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.
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.
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.
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
As we’ve previously reported, on March 31, the DC Circuit issued a 2-1 opinion in the Bais Yaakov appeal holding that “the FCC’s 2006 Solicited Fax Rule is . . . .unlawful to the extent that it requires opt-out notices on solicited faxes.” Slip Op. at 4. Given the profound impact we expect that ruling to have in TCPA fax litigation, it is no surprise that the plaintiffs’ bar is fighting that decision: on April 28, 2017, the plaintiff intervenors in the Bais Yaakov appeal filed a petition for rehearing en banc before the full D.C. Circuit. Continue reading
TCPA Blog contributor Justin Kay was recently quoted in the Law360 article, “FCC’s Loss on Fax Rule Could Curb Explosion of TCPA Suits.” The D.C. Circuit’s recent decision negating an FCC regulation requiring opt-out notices on solicited faxes is likely to have long-term consequences for TCPA class actions. Continue reading
In a post immediately following the November 8, 2016 oral argument in Bais Yaakov of Spring Valley v. FCC, No. 14-1234 (D.C. Cir.), we noted that, based on the lines of questioning from the bench, the three judge panel of Judges Brett M. Kavanaugh, Cornelia T.L. Pillard, and A. Raymond Randolph appeared to be leaning toward a 2-1 decision with Judges Kavanaugh and Randolph likely forming the majority that would find that the FCC was not empowered to require opt-out notices on solicited faxes. On March 31, the DC Circuit issued its opinion and confirmed our analysis, finding in a 2-1 opinion authored by Judge Kavanaugh (joined by Judge Randolph) that “the FCC’s 2006 Solicited Fax Rule is . . . .unlawful to the extent that it requires opt-out notices on solicited faxes.” Slip Op. at 4. The Court therefore vacated the 2006 Fax Order and remanded to the FCC for further proceedings. It declined to address the propriety of the waiver program, finding it moot in light of its holding. Slip. Op. at 11 n.2. Continue reading
On November 8, 2016, a three judge panel (Judges Brett M. Kavanaugh, Cornelia T.L. Pillard, and A. Raymond Randolph) of the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit heard oral argument in Bais Yaakov of Spring Valley v. FCC, No. 14-1234. The argument (which lasted ninety minutes) was divided into two portions: argument regarding whether the FCC had authority to require the inclusion of opt-out notices on solicited faxes, and argument regarding whether the FCC was authorized to grant retroactive waivers of that requirement. Our prior posts on the appeal can be found here, here, and here. The audio recording of the argument is available here. Continue reading
On October 13, 2016, counsel for class action plaintiffs (“Plaintiff Petitioners”) in Bais Yaakov of Spring Valley v. FCC, No. 14-1234, filed a notice of supplemental authority with the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, arguing that the court’s recent decision in PHH Corp. v. CFPB, No. 15-1177, 2016 WL 5898801 (D.C. Cir. Oct. 11, 2016), supports their arguments that the FCC’s October 2014 Anda Order (the “Anda Order”) “constitutes an impermissible retroactive legislative or adjudicatory rule” and violates separation of powers principles. Continue reading