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Kevin Ranlett is a partner in the firm's Supreme Court & Appellate and Consumer Litigation & Class Actions practices. He has defended businesses in numerous complex class and representative actions in state and federal courts across the country and in proceedings before the American Arbitration Association. In addition to drafting critical trial motions, Kevin has a substantial appellate practice. He has written merits or amicus briefs in appeals involving issues of class certification, arbitration, securities law, federal preemption, the Alien Tort Statute, punitive damages, and employment discrimination. He also advises businesses in drafting and enforcing consumer and employee arbitration agreements.

Read Kevin's full bio.

Last Friday, a panel of the D.C. Circuit issued its decision in ACA International v. FCC (pdf).  The decision, which arrived nearly 17 months after the oral argument, struck down key elements of the FCC’s controversial 2015 Declaratory Ruling and Order interpreting the Telephone Consumer Protection Act  (TCPA).

Here are the key takeaways from the decision:

  • The court held that the FCC’s broad definition of an automatic telephone dialing system (ATDS), which threatened to include all smartphones, is arbitrary and capricious, and required the FCC to reconsider its definition.
  • The court overturned the FCC’s conclusion that a caller could be subjected to liability for calls placed or text messages sent to a phone number that had been reassigned after a “safe harbor” of a single errant call or text. Because the “safe harbor” ruling was arbitrary and capricious, the court concluded that the FCC was required to reexamine whether a caller should be liable for any calls or texts to reassigned numbers.
  • The panel sustained the FCC’s rule authorizing consumers to retract their consent to receive autodialed calls or text messages through “any reasonable means.” But the panel decision notes that the FCC’s rule doesn’t speak to situations where parties have contractually agreed to a specific method of revocation.

Unless the FCC seeks further appellate review (which seems unlikely), the agency will be reconsidering the autodialer and reassigned-number issues. Notably, the composition of the FCC has changed since the 2015 order; the chairman of the FCC is Commissioner Ajit Pai, who dissented from the 2015 ruling.

We summarize the decision in detail below. In the meantime, we expect businesses facing TCPA litigation to take at least three possible approaches.

First, the D.C. Circuit’s decision reopens a number of questions that plaintiffs have argued were resolved by the FCC’s 2015 ruling, and parties will seek to litigate those issues.

Second, the FCC will have something new to say on each of the issues remanded to it by the D.C. Circuit, and businesses and trade associations will doubtless want to participate in that regulatory discussion—especially given their extensive experience on the receiving end of TCPA lawsuits.

Third, and relatedly, a number of courts will surely find it more efficient to wait for the FCC’s pronouncements on these issues before allowing TCPA litigation to proceed.

Continue Reading DC Circuit issues long-awaited TCPA decision and invalidates FCC’s 2015 autodialer and reassigned-number rules

Good news for businesses that use fax machines to communicate with customers: A panel of the D.C. Circuit has just struck down the FCC’s 2014 order mandating that even faxes requested by the recipient that contain advertising material include a special opt-out notice. The decision issued today in Bais Yaakov of Spring Valley v. FCC, No. 14-1234 (D.C. Cir. Mar. 31, 2017), is available here (pdf).

Continue Reading DC Circuit invalidates FCC’s opt-out requirement for solicited faxes

Today, a panel of the D.C. Circuit—composed of Judges Srinivasan and Pillard and Senior Judge Edwards—heard argument in ACA International v. FCC, the consolidated appeals from the FCC’s 2015 Declaratory Ruling and Order, which greatly expanded the reach of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (“TCPA”). (An audio recording of the argument is here, and Kevin attended the argument.) The case has been closely watched, and a number of TCPA class actions around the country have been stayed to await the D.C. Circuit’s decision.  More detail is below the fold, but here are our quick impressions from the argument:

  • The panel asked tough questions of lawyers for both sides in an argument that went two full hours over the allotted 40 minutes.
  • The panel focused most of its attention on the FCC’s new—and far-reaching—definition of an automatic telephone dialing system (ATDS, or “autodialer”). All three judges expressed discomfort with the fact that the FCC’s new definition could be read to cover smartphones.
  • Judge Edwards repeatedly voiced criticisms of the FCC’s expansive readings of the TCPA across the board, and may be inclined to vacate large portions of the FCC’s Declaratory Ruling.
  • Judge Pillard seemed the most receptive to the FCC’s arguments.
  • Judges Srinivasan was the hardest to read, but it seems possible that he might join Judge Edwards in setting aside major portions of the FCC’s Declaratory Ruling.

