On September 22, 2016, the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Communications and Technology held a hearing on modernizing the TCPA. The hearing is significant because it marks the first time that lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have said the TCPA needs to be updated to reflect changing technology and business practices and to draw a distinction between “harassing, malicious” calls from “bad actors” and “legitimate, informational calls that consumers want.” Republican members of the Subcommittee have raised concerns about the TCPA during past FCC oversight hearings, but this hearing actually was held at the request of full Committee Ranking Democrat Member Frank Pallone Jr. (D-NJ), Subcommittee Ranking Democrat Anna Eshoo (D-CA), and congresswoman Jan Schakowsky (D-IL).
In a precedential but split ruling, the Third Circuit recently held that diversity jurisdiction existed over a declaratory judgment action seeking insurance coverage for a classwide settlement of Telephone Consumer Protection Act (“TCPA”) claims even though no individual member of the underlying class had a claim in excess of the required $75,000 amount in controversy. See Auto-Owners Insurance Company v. Stevens & Ricci Inc., No. 15-2080, — F.3d — (3rd. Cir. 2016). The court also affirmed that the TCPA class settlement did not constitute covered “property damage” or “advertising injury” under the terms of the subject insurance policy.
The case arose when an insurance company sought a declaratory judgment that it had no obligation to defend or indemnify an insured law firm in connection with a class action lawsuit alleging TCPA violations. The named plaintiff in the underlying the class action lawsuit had alleged that the law firm violated the TCPA by sending unsolicited fax advertisements. The insurance company sought a declaratory judgment in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania against both the law firm and the named plaintiff in the underlying class action. At summary judgment, the district court concluded that the sending of unsolicited fax advertisements in violation of the TCPA did not fall within the terms of the applicable insurance policy.
The wireless trade group CTIA–The Wireless Association recently asked the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”) to reject a petition that asks the agency to declare that text messages fall under the FCC’s Open Internet Order. Twilio, Inc., a cloud-based company that manages and facilitates the sending of automated text messages, filed the petition, which seeks to have the FCC confirm that text messages are telecommunication services subject to Title II of the Communications Act of 1934 and the protections of the Open Internet Order. The petition argues that wireless carriers use imprecise filtering systems to block millions of text messages that people have asked to receive, including critical information from their schools. It also claims that wireless carriers are violating the FCC’s rules under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, 47 U.S.C. § 227, by blocking text messages without giving consumers a choice or making them aware of the practice.
At least two courts have recently dismissed TPCA claims where the plaintiffs appeared to manufacture standing. In Telephone Science Corp. v. Asset Recovery Solutions, the Northern District of Illinois dismissed a TCPA complaint brought by a plaintiff whose business model involved the intentional receipt of autodialed or prerecorded calls. There, the plaintiff, Telephone Science Corp. (“TSC”), operated a service called “Nomorobo,” designed to block certain unwanted calls. TSC uses a “honeypot” of telephone numbers, analyzes calls made to those numbers to identify numbers that TSC’s service identifies as being made using an autodialer or artificial or prerecorded voice calls, and then blocks calls made to Nomorobo subscribers made using those identified numbers.