The Eleventh Circuit’s Minority View of Article III Results in Dismissal of Another TCPA Case

The District Court for the Southern District of Florida recently dismissed a TCPA lawsuit for lack of Article III standing, holding that five unsolicited text messages did not constitute a concrete injury.  Muccio v. Global Motivation, Inc., __ F. Supp. 3d __, 2022 WL 17969922 (S.D. Fla. Dec. 27, 2022).  In so doing, the court applied the Eleventh Circuit precedent in Salcedo v. Hanna, which held that a single, unsolicited text message did not itself constitute a concrete injury.

In Muccio, the plaintiffs alleged receiving five unsolicited text messages from defendant Global Motivation, Inc.  The complaint alleged that the text messages did not include the ability to opt-out of future messaging and failed to identify the name of the sender or include the sender’s contact information.  The court decided the motion on Article III standing.  The mere existence of a statutory right, the court explained, even if violated, does not excuse the need for a plaintiff to allege a concrete injury.  The complaint, however, merely sought to redress “inconvenience, invasion of privacy, annoyance, and violation of their statutory rights.”  Applying the rule set forth in Salcedo v. Hanna, the Muccio court dismissed the suit without prejudice for failure to allege a concrete injury.

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Eleventh Circuit Finds Complaint’s Ambiguity in Number of Calls Received Warrants Remand for Article III Standing Analysis

Recently, the Eleventh Circuit remanded a TCPA suit for the district court to rule on Article III standing, finding that the trial court should have addressed the standing issue because plaintiffs failed to plead the number of telephone calls allegedly received.

Sixteen plaintiffs in Evans v. Ocwen Loan Servicing, LLC, No. 21-14045, 2022 WL 17259718 (11th Cir. Nov. 29, 2022), alleged that defendants violated the TCPA by using an Automated Telephone Dialing System (ATDS) to call them.  The complaint included the exact number of calls allegedly received by only eight of the plaintiffs, and stated “that the ‘[e]xact number of calls’” received by the other eight was “‘not confirmed at this point.’”  Id. at *1.  The district court dismissed, concluding that the system at issue was not an ATDS.  The Court of Appeals vacated and remanded, however, finding that the district court failed to address “a significant jurisdiction issue.”  Id.

The court explained that recent Eleventh Circuit precedent establishes that the receipt of more than one unwanted call is sufficient to establish the concrete injury necessary for standing, but the Eleventh Circuit rulings do not “address whether a single call is sufficient to confer [Article III] standing.”  Id. (citing Glasser v. Hilton Grand Vacations Co., LLC, 948 F.3d 1301, 1306 (11th Cir. 2020) and Cordoba v. DIRECTV, LLC, 946 F.3d 1259, 1270 (11th Cir. 2019)).  Thus, the appellate court reasoned, “the resolution of the standing question could differ depending on how many calls each plaintiff is alleged to have received.”  Id.  Because the complaint did not specify the number of calls allegedly received by eight of the plaintiffs, the court reasoned that they could have received “zero, one, or more than one,” and each option “would potentially present a different resolution to the standing issue.”  Id.  Accordingly, the court vacated the district court’s dismissal (without reaching the ATDS issue) and remanded to the district court to address Article III standing.

Interestingly, the Evans court did not cite Salcedo v. Hanna, 936 F.3d 1162 (11th Cir. 2019), which, as we reported on here, held that receipt of a single text message does not constitute the concrete injury needed for Article III standing.  The failure to address Salcedo leaves open the possibility that the Eleventh Circuit could impose a different standard for calls and texts (a possibility further suggested because Salcedo emphasized that Congress did not address text messages in the TCPA because text messages did not exist when the statute was enacted).  Regardless of how the standing issue is ultimately resolved though, the Evans decision still emphasizes the need for plaintiffs to be specific in pleading the number of communications received, particularly in jurisdictions that have either suggested or held that this number impacts standing.  Further, defendants should consider whether to challenge standing (in light of overall case strategy) when the complaint fails to allege specific facts that would preclude this defense.

Defendants Suable in State Where Calls Inadvertently Received, If Similar Calls Purposefully Directed at Forum Residents, Tenth Circuit Holds

Last week, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit applied the Supreme Court’s recent Ford Motor decision on personal jurisdiction to a Rule 12(b)(2) motion to dismiss a TCPA claim.

In Hood v. American Auto Care, LLC, the plaintiff, Alexander Hood, alleged that the defendant (American Auto Care or “AAC,” a Florida company) violated the TCPA by directing automated calls to Mr. Hood’s cell phone without his consent.  No. 20-1157, 2021 WL 6122400, at *1 (10th Cir. Dec. 28, 2021).  According to the complaint, the calls were part of a sweeping telemarketing campaign by AAC that involved calling people from various states, including Vermont and Colorado, to advertise extended vehicle warranties sold by AAC.  Id.  Mr. Hood had previously lived in Vermont and had a Vermont cell phone number, but was living in Colorado at the time he received the calls.  Id.  The U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado granted AAC’s motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction, finding that the calls to Mr. Hood’s Vermont cell phone number did not “arise out of or relate to” calls that AAC directed at forum residents.  Id. 

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Barr Ruling Cures Claims Arising During Life of Government-Debt Exception, Holds Texas District Court

Last week, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas concluded that plaintiffs can bring claims for violations of 47 U.S.C. § 227(b) that arose while the government-debt exception (“GDE”) to that provision was still on the books.  The decision comes amid growing contention among courts in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last year in Barr v. American Association of Political Consultants, 140 S. Ct. 2335 (2020), which struck down the GDE as an unconstitutional content-based restriction on speech.

