Archive: June 2017

1
Second Circuit Holds That Contractual Consent May Not Be Unilaterally Revoked Under The TCPA
2
U.S. House Judiciary Committee Examines Lawsuit Abuse and the TCPA
3
Dish Network Ordered to Pay $280 Million Fine, Damages in Federal TCPA Lawsuit

Second Circuit Holds That Contractual Consent May Not Be Unilaterally Revoked Under The TCPA

By Joseph C. Wylie II and Molly K. McGinley

On June 22, 2017, the Second Circuit affirmed summary judgment for a defendant in a case of first impression, holding that under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, 47 U.S.C. § 227 (“TCPA”), consent to be contacted by telephone cannot be unilaterally revoked by one party when that consent is provided as bargained-for-consideration in a bilateral contract.

In Reyes v. Lincoln Automotive Financial Services, the plaintiff Alberto Reyes, Jr. (“Reyes”) leased a new Lincoln MKZ luxury sedan from a Ford dealership, defendant Lincoln Automotive Financial Services (“Lincoln”).  The lease agreement itself provided “express[] consent” by Reyes for Lincoln to contact him “by manual calling methods, prerecorded or artificial voice messages, text messages, emails and/or automatic telephone dialing systems…. regardless of whether you incur charges as a result.”  After the lease agreement was finalized, Reyes ceased making required payments under the agreement.  After Lincoln placed multiple calls (using both live and pre-recorded voice messages) to Reyes cellular phone, Reyes allegedly sent a letter to Lincoln revoking his consent to be contacted by Lincoln at that telephone number.

Reyes filed a complaint against Lincoln in the Eastern District of New York, alleging violations of the TCPA and seeking $720,000 in damages.  On June 20, 2016, the Eastern District of New York granted summary judgment to Lincoln, holding in part that “the TCPA does not permit a party to a legally binding contract to unilaterally revoke bargained-for consent by telephone.”

In affirming the district court’s ruling regarding revocation of consent, the Second Circuit acknowledged that the Third Circuit and Eleventh Circuit have previously ruled that a party can revoke consent under the TCPA–rulings that were the basis of the FCC’s 2015 Ruling that prior express consent is revocable under the TCPA (discussed here).  However, the Second Circuit held that the question presented by the Reyes appeal was different.  Unlike the plaintiffs in those cases who gave consent “gratuitously,” in the context of an application process, Reyes’s consent was included as an express provision of his lease agreement with Lincoln.

The Second Circuit rejected Reyes’s argument that under common law, the term “consent” is revocable at any time. While the Second Circuit agreed that the common law definition of “consent” applied to consent in the context of the TCPA, it held that “common law is clear that consent to another’s actions can ‘become irrevocable’ when it is provided in an legally binding agreement.”  In such circumstances, any modification to consent must receive the “’mutual assent’ of every contracting party in order to have legal effect.”  The Court reasoned “[i]t is black-letter law that one party may not alter a bilateral contract by revoking a term without consent of a counterparty.”

The Second Circuit further deemed “meritless” Reyes’s contention that his consent could be revoked because it was not an “essential term” of his lease.  Instead, the Court reasoned that terms of a contract are enforceable even if they are not “essential.”  “A party who has agreed to a particular term in a valid contract cannot later renege on that term or unilaterally declare it to no longer apply simply because the contract could have been formed without it.”

The Second Circuit also declined to accept Reyes’s argument that such an interpretation of consent under the TCPA would not further the statute’s remedial purpose of protecting consumers from unwanted telephone calls.  Finding “no lack of clarity in the TCPA’s use of the term ‘consent,’” the Court rejected application of the remedial rule of statutory interpretation.  In doing so, the Second Circuit recognized that businesses may insert consent clauses into standard sales contracts “thereby making revocation impossible in many instances,” but held that this “hypothetical concern” would be for Congress to resolve, not the Courts.

This ruling may provide a strong defense to revoked-consent claims brought against defendants by those in contractual relationships with those defendants.  It remains to be seen whether the reasoning set forth by the Second Circuit will be adopted by other courts.

U.S. House Judiciary Committee Examines Lawsuit Abuse and the TCPA

By Pamela Garvie, Elana Reman, Andrew Glass, Gregory Blase, Joseph C. Wylie II and Molly K. McGinley

On June 13, the U.S. House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice held a hearing on “Lawsuit Abuse and the Telephone Consumer Protection Act”. The House Energy & Commerce Committee has primary jurisdiction over the TCPA.  But the Judiciary Committee oversees all matters related to the administration of justice in federal courts and has been active on a number of  litigation reform matters, including most recently class action reform legislation. The Subcommittee held the hearing in response to the fact that between 2010 and 2016, TCPA case filings increased by 1,272%, and today TCPA lawsuits are the largest category of class actions filed in federal court.  Although some of the Subcommittee’s Democratic members, including Ranking Democrat Steve Cohen (D-TN), questioned the Committee’s jurisdictional interest in the TCPA, the hearing focused on TCPA reform––specifically with an eye toward reducing lawsuit abuse, and the Republicans said they would work with Energy & Commerce on any legislative proposals.

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Dish Network Ordered to Pay $280 Million Fine, Damages in Federal TCPA Lawsuit

By Joseph C. Wylie II, Molly K. McGinley, Nicole C. Mueller

In a 475-page opinion issued earlier this week, the United States District Court for the Central District of Illinois ordered Dish Network Corp., to pay $280 million to the United States government and four states, marking what the government says is a record fine for telemarketing violations, including violations of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (“TCPA”), the Telemarketing Sales Rule and the laws of California, Illinois, North Carolina, and Ohio, through what the Court called “millions and millions” of calls.

In March 2009, the states and the Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) sued Dish Network after the company settled with 46 states for purported violations of “do not call” rules and rules governing robocalling. The Court found that Dish Network and its contractors made millions of illegal calls by calling numbers listed on the national Do Not Call Registry and by placing telemarketing calls that deliver prerecorded messages to live consumers, in violation of the TCPA and the states’ laws governing telemarketing.

Plaintiffs sought damages in the amount of $2.1 billion, but the Court determined that the amount requested, approximately 150 percent of Dish Network’s annual profits, “could materially affect Dish’s ability to continue operations.” Although the Court declined to interpret the TCPA as allowing an award “up to” $500 per violation rather than $500 per violation, as Dish Network requested, the Court exercised its discretion in awarding an amount less than $500 per violation.  An award of $500 per violation would have incurred a penalty of $8.1 billion; instead, the Court awarded $280 million, or twenty percent of Dish Network’s 2016 profits, an amount it determined to be “proportionate and reasonable” and “a miniscule fraction of maximum possible penalties and damages.”  The Court determined the reduced award to be appropriate given that Dish Network “made some efforts to avoid violations in its direct marketing and took some actions” to monitor third-party contractors while substantial enough to reflect “[t]he injury to consumers, the disregard for the law, and the steadfast refusal to accept responsibility.”

The Court further prohibited the company from violating do-not-call laws moving forward and imposed a 20-year plan for supervision of Dish Network’s telemarketing.

This is the second judgment against Dish Network issued in 2017 for violations of the TCPA (the prior judgment, issued by a federal court in North Carolina, is discussed here and here).  As the cases against Dish Network demonstrate, companies may face substantial liability based on the actions of third-party contractors.

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