Continue Reading D.C. Circuit Weighing FCC’s Controversial 2015 TCPA Declaratory Ruling

A unanimous panel of the Fourth Circuit has held Del Webb Communities, Inc. v. Carlson that the question whether an arbitration agreement authorizes class-wide arbitration is for the courts, not an arbitrator, to decide—unless the agreement clearly and unmistakably delegates that issue to the arbitrator. In so holding, the Fourth Circuit aligned itself with decisions of the Third and Sixth Circuits. As we discuss below, the decision benefits businesses that seek to enforce individual arbitration when the arbitration agreement does not expressly authorize class arbitration: If the important question of the availability of class-wide arbitration was assigned to an arbitrator, meaningful judicial review of that decision would not be available.

Continue Reading Fourth Circuit: Courts, Not Arbitrators, Decide If Arbitration Agreement Authorizes Class-Wide Arbitration

Although the Class Action Fairness Act of 2005 (CAFA) permits most significant class actions to be heard in federal court, the law requires district courts to remand so-called “local controversies” to state court. A “local controversy” is a class action in which “greater than two-thirds of the members of the proposed classes” are “citizens” of the forum state and at least one defendant “from whom significant relief is sought” and whose “alleged conduct forms a significant basis for the claims asserted” is also a “citizen” of that state. 28 U.S.C. §1332(d)(4).

In an effort to come within this exception, plaintiffs’ lawyers sometimes will limit the putative class to citizens of a particular state and will attempt to portray an in-state defendant as a significant player in the alleged wrong.

Defendants have multiple strategies for resisting these attempts to evade federal jurisdiction. For example, sometimes the in-state defendant is merely a bit player rather than a “significant” one. Federal courts have made clear that CAFA’s “local controversy” exception bars the old tactic of defeating diversity jurisdiction by adding a minor local defendant to destroy complete diversity.

The Tenth Circuit’s recent decision in Reece v. AES Corp. makes clear that plaintiffs must also be held to their burden of proving that greater than two-thirds of the class members are actually citizens of the forum state. Reece involves a class action challenging the manner in which fracking waste was disposed. Although the plaintiffs suggested that the putative class consisted primarily of Oklahoma landowners, the Tenth Circuit pointed out that not all landowners are necessarily citizens—particularly because many putative class members would have become citizens of other states during the 20-year class period. The court also criticized the plaintiffs for failing to submit the data underlying their assertions that the landowners actually lived in Oklahoma.

For more details on Reece, please see the report authored by Mayer Brown attorneys Mark Ter Molen, Evan Tager, and Sarah Reynolds.

iStock_000027020861_DoubleWe’ve often argued that when the principal rationale for approving a low-value class settlement is that the claims are weak, that is a signal that the case should not have been filed as a class action in the first place. The Second Circuit recently reached that exact conclusion when considering a proposed class settlement in a Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) case, holding that the putative class couldn’t be certified and that the FDCPA claims should be dismissed.

Continue Reading Second Circuit holds that class action seeking “meaningless” relief shouldn’t be certified

The Eighth Circuit recently issued a decision reversing class certification for lack of commonality.

In Smith v. ConocoPhillips Pipe Line Co., the Eighth Circuit considered a class action proceeding on a nuisance theory against the owner of a pipeline. The plaintiffs, who owned property near the pipeline and were suing on behalf of a class of landowners, contended that the pipeline was a nuisance because they feared environmental contamination. After the district court certified the class, the Eighth Circuit granted a petition for review and reversed.

The Eighth Circuit explained that without evidence of contamination, “the putative class fear of contamination … is not a sufficient injury to support a claim for common law nuisance….” And the plaintiff landowners could not bridge the gap by pointing to evidence that other landowners allegedly had experienced actual contamination. The putative class, the court explained, had not experienced the requisite common interest.

For additional details, please see the report by my colleagues Mark Ter Molen, Evan Tager, and Sarah Reynolds.

Concept-Changes_Hughway_Sign_44809020Rule 23 may be in for some major changes. The Advisory Committee has commissioned a Rule 23 subcommittee to investigate possible revisions to the class action rules. That subcommittee issued a report (pdf) discussing its progress, and recently has been conducting a “listening tour” of sorts regarding potential rule changes.

Our initial view is that the business community should have serious concerns about the approach that at least some members of the subcommittee appear to be taking, as several proposals are aimed at rolling back judicial decisions—including Supreme Court decisions—that are critical to ensuring that class actions satisfy the requirements of due process.

