Second Circuit Diverges from Third, Holds that an Unsolicited Invitation to Participate in a Survey is Not Actionable Under the TCPA

The Second Circuit recently addressed whether a faxed invitation to participate in a market research survey is an “unsolicited advertisement” actionable under the TCPA.  In Bruce Katz, M.D., P.C. v. Focus Forward LLC, 22 F.4th 368, 374 (2d Cir. 2022), the Court of Appeals held that under the plain text of the TCPA, an offer to participate in a survey, without more, is not an advertisement because it does not communicate the “availability or quality of any property, goods, or services.”  Id. at 372.

The dispute arose from defendant Focus Forward LLC’s two faxes to plaintiff Bruce Katz, M.D., P.C., a medical services company.  Id. at 370.  The faxes offered $150 in exchange for participation in a market research study.  Id.  Plaintiff initiated a putative class action lawsuit in the Southern District of New York alleging violations of the TCPA, but the federal district court dismissed the complaint, agreeing with Defendant that an invitation to participate in a market research survey was not an unsolicited advertisement within the bounds of 47 U.S.C. § 227.  Id.

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“Pretext” Theory Could Turn Calls Regarding Free Health Care Services into Prohibited Solicitations, District of New Jersey Holds

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.

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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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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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FCC Order Causes Confusion Regarding Consent Required for Informational Calls to Residential Landlines

On December 30, 2020, the FCC issued a Report and Order (the December 2020 FCC Order) to implement Section 8 of the Pallone-Thune Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence Act (TRACED Act). The December 2020 FCC Order contains a critical internal inconsistency that has caused significant confusion regarding the level of consent required for certain prerecorded informational calls to residential landlines. As discussed below, the inconsistency is almost certainly the result of a drafting error.

The relevant terms of the TRACED Act state that the FCC must ensure that any exemptions to Section 227(b)(2)(B) or (C) of the TCPA include specific limits on “the number of such calls that may be made to a particular called party.” Dec. 2020 FCC Order ¶ 2 (citing TRACED Act, Pub. L. No. 116-105, 133 Stat. 3274, § 8 (2019)). The December 2020 FCC Order amends 47 C.F.R. § 64.1200(a)(3)(ii)-(iii) to limit the number of calls that a caller can make to a residential landline under the exemption for “informational” calls to three such calls within any thirty-day period.

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Professional Plaintiff Who Manufactured Claims Can Sue But Can’t Represent Class

A recent denial of a professional plaintiff’s motion for class certification shows that, irrespective of whether such plaintiffs have standing to sue on their own behalf, courts are increasingly skeptical that contrived claims are amenable to class treatment. See Hirsch v. USHealth Advisors, LLC, No. 4:18-CV-00245-P, 2020 WL 7186380, at *1 (N.D. Tex. Dec. 7, 2020).

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Second Circuit Joins Ninth Circuit in Adopting Expansive Interpretation of ATDS, But Carves Out Smartphones

In a decision released on April 7, the Second Circuit joined the Ninth Circuit in adopting an expansive interpretation of what qualifies as an Automatic Telephone Dialing System (ATDS), finding that online texting platforms that use human-generated lists and require a human to click “send” on a screen to initiate the texts falls within the statutory definition. Duran v. La Boom Disco, Inc., No. 19-600, 2020 WL 1682773, at *8–9 (2d Cir. Apr. 7, 2020). In an effort to respond to expected critics of their approach, the court explained its view of why “so-called smartphones” and other modern devices do not qualify as an ATDS despite having similar functionality to the online texting platforms at issue (the ability to store a list of numbers and to dial them by simply clicking “send”). Id. at *8 n.39. The decision deepens the divide between circuit courts on what qualifies as an ATDS.

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