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Ninth Circuit Vacates Certification of Nationwide Classes, Holding that Defendant Did Not Waive Personal Jurisdiction Challenge by Not Raising It Precertification

On August 10, 2021, a divided Ninth Circuit panel vacated a trial court’s certification of two nationwide classes, finding that the defendant had not waived its personal jurisdiction objection to class certification by not raising the issue at the pleading stage. See Moser v. Benefytt, Inc., No. 19-56224, 2021 WL 3504041 (9th Cir. Aug. 10, 2021).

This case arose as a putative nationwide class action filed by Kenneth Moser in federal court in California against Benefytt Technologies, Inc., formerly known as Health Insurance Innovations, Inc. (HII), alleging that HII was responsible for unwanted sales calls that violated the TCPA. Moser was a resident of California, whereas HII was incorporated in Delaware and had a principal place of business in Florida.

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Telemarketers’ Alleged Conduct Establishes Personal Jurisdiction over Principal with No Direct Forum Ties, Seventh Circuit Holds

The Seventh Circuit has reversed a decision from last year by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois dismissing a TCPA claim for lack of personal jurisdiction over an alleged principal of the caller.  That decision, which we covered here, concluded that the plaintiff had not established an agency relationship between defendant Health Insurance Innovations, Inc. (“HII”) and the unnamed “lead generators” that had made the allegedly unsolicited calls.  Bilek v. Fed. Ins. Co., No. 19-8389, 2020 WL 3960445, at *5 (N.D. Ill. July 13, 2020).  As a result, the Northern District held that it lacked specific personal jurisdiction over HII, which had no connection to the forum state beyond its alleged relationship with the telemarketers that called the plaintiff in Illinois.  Id.

On appeal, the plaintiff argued that he had plausibly alleged an agency relationship and that the district court should therefore have imputed the caller’s conduct to HII when assessing whether it could exercise specific personal jurisdiction over the latter.  Bilek v. Fed. Ins. Co., No. 20-2504, 2021 WL 3503132, at *6 (7th Cir. Aug. 10, 2021).

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Eastern District of Pennsylvania Court Holds Text Claim Satisfies Article III, Then Dismisses for Failure to Allege Enough Facts to Make Claim Plausible

A judge in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania recently concluded that receipt of unwanted text messages in violation of the TCPA can constitute an injury-in-fact for purposes of Article III standing, but nevertheless dismissed the claim (without prejudice) pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) based on its threadbare allegations.

In Camunas v. National Republican Senatorial Committee, the plaintiff (Rolando Camunas) alleged that he received no less than six unsolicited text messages from the defendant (NRSC) asking him to donate to a political party.  Civil Action No. 21-1005, 2021 WL 2144671, at *1 (E.D. Pa. May 26, 2021).  In his complaint, Camunas described the messages as “generic and obviously pre-written” and alleged that they were sent using an automatic telephone dialing system (ATDS), in violation of the TCPA.  Id.

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Fifth Circuit Finds Injury In Fact after Single Text Message

The Fifth Circuit recently held that a TCPA plaintiff who received a single text message suffered an Article III injury sufficient to support standing for his claim.  In Cranor v. 5 Star Nutrition, L.L.C., No. 19-51173, 2021 WL 2133433 (5th Cir. May 26, 2021), the plaintiff alleged that 5 Star Nutrition violated the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) when it sent him several unsolicited advertising text messages.  The parties entered into a settlement agreement to avoid litigation.  After the settlement, 5 Star Nutrition sent one final promotional text message and the plaintiff filed suit, claiming that the single text message harmed him by invading his privacy, interfering with his right to his cellular phone and telephone line, and intruding upon his seclusion.

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S.D. Fla. Court Remands Case to State Court, Finding No Article III Injury

The Southern District of Florida recently remanded a case back to state court because the defendant that removed the case failed to establish that plaintiff suffered an Article III injury. Harris v. Travel Resorts of America, Inc., Civ. No. 2:20-14369-AMC (S.D. Fla. Mar. 31, 2021). Notably, the Court also found that plaintiff should be able to recover its attorneys’ fees in seeking remand given the defendant’s reversing its prior position on whether the Court had subject-matter jurisdiction over the case.

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Auto Service Contractor Not Subject to Court’s Jurisdiction in Texas Resident’s TCPA Claim, Holds State’s Federal Northern District

The Northern District of Texas handed down a decision exploring the jurisdictional limitations on TCPA plaintiffs’ ability to hale out-of-state defendants into a plaintiff’s local federal court.

The case, Horton v. Sunpath, Ltd., involved a Texas resident (Lucas Horton) who launched a TCPA suit against a Massachusetts-based corporation (Sunpath).  Horton alleged that Sunpath’s agent, Northcoast Warranty Services, placed several calls to his cell phone using an automatic telephone dialing system and pre-recorded messages, despite the number’s listing on the National Do-Not Call Registry.  No. 3:20-cv-1884-B-BH, 2021 WL 982344, at *1 (N.D. Tex. Feb. 16, 2021).  On the calls, Horton stated, Northcoast encouraged him to purchase an auto service policy administered by Sunpath.  Id.  The calls continued for about three months until Horton purchased a policy from Sunpath in May 2020.  Id.  Horton filed suit against Sunpath about a month later in the Northern District of Texas.  Id.

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