Here are ten things you need to know from the subcommittee’s report.

Continue Reading Ten Things Class Action Practitioners Need To Know About Potential Amendments To Federal Rule Of Civil Procedure 23

FCC logo“This Order will make abuse of the TCPA much, much easier. And the primary beneficiaries will be trial lawyers, not the American public.” That’s what FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai had to say in his dissent from the FCC’s recent Declaratory Ruling and Order, issued on July 10, 2015. The FCC’s Order reflected the agency’s response to 21 petitions seeking guidance regarding or exemptions from various requirements under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), 47 U.S.C. § 227, and its implementing regulations.

The TCPA prohibits certain fax and automated-dialing practices and authorizes recovery of up to $1,500 per call, text message, or fax sent in willful violation of its restrictions. The TCPA has led to a tidal wave of class-action litigation, and the FCC’s recent Order may hasten that trend.

Most prominently, the FCC’s recent ruling:

Continue Reading FCC Expands Potential Liability under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act for Business-to-Customer Calls and Text Messages

The first bill signed by Oregon Governor Kate Brown—H.B. 2700 (pdf)—changes the rules for handling payment of damages awards in class actions in Oregon state courts. Effective immediately, including for pending actions, the new law attempts to redirect unclaimed damages under class-action settlements or judgments to the state bar’s legal aid program and to charities picked by the judge presiding over each case. In other words, Oregon has effectively mandated cy pres in every class action. (We’ve repeatedly covered—and criticized—the use of cy pres awards in class actions.)

Among other things, the new law amends Oregon Rule of Civil Procedure 32, which governs class actions in state court, to add a new subsection addressing the payment of damages in accordance with “the settlement or judgment in a class action.” The court is authorized to approve a “process” for making payments that “may include the use of claim forms.” But “any amount awarded as damages” that the court finds either hasn’t been timely claimed by class members or simply “is not practicable” to pay to class members must be distributed in the following fashion:

  • “At least 50 percent of the amount not paid to class members” must be given “to the Oregon State Bar for the funding of legal services provided through the Legal Services Program.”
  • “The remainder of the amount not paid to class members” must be given to “any entity” chosen by the court “for purposes” that are “directly related to the class action or directly beneficial to the interests of class members.”

Before enactment of this law, damages in class actions that could not be paid to class members either reverted to the defendant or—in the context of some class-action settlements—were given to a charity picked by the parties and approved by the court.

Proponents of cy pres awards often contend that class members who can’t be paid their damages are better served by a donation to a charity whose mission is related in some fashion to the goals of the class-action lawsuit. Proponents also contend that forcing defendants to pay the full amount of damages they theoretically would owe if liability were established as to all class members—and then all class members actually claimed payments—would better deter future wrongdoing.

More cynical observers of class actions note that cy pres awards are often used by class counsel to puff up the amount of money purportedly recovered in the case in order to justify a higher fee award. Sometimes the recipient of cy pres largesse is picked simply to curry favor with a judge being asked to approve the settlement—for example, a donation to the law school clinic at the judge’s alma mater. And in every case, the use of cy pres eliminates the incentive for class counsel to ensure that class members—the ostensibly injured parties—get the individualized compensation they have been awarded. And while some federal courts have begun to pay closer attention to whether class members actually recover under class settlements, this law encourages Oregon state court judges to ignore that question.

Even worse, the potential of a cy pres award sometimes is used to justify the certification of particularly dubious class actions. For example, take a putative class whose members can’t be identified. Class certification should be denied because the class isn’t ascertainable. But if cy pres were mandatory, the would-be class counsel can always say “so what—let’s just figure out the defendant’s aggregate liability, pay the handful of class members we can identify, and then give the rest away in cy pres in order to punish the defendant.” And never mind, of course, that this procedure would deprive the defendant of the right to cross-examine absent class members or assert individualized defenses. Indeed, there are strong arguments that the use of cy pres—particularly in a litigated case where the defendant has not agreed to it—is unconstitutional (pdf).

Chief Justice Roberts has said that the U.S. Supreme Court might be interested in hearing a case that presents appropriate questions about the use of cy pres awards in class-action settlements in federal court. Of course, if the case arises in federal court, those questions might be framed in terms of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(e), which tasks federal judges with assessing the fairness of class settlements. If the case arises from the Oregon courts—which may be a possibility thanks to H.B. 2700—more fundamental questions of due process would be raised, with potentially much larger ramifications for class-action litigation.