The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit recently re-affirmed its position that manufacturers of products advertised in unsolicited fax messages do not face strict liability under the TCPA’s junk-fax provision. To face liability, the manufacturers must at least be aware that fax advertisements are being sent.
In Lyngaas v. Curaden AG, a dentist sued a Swiss toothbrush manufacturer, Curaden AG, and its American subsidiary, Curaden USA, for sending unsolicited fax advertisements for their toothbrushes. 992 F.3d 412, 417 (6th Cir. Mar. 24, 2021). The district court concluded that Curaden AG could not be held liable for the faxes because Curaden USA had designed and broadcasted the faxes on its own, without parent authorization. Id. at 423. On appeal, the dentist argued that FCC regulation extended liability to any entity “whose goods or services are advertised or promoted” in a fax, regardless of knowledge. Id. at 424 (quoting 47 C.F.R. § 64.1200(f)(10)).
As we have reported here and here, courts throughout the country, including most notably the Eleventh Circuit in Salcedo v. Hanna, have grappled with the question of whether a single unsolicited text message may constitute sufficient injury to satisfy the constitutional standing requirement in Article III. The Salcedo court held that one text message does not suffice.
But what about a single fax? That was the question recently presented to the Middle District of Florida in Daisy, Inc. v. Mobile Mini, Inc., No. 20-0017 (M.D. Fla. Sept. 24, 2020). The court similarly found that, at least under the relatively unique circumstances of the case, a single fax did not confer standing.
On September 21, the FCC’s Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau issued a declaratory ruling clarifying that businesses advertised via fax should not face “sender liability” for unsolicited faxes sent without prior authorization. See Declaratory Ruling at ¶¶ 9, 17, In the Matter of Akin Gump, CG Docket No. 02-278 (Sept. 21, 2020). This ruling provides some much-needed guidance on the scope of sender liability under the Junk Fax Prevention Act, an issue which has divided the courts.
In 2005, the Junk Fax Prevention Act amended the TCPA to prohibit the sending of unsolicited advertisements via facsimile, absent some excepted relationship between sender and recipient. See Pub. L. No. 109-21, 119 Stat. 359 (2005). The FCC has defined the “sender” of a fax for liability purposes as any “person or entity on whose behalf a facsimile unsolicited advertisement is sent or whose goods or services are advertised or promoted in the unsolicited advertisement.” 47 C.F.R. § 64.1200(f)(10) (2019). The Commission also has observed that the “sender” of a fax is usually, but not always, the business advertised in the fax. See “2006 Junk Fax Order,” FCC Rcd. 3787, 3808, ¶ 39 (2006).
The United States District Court for the District of Connecticut recently dealt another blow to serial TCPA plaintiff, Gorss Motels, Inc., granting summary judgment to the defendant in Gorss Motels, Inc. v. Lands’ End, Inc., No. 17-cv-00010, 2020 WL 264784 (D. Conn. Jan. 16, 2020). This is the latest in a series of adverse decisions—including from a Court of Appeal—suffered by Gorss Motels.
Recently, an Eastern District of Michigan court entered summary judgment in favor of a defendant upon finding that it had neither transmitted nor caused the transmission of the fax at issue. In Garner Properties & Management, LLC v. Marblecast of Michigan, Inc., the plaintiff alleged that it had received an unsolicited fax that referenced the products of two companies: Marblecast of Michigan and American Woodmark. The plaintiff sued both companies in a putative class action. American Woodmark eventually moved for summary judgment and argued that the plaintiff had failed to offer evidence from which a reasonable juror could conclude that it had “sent” the fax at issue. See 47 U.S.C. § 227(b)(1)(C) (“It shall be unlawful for any . . . to use any telephone facsimile machine, computer, or other device to send, to a telephone facsimile machine, an unsolicited advertisement, unless. . . .”) (emphasis added). In opposition, the plaintiff argued that American Woodmark was strictly liable as a sender under the TCPA because the fax had referenced its products. Continue reading
The Southern District of Ohio recently denied class certification because the defendant’s unrebutted testimony—which established that its procedures ensured that faxes were only sent to those who had given their prior express permission—created individualized issues that predominated over any common ones. See Sawyer v. KRS Biotechnology, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 8595 (S.D. Oh. May 30, 2018). Continue reading
The Supreme Court today denied the petition for certiorari filed by the class action plaintiffs in Bais Yaakov of Spring Valley v. FCC, thus leaving in place the D.C. Circuit’s ruling that “although the [Telephone Consumer Protection Act] requires an opt-out notice on unsolicited fax advertisements, the Act does not require a similar opt-out notice on solicited fax advertisements . . . . [nor does it] grant the FCC authority to require opt-out notices on solicited fax advertisements.” 852 F.3d 1078, 1082 (D.C. Cir. 2017). Our summary of the briefing on the petition is available here.
