Telephone Consumer Protection Act

From a practitioner’s standpoint, one of my five least-favorite recent developments in federal class-action practice is the explosion in the number of premature motions for class certification that would-be class representatives file.

I understand the motivation behind these motions—often filed along with the initial complaint. Of course, they are not seriously intended to induce a ruling on class certification; to the contrary, they expressly request that the issue be tabled until the completion of discovery. The real reason that plaintiffs’ counsel file these motions is that they want to preclude the defendant from mooting the putative class action by making
Continue Reading Judges Irked At Placeholder Class-Certification Motions Too

The spate of class actions under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) isn’t ending anytime soon. And the risks to businesses have just increased in the Third Circuit, thanks to that court’s recent ruling that the TCPA permits consumers to retract consent to receiving calls on their cell phones placed by automatic telephone dialing systems.

The TCPA prohibits making any call to a cell phone “using any automatic telephone dialing system or an artificial or prerecorded voice” unless (among various exceptions) the call is made with the “prior express consent of the called party.” 47 U.S.C. § 227(b)(1)(A)(iii). Courts have upheld various ways of demonstrating “express consent,” including:

  • verbally, such as when the consumer orally provides a cell phone number as a contact number (Greene v. DirecTV, Inc., 2010 WL 4628734 (N.D. Ill. Nov. 8, 2010)); 
  • in writing, such as when a contract authorizes cell phone calls (Moore v. Firstsource Advantage, LLC, 2011 WL 4345703 (W.D.N.Y. Sept. 15, 2011)); and 
  • through a third party, such as when a spouse authorizes cell phone calls (Gutierrez v. Barclays Bank Group, 2011 WL 579238 (S.D. Cal. Feb. 9, 2011)).

But once consumers have consented to receiving these calls, can they rescind their consent? The TCPA’s text is silent on the subject. And although the FCC’s 1992 TCPA Order indicates that consumers who provide their cell phone number can give “instructions” that they don’t agree to receive autodialer calls, the order doesn’t address whether the consumer can give those instructions long after initially providing the cell phone contact number.

By contrast, other privacy statutes—such as the CAN-SPAM Act, the Junk Fax Protection Act, and the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act—have express provisions allowing consumers to opt out of receiving communications at any time. A number of district courts have concluded that the lack of a corresponding express provision in the TCPA means that consumers don’t have the statutory right to retract consent once it has been given. See, e.g., Osorio v. State Farm Bank, F.S.B., 2012 WL 1671780 (S.D. Fla. May 10, 2012); Cunningham v. Credit Mgmt., L.P. (pdf), 2010 WL 3791104 (N.D. Tex. Aug. 30, 2010); Starkey v. Firstsource Advantage, L.L.C. (pdf), 2010 WL 2541756 (W.D.N.Y. Mar. 11, 2010).

But in Gager v. Dell Financial Services, Inc. (pdf), the Third Circuit sided with courts that have taken the opposite view. See Adamcik v. Credit Control Servs., Inc., 832 F. Supp. 2d 744 (W.D. Tex. 2011); Gutierrez, supra.

The Third Circuit gave three reasons for its holding. In my view, each one is questionable.

Continue Reading Third Circuit Rules that TCPA Authorizes Consumers To Retract Consent to Cell Phone Calls

Before the Supreme Court’s decision last Term in Genesis Healthcare Corp. v. Symczyk, 133 S. Ct. 1523 (2013), the Ninth Circuit had held that a named plaintiff can continue to pursue a putative class action even after the defendant has extended that plaintiff an offer of judgment for the full individual relief sought in the complaint, including reasonable attorneys’ fees and costs. See Pitts v. Terrible Herbst, Inc., 653 F.3d 1081 (9th Cir. 2011). In a case that bears watching, a federal district judge in California recently certified for interlocutory review the question whether Pitts’s mootness holding remains good law. See Chen v. Allstate Ins. Co., No. 4:13-cv-00685-PJH (N.D. Cal. July 31, 2013).
Continue Reading Will the Ninth Circuit Revisit the Issue of Whether an Offer of Judgment to the Named Plaintiff Can Moot a Class Action?

The Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) is a favorite of the plaintiffs’ class-action bar because it provides for statutory damages of up to $1,500 for knowing or willful violations. With some exceptions, the TCPA prohibits, among other things, unsolicited marketing faxes as well as calls and text messages using autodialers or prerecorded voices. See, e.g., 47 U.S.C. §227. Because the TCPA and its regulations impose many complex and technical requirements, the inevitability of innocent slip-ups combined with an active plaintiffs’ bar seeking out clever ways to argue that lawful practices are actionable can entail massive potential liability
Continue Reading Are You Prepared for the New TCPA Rules? The Plaintiffs’ Bar Is.

Congress and state legislatures have enacted many statutes that provide for minimum statutory damages recoveries that are far in excess of the actual damages most individuals will suffer. A prominent example is the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), which offers $500 per violation of the statute, trebled to $1500 for willful violations. The idea is that offering such damages will create incentives for individual plaintiffs to pursue such claims in court when actual damages are minimal or difficult to measure. But the numbers can quickly add up when such statutory damages claims are aggregated as part of a putative class
Continue Reading Is There New Hope for Challenging Aggregated Statutory Damages?

Plaintiffs in some TCPA class actions have taken the position that companies are strictly liable for any violation of the TCPA by third parties that make calls or send faxes on the companies’ behalf (such as third-party marketers or debt collectors).  The FCC, however, has just issued a declaratory ruling that appears to reject that broad position, instead concluding that federal common-law agency principles govern vicarious liability under the TCPA.  Please read our report on the ruling.
Continue Reading FCC Addresses Vicarious Liability Under Telephone Consumer Protection Act

We’re big fans of filing an early motion to strike class allegations when it’s apparent from the pleadings that the class definition is fatally flawed. Why should a defendant be forced to submit to the wringer of class discovery before taking a swing at defeating class certification? A recent case involving Office Depot illustrates the successful use of that strategy.

In Lindsay Transmission LLC v. Office Depot Inc. (pdf) (E.D. Mo.), the plaintiff alleged that an Office Depot store had faxed him an advertisement in violation of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (“TCPA”). The complaint demanded statutory damages on behalf
Continue Reading Federal Court Grants Motion to Strike Class Allegations in TCPA Case

Readers of this blog are likely familiar with the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (“TPCA”), the law that prohibits certain types of calls using an automatic telephone dialing system or prerecorded message. The plaintiffs’ bar has filed numerous class actions seeking statutory damages under the TCPA.  Businesses facing these actions should be alert for opportunities to defend themselves by invoking the TCPA’s exception from liability for calls made with the “prior express consent” of the recipient.  A recent decision, Balthazor v. Central Credit Services, Inc., No. 10-cv-62435 (S.D. Fla.), illustrates how this exception can be used to defeat class certification in TCPA class actions.
Continue Reading Balthazor: Individualized Questions as to Consent Torpedo Attempt to Certify TCPA Class Action

Last week, the FCC requested comments on four petitions for declaratory rulings relating to the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (“TCPA”), the law that launched a thousand class-action lawsuits (or at least seems that way). One petition (pdf), by Revolution Messaging, LLC, asks the FCC to classify text messages sent via the Internet as subject to the TCPA.

The TCPA provides for statutory damages to (among others) cell phone users who receive unsolicited non-emergency calls from “automatic telephone dialing systems.” The FCC has always maintained that text messages qualify as “calls” under the statute. But recent advances in technology have blurred
Continue Reading FCC Requests Comments on Whether TCPA Applies to Internet-to-Text-Message Services

October has been a good month to be a plaintiff in a class action under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (“TCPA”) in the Ninth Circuit. Twice this month, that court has issued pro-plaintiff rulings, upholding a preliminary injunction against one defendant and reversing a district court’s grant of summary judgment to another defendant. See Meyer v. Portfolio Recovery Assocs., LLC, No. 11-56600 (9th Cir. Oct. 12, 2012); Chesbro v. Best Buy Stores, LP, No. 11-35784 (9th Cir. Oct. 17, 2012).

The TCPA restricts calls using an “automatic telephone dialing systems” or artificial or prerecorded voice messages. Absent “prior express consent” or an emergency, no one may make such calls to a mobile phone number. The TCPA also restricts prerecorded (or artificial voice) telephone solicitations to a residential number. TCPA class actions are becoming increasingly common, in large part because the statute provides for damages of $500 per violation. In Meyer and Chesbro, the Ninth Circuit offered a survey of many of the recurring issues in TCPA class actions.

Continue Reading Ninth Circuit Hands Two Losses to TCPA Class Action Defendants