Category: Compliance Updates & Enforcement

1
Second Circuit Affirms Dismissal of Action Against Healthcare Provider but Cautions Careful Review of TCPA Exemptions
2
Federal Government Continues Defense Against First Amendment Challenge to TCPA
3
Dish Network Ordered to Pay $280 Million Fine, Damages in Federal TCPA Lawsuit
4
Rite Aid Wins Summary Judgment in TCPA Class Action for Flu Shot Reminder Calls
5
D.C. Circuit Holds that FCC Lacks Authority to Require Opt-Out Notices for Solicited Faxes, Vacates FCC Order
6
Federal Government Not Successful in Moving to Dismiss First Amendment Challenge to TCPA
7
Second Circuit Affirms Denial of Class Certification in TCPA Case on Ascertainability Grounds Due to Lack of Recipient List
8
Rep. Virginia Foxx Seeks to Prohibit Political Robocalls to Numbers on Do-Not-Call Registry
9
Consumers Union Supports Stay of FCC’s July 2016 Broadnet Ruling Exempting Federal Contractors from Ban on Robocalls
10
Drones May Have Limited Range, But Regulatory Coordination Doesn’t Have To

Second Circuit Affirms Dismissal of Action Against Healthcare Provider but Cautions Careful Review of TCPA Exemptions

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

The Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit recently determined that a flu shot reminder text message sent by a hospital is not an “advertisement” for purposes of the level of consent required under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, 47 U.S.C. § 227(b) (the “TCPA”).  In issuing its ruling in Latner v. Mt. Sinai, No. 17-99 (2d Cir. Jan. 3, 2018), the Second Circuit gave effect to the FCC’s “Healthcare Exception,” which holds that “a ‘health care’ message” sent by a HIPAA “covered entity” does not require prior express written consent.

Plaintiff David Latner visited a Mt. Sinai medical facility in 2003, where he signed release forms granting consent to Mt. Sinai to use his health information “for payment, treatment and hospital operations purposes.”  On September 19, 2014, Mr. Latner received a single text message sent on behalf of Mt. Sinai by a third party encouraging him to schedule an appointment to obtain a flu shot.  Mt. Sinai stated that it sent flu shot reminder texts to all active patients of the facility Mr. Latner visited the office within three years prior to the date of the texts.  Mr. Latner’s last visit fell within that timeline.  Mr. Latner filed a lawsuit, alleging that Mt. Sinai violated 47 U.S.C. § 227(b)(1)(A)(iii), which prohibits anyone from making any call (including text messages) using any automatic telephone dialing system or prerecorded voice to a cellular telephone service without prior written express consent.  The District Court for the Southern District of New York granted Mt. Sinai’s motion for judgment on the pleadings and dismissed the case on the ground that the FCC has exempted healthcare providers from being required to obtain written consent prior to making calls that deliver a healthcare message.

Though it affirmed the lower court’s ultimate decision, the Second Circuit determined that the “analysis was incomplete” because it had not determined whether Mr. Latner had provided his prior express consent to receive text messages sent on behalf of Mt. Sinai.  Considering the facts of the situation, the Second Circuit determined that the text message fell within the scope of consent that Mr. Latner had previously granted to Mt. Sinai, where the consent form included a reference to Mt. Sinai sharing his information for “treatment” purposes, and the privacy notices stated that the facility could use Mr. Latner’s information “to recommend possible treatment alternatives or health-related benefits and services.”

This opinion illustrates the care callers must employ in drafting its privacy and consent notices as they relate to patients receiving calls or messages, even where the message relates to treatment provided by a healthcare provider.

Federal Government Continues Defense Against First Amendment Challenge to TCPA

By Andrew C. Glass, Gregory N. Blase, Roger L. Smerage, and Matthew T. Houston

Earlier this month, the federal government filed briefs on cross motions for summary judgment in American Association of Political Consultants v. Lynch, Case No. 5:16-00252-D (E.D.N.C.). The case challenges the constitutionality of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, 47 U.S.C. § 227 (“TCPA”) (previously discussed here and here).  The government defended the constitutionality of the statute on several bases.

First, the government argued that the TCPA is a “valid time, place, and manner regulation” and does not distinguish between the content or nature of such calls. In doing so, the government analogized the TCPA to regulations that prevent the ringing of doorbells after certain hours and attempted to distinguish the TCPA from unconstitutional ordinances regulating signs based on the type of information conveyed.

Second, the government argued that in determining whether the TCPA is “content-neutral,” the court should disregard FCC orders providing certain “exemptions” to the TCPA. The plaintiffs contend that the exemptions illustrate how the TCPA favors some types of speech over others.  According to the government, however, (1) review of those orders is outside the court’s jurisdiction in analyzing the constitutionality of the TCPA, and (2) the “exemptions” are not actually exemptions and thus do not favor a particular type of speech.  The government further asserted that to the extent any “exemption” is actually an exemption, such as the government-debt exemption passed in 2016, it is severable from the remainder of the TCPA.

Finally, the government argued that even if the TCPA regulates the content of speech, it withstands strict scrutiny because the “protection of residential privacy” is a compelling governmental interest, and the TCPA is related to that interest where it acts to protect against the invasion of residential privacy. The government also posited that the TCPA is narrowly tailored because it is limited to a small subset of speech, rather than all potential methods of communication, and that the statute is least restrictive option to accomplish that goal.

Although it is difficult to predict how the court may rule on the parties’ cross motions, the government’s arguments provide insight regarding the bases on which the court is likely to evaluate the constitutionality of the TCPA.

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.