As we’ve discussed previously, the D.C. Circuit’s ruling (binding nationwide pursuant to the Hobbs Act) makes it much tougher for plaintiffs in TCPA fax suits to certify a class. The plaintiffs’ bar has typically sought to certify classes based on violations of the opt-out notice requirement for solicited faxes, because a class defined in such a way side-stepped the inherently individualized issue of whether the fax was solicited or not. With the opt-out notice requirement for solicited faxes eliminated, plaintiffs’ attorneys have a much tougher challenge. Indeed, in Alpha Tech Pet, Inc. v. Lagasse, LLC, No. 16 C 513, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 182499 (N.D. Ill. Nov. 3, 2017), a district court relying on the D.C. Circuit’s decision found that individualized issues of consent precluded certification of a class of fax recipients where certification could not be premised on whether the faxes included an opt-out notice. The plaintiff in Alpha Tech has appealed that decision, arguing (among other things) that the D.C. Circuit’s decision is not binding in the Seventh Circuit. Given the significance of this issue for the plaintiff’s bar, we can expect to continue to see collateral challenges like this to the repeal of the FCC’s solicited fax rule notwithstanding that the D.C. Circuit’s decision in Bais Yaakov is now final.
On January 30, 2018, briefing closed on the petition for certiorari filed in the Supreme Court by the class action plaintiffs in Bais Yaakov of Spring Valley v. FCC. The class action plaintiffs are seeking review of the D.C. Circuit’s March 2017 decision (discussed at length here, here, here, and here) holding that the FCC exceeded its statutory authority when it promulgated regulations in 2006 requiring that a fax advertisement sent with the prior express consent of the recipient include an opt-out notice because “although the Act requires an opt-out notice on unsolicited fax advertisements, the Act does not require a similar opt-out notice on solicited fax advertisements . . . . [nor does it] grant the FCC authority to require opt-out notices on solicited fax advertisements.” Bais Yaakov of Spring Valley v. FCC, 852 F.3d 1078, 1082 (D.C. Cir. 2017). Continue reading
A recent appellate opinion out of Oklahoma state court provides an important reminder that putative classes should not include people who did not receive the communication at issue. See Ketch v. Royal Windows, 113986 (Ct. Civ. App. Okla., Nov. 08, 2016).
In Ketch, the plaintiff filed suit after receiving an allegedly unsolicited fax advertisement from the defendant, from which it had previously requested a catalog. The defendant admitted that the fax advertisement did not have any opt-out language and evidently did not seek a retroactive waiver from the FCC. The plaintiff then moved for summary judgment on behalf of itself and a previously certified class. The trial court granted that motion, finding that Royal was liable to the tune of $290,000.00, i.e., $500 for each fax that had been transmitted. Continue reading
In its October 2014 Final Order (the “Anda Order”), the Federal Communications Commission found that it had the statutory authority to regulate solicited faxes by promulgating a rule that requires an opt-out notice on all such faxes, but also found that because of reasonable confusion surrounding the regulation, there was good cause to waive the rule for fax senders who had previously sent solicited faxes without the opt-out notice. Continue reading