC”), 140 S. Ct. 2335 (2020), the Supreme Court decision that held the TCPA’s government-debt exception—instituted via a 2015 amendment to the statute—violated the First Amendment. Courts recently have dealt with the issue of whether plaintiffs can bring TCPA claims for conduct occurring between 2015 and July 2020, the date the unconstitutional amendment was passed and the date the Supreme Court declared the amendment unconstitutional and ordered it severed from the TCPA. The Eastern District of Louisiana said the answer to this question is no. Creasy v. Charter Communications, Inc., 2020 WL 5761117 (E.D. La. Sept. 28, 2020). The district courts for the Southern District of California and the Northern District of Ohio disagree, as we discuss below. Our prior posts on this issue, which we have been following closely, can be found here.
In McCurley et al. v. Royal Sea Cruises, Inc., 2021 WL 288164 (S.D. Cal. Jan. 28, 2021), and Less v. Quest Diagnostics Incorporated, 2021 WL 266548 (N.D. Ohio Jan. 26, 2021), defendants argued that TCPA claims arising during the above-mentioned time period were barred because the TCPA was entirely unconstitutional during that period. Both the McCurley and the Less courts disagreed, though the two courts differed in their rationales.
In the aftermath of Barr v. American Association of Political Consultants, Inc.—the Supreme Court decision from July that held the TCPA’s government-debt exception to be an unconstitutional content-based restriction on speech—the country’s district courts cannot agree on whether they may adjudicate TCPA claims alleging conduct that transpired during the life of the exception (i.e., during the period from November 2, 2015 to July 6, 2020). Click here to see our collection of posts on this issue, which we have been following closely. Continue reading
The TRACED Act’s December 30, 2020 deadline was not the end of the FCC’s recent series of actions to bring more clarity to certain forms of TCPA exemptions. Most recently, on January 15, 2021, the FCC issued a Declaratory Ruling “clarify[ing] that a call to a residential telephone line seeking an individual’s participation in a clinical pharmaceutical trial is not subject to the TCPA’s restrictions on prerecorded calls.” Instead, the FCC stated that these calls are eligible for exemption from the TCPA’s prior express written consent requirement as other calls to a residence that do not constitute telemarketing.
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).
Some welcome the New Year with new goals and new plans while others – the FCC, in particular, welcomes the New Year by wrapping up TCPA rulemakings and issuing other rulings. As expected, a number of TRACED Act items were included in orders issued in late December 2020. As we previewed, the FCC amended nine existing TCPA exemptions, imposing additional restrictions on pre-recorded/artificial voice calls placed to residential lines even for informational calling, and adopted new redress requirements on and safe harbor protections for carriers engaging in network-based call blocking. The FCC also denied two petitions for declaratory rulings, clarifying that “soundboard callers use a prerecorded voice to deliver a message” and that as a result, these calls made using soundboards are subject to TCPA restrictions. In light of these changes, we encourage business callers to carefully assess how they affect any existing calling protocols and compliance practices.
A district court from the Central District of California cast its lot against the growing argument that federal courts lack jurisdiction over TCPA claims based on conduct that occurred when the government debt exception was part of the statute. See Shen v. Tricolor California Auto Group, LLC, No. 20-7419, 2020 WL 7705888, at *1 (C.D. Cal. Dec. 17, 2020).
As our regular readers know, the government debt exception—a relatively new addition to the TCPA—was recently severed from the statute by the Supreme Court’s decision in Barr v. AAPC. Since, several federal district courts have questioned whether they may enforce the statute as to claims based on conduct that allegedly occurred while the exception was part of the statute, i.e. from November 2, 2015 through July 6, 2020. Most notably, the Eastern District of Louisiana concluded in Creasy v. Charter Communications that the Barr decision held that the TCPA was unconstitutional in its entirety during the pendency of the exception, that courts lack authority to enforce a constitutional statute, and that courts therefore cannot hear claims based on conduct during that period.