An Indiana District Court Foreshadows a Split in Authority as to Personal Liability of Corporate Officers

The District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, in Black v. First Impression Interactive, Inc., No. 21 C 3745, 2022 WL 169652 (Jan. 19, 2022), denied a motion to dismiss a TCPA claim and, in so doing, highlighted a potential split among authorities as to the extent of personal liability for corporate officers and employees.

Plaintiff brought suit against two individuals, “the only officers and employees of First Impression,” a defunct corporation that had dissolved prior to the lawsuit.  Id. at *1.  Because First Impression had dissolved and the defendants were named individually, the court considered three theories of personal liability:  “(1) ʻvicarious liability’; (2) ‘relief defendants’; and (3) ‘personal participation.’”  Id. at *2.

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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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W.D.N.Y. Court Dismisses Claim, Finding a School District Is Not a “Person” Under the TCPA, Plaintiff Appeals

The Western District of New York in Clark v. Buffalo City School District, Case No. 1:21cv00700, 2021 WL5764703 (W.D.N.Y. Oct. 28, 2021) recently granted a motion to dismiss because the defendant (a school district) was not a “person” within the meaning of the TCPA and could not be liable under the Act.  As we previously explained here, this decision creates a significant obstacle for plaintiffs who wish to go after school districts and other government actors for alleged TCPA violations.

Plaintiff alleged that Buffalo City School District violated the TCPA when it called and left voicemails on his cell phone.  Buffalo City School District moved to dismiss Plaintiff’s complaint arguing, among other things, that it was not a “person” within the meaning of the TCPA and could not be liable under the Act.  The Court agreed (without reaching the school district’s other arguments).

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Northern District of California Confirms That Assigning “Random or Sequential IDs” to Previously Generated Numbers Is Not Autodialing

In the wake of the Supreme Court’s April 2021 Facebook v. Duguid decision, plaintiffs prosecuting class actions across the nation have been searching hard to mine other potential ambiguities in the TCPA to support allegations about the use of an ATDS. One area of focus has been on whether that term – which is defined as equipment that can “store or produce telephone numbers to be called, using a random or sequential number generator” – applies to equipment that assigns random or sequential identifiers to stored numbers that were not randomly or sequentially generated.

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Supreme Court Asked to Review Retroactivity of Barr v. AAPC

The retroactivity of the Supreme Court’s decision in Barr v. AAPC is back before the Supreme Court to decide—if, that is, it grants the petition for certiorari that was just filed by the Defendant in Lindenbaum v. Realgy.

Some background may help. As our regular readers know, Barr v. AAPC held that the TCPA’s exemption for federal debt-collection calls—and only federal debt-collection calls—was a content-based regulation of speech that violated the First Amendment. But rather than strike down all of the statute’s restrictions on automated equipment, the Court saved them by severing that one exemption from the statute.

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District Courts Find ATDS Allegations Implausible Following Facebook

Courts in the Southern District of California and District of Arizona recently added to the line of decisions addressing ATDS pleading requirements in the wake of the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling in Facebook v. Duguid.  Declining to infer that targeted text messages warranted an inference that the sender used an ATDS, the courts in Wilson v. rater8, LLC, et al., No. 20-cv-1515, 2021 WL 4865930 (S.D. Cal. Oct. 18, 2021), and DeClements v. Americana Holdings LLC, No. CV-20-00166-PHX-DLR, 2021 WL 5138279 (D. Ariz. Nov. 4, 2021), dismissed plaintiffs’ complaints for failure to sufficiently allege the use of an ATDS.

In Wilson v. rater8, the plaintiff filed a class action alleging that defendants violated the TCPA by sending him, after a medical examination, a text asking him to provide feedback regarding his examining physician.  2021 WL 4865930.  The plaintiff alleged that the text was sent using an ATDS.  The court granted defendants’ motion to stay pending the outcome of the Supreme Court’s decision in Facebook.  Following that ruling, defendants moved to dismiss, arguing that plaintiff did not allege sufficient facts to support the claim that an ATDS was used.

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PBM’s Policy Update Fax Not TCPA “Advertisement,” Says Eastern District of Missouri

Earlier this week, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri granted summary judgment for a pharmacy benefit manager (PBM) that allegedly violated the TCPA by sending unsolicited advertisements via fax to thousands of healthcare providers. The defendant was entitled to judgment as a matter of law, the court concluded, because the fax simply notified recipients of changes to insured patients’ coverage and did not promote any products or services.

The case began when a St. Louis healthcare provider (BPP) filed a complaint alleging that defendant CaremarkPCS Health, LLC, violated the TCPA when it sent an unsolicited fax to over 55,000 providers notifying them of new limits on insurance coverage for opioid prescriptions for pediatric and adolescent patients in plans sponsored by Caremark’s clients. BPP v. CaremarkPCS Health, LLC, No. 4:20-cv-126, 2021 WL 5195785, at *1 (E.D. Mo. Nov. 9, 2021). Caremark, which manages prescription drug benefits for various health insurers, asked for summary judgment on the ground that the fax was not an “advertisement” under the TCPA and that plaintiff’s claim therefore failed as a matter of law. Id.

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“The Number You Have Dialed Has Changed Subscriber” or the Advent of the Reassigned Numbers Database

After years of discussion and planning, the FCC’s Reassigned Numbers Database opened for commercial use on November 1, 2021. Now business callers can register for a paid subscription with the FCC’s designated Administrator, SomosGov, to query both the connection and permanent disconnection status of over 152 million U.S. telephone numbers through this web-based platform. This information can let subscribing callers know whether customers who had previously given consent to receive calls and texts from the business have disconnected their phone numbers and whether these phone numbers have since been reassigned to others. By reducing the likelihood of unwittingly making calls to unintended recipients, the Reassigned Numbers Database is expected to prevent millions of “unwanted calls intended for someone who previously held their phone number,” which should provide callers some protection against TCPA allegations of calling without adequate prior consent.

Initially adopted in December 2018, the Reassigned Numbers Database proposal and framework underwent many rounds of public comments on various aspects of its implementation, had nearly three years of preparation, and had a three-month beta test. Since April 2021, nonexempt communications service providers have been reporting permanent disconnections to the Reassigned Numbers Database each month, accumulating data about over 152 million U.S. telephone numbers (including toll-free numbers). Smaller communications service providers began reporting their records into the Reassigned Numbers Database on October 15, 2021.

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California Court Enters Summary Judgment Against Plaintiff Who Failed To Prove Vicarious Liability

A court in the Northern District of California recently granted a defense motion for summary judgment, finding that the defendants were not vicariously liable for a subcontractor’s supposed TCPA violations because the record showed that they had neither given the subcontractor authority to violate the TCPA nor ratified its acts.

In Schick v. Caliber Home Loans, Inc., defendant Caliber hired defendant NextLevel to generate leads for its home loan refinancing business. No. 20-CV-00617-VC, 2021 WL 4166906, at *1 (N.D. Cal. Sept. 14, 2021). Their contract mandated that NextLevel “perform or provide” its services “in full compliance with … all applicable federal, state, and local laws, regulations and ordinances.” Id. The contract further required that NextLevel “not allow any subcontractor … to perform or provide” services “without … prior written consent.” Id. Without Caliber’s consent, in violation of the subcontractor provision, NextLevel hired subcontractor Driving Force to provide leads. Id. After allegedly receiving two calls on a number on the national “Do Not Call” Registry, Plaintiff filed suit and sought to hold the defendants vicariously liable. Id.

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