Rite Aid Wins Summary Judgment in TCPA Class Action for Flu Shot Reminder Calls

By Joseph C. Wylie II, Molly K. McGinley, Lexi D. Bond

A New York U.S. District Court recently granted summary judgment in favor of defendant Rite Aid Headquarters Corporation in a putative Telephone Consumer Protection Act (“TCPA”) class action, holding that calls reminding customers about the flu vaccine were “health related” and therefore Rite Aid was not required to obtain prior express written consent before making the calls. Though the opinion was filed under seal on March 30, 2017, it was made public last week. Read More

D.C. Circuit Holds that FCC Lacks Authority to Require Opt-Out Notices for Solicited Faxes, Vacates FCC Order

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

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, in a 2-1 split decision, has issued an opinion that the Federal Communications Commission (the “FCC”) lacked authority under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (“TCPA”) to regulate facsimiles that were sent with the recipient’s consent. [1]  This opinion found that an FCC rule issued in 2006 (the “2006 Order”) requiring a sender to include an opt-out notice on faxes that were solicited by the recipient was unlawful and vacated the FCC order implementing the rule. [2]

To view the full alert on K&L Gates HUB, click here.

Federal Government Not Successful in Moving to Dismiss First Amendment Challenge to TCPA

By Andrew C. Glass, Gregory N. Blase, Christopher J. Valente, and Michael R. Creta

A North Carolina federal district court recently denied a motion by the federal government to dismiss claims raising a First Amendment challenge to a portion of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (“TCPA”). See American Ass’n of Political Consultants v. Lynch, Case No. 5:16-00252-D (E.D.N.C.). At this early stage of the case, the government did not address the substance of the constitutional challenge.  Rather, the government asserted that the court did not have jurisdiction over the case and that the political organizations which filed the suit did not have standing to maintain suit.  The court, however, rejected the government’s arguments and allowed the case to proceed.

Background

Last year, a bi-partisan coalition of political groups filed a two-count complaint alleging that aspects of the TCPA run afoul of First Amendment free-speech protections. Specifically, the suit contends that the TCPA’s prohibition on making auto-dialed calls or texts to cell phones without the requisite consent, 47 U.S.C. § 227(b)(1)(A)(iii), imposes a content-based restriction on speech that fails to pass strict scrutiny and is unconstitutionally underinclusive.  The federal government moved to dismiss on standing and subject-matter jurisdiction grounds. In response, the plaintiffs amended their complaint to add the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”) as a defendant and to address purported deficiencies in the original complaint.

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Second Circuit Affirms Denial of Class Certification in TCPA Case on Ascertainability Grounds Due to Lack of Recipient List

By Joseph Wylie, Molly McGinley, Nicole Mueller

In a non-precedential opinion issued earlier this week, the Second Circuit held in Leyse v. Lifetime Entertainment Services, LLC, that a class could not be certified in a Telephone Consumer Protection Act case because the plaintiff did not have a list of the recipients of telemarketing phone calls.  The Second Circuit followed its own precedent identifying ascertainability as an “implied requirement” under Rule 23.  In so ruling, the Second Circuit has further demonstrated the different approaches to ascertainability that federal circuit court apply (previously discussed here).

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Rep. Virginia Foxx Seeks to Prohibit Political Robocalls to Numbers on Do-Not-Call Registry

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

Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC) has introduced a bill, H.R. 740 (the “Robo Calls Off Phones Act” or “Robo COP Act”), to “stop the intrusion of political robocalls in homes across America.” Rep. Foxx stated that “politicians made sure to exempt political robo-calls from the power of the ‘Do Not Call’ registry. If these calls weren’t such a nuisance, their blatant exclusion would be laughable.” Claiming that eligible voters receive more than 20 political prerecorded voice calls per day, Rep. Foxx seeks through the bill to end the “robocall loophole” for politicians.

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Consumers Union Supports Stay of FCC’s July 2016 Broadnet Ruling Exempting Federal Contractors from Ban on Robocalls

By Andrew C. Glass, Gregory N. Blase, and Roger L. Smerage

Consumers Union, the consumer advocacy arm of Consumer Reports, has filed a letter in support of the National Consumer Law Center’s (NCLC) request that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) stay its recent ruling on Broadnet Teleservices LLC’s Petition for Declaratory Ruling in the on-going rulemaking matter In re Rules and Regulations Implementing the Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991 while that ruling is under appeal.  The July 5, 2016, Broadnet Ruling (previously discussed here) held that the TCPA, and its ban on autodialed calls to cellular telephones, does not apply to calls placed by the federal government itself, or its contractors, so long as the calls are placed in the course of conducting “official government business” and, for calls placed by contractors, the calls comply with the government’s instructions.  On July 26, 2016, the NCLC moved the FCC to reconsider its ruling and stay its effect until the motion is resolved.  Consumers Union is joining the request for the stay as part of its “End Robocalls” campaign, which purportedly seeks “technological solutions to the unwanted robocall problem,” according to the group’s letter to the FCC.  If the requested stay is granted, federal government employees and contractors will continue to be subject to the TCPA unless the Broadnet Ruling is upheld.

Drones May Have Limited Range, But Regulatory Coordination Doesn’t Have To

By Former Rep. James T. Walsh, contributor, and Rod Hall (Originally published in The Hill)

Safe integration of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) into the national airspace is one of the foremost policy challenges of 2016. But while Capitol Hill has largely focused on the regulatory efforts of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), developments overseas will also shape the future of the dynamic UAS industry in the year ahead.

Just before the end of the year, the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) released its technical framework for UAS regulation across the 28 member states of the European Union. The framework will serve as the basis for rule-making activities at the EU and member-state levels in 2016 and 2017.

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