Category: Other Topics

1
FCC Votes to Create Reassigned Numbers Database
2
District Court Adopts Narrow ATDS Interpretation, Dismisses TCPA Suit
3
Bipartisan Bill Introduced In The Senate To Thwart Illegal Robocall Scams
4
In Wake of ACA Int’l, Ninth Circuit Adopts Expansive Definition of ATDS
5
D.C. Circuit Strikes Key Elements of FCC’s 2015 Order Interpreting the TCPA, Upholds Certain Provisions
6
U.S. House Judiciary Committee Examines Lawsuit Abuse and the TCPA
7
Rep. Virginia Foxx Seeks to Prohibit Political Robocalls to Numbers on Do-Not-Call Registry
8
Jury Awards $20M Verdict For Violation of National Do-Not-Call Rules
9
Ajit Pai to be Named New FCC Chairman
10
TCPA Class-Action Plaintiff Must Arbitrate Claims

FCC Votes to Create Reassigned Numbers Database

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

            The Federal Communications Commission (the “FCC”) has adopted new rules (set forth in its Second Report and Order) to establish a single, nationwide database with information provided by phone companies that will allow callers to determine whether a number has been permanently disconnected and is therefore eligible for reassignment. The FCC also voted to provide a safe harbor from liability for any calls to reassigned numbers caused by database error. The database will be administered by a private company to be determined through a competitive bidding process. The FCC also voted to provide a safe harbor from liability for any calls to reassigned numbers caused by database error.  The database will be administered by a private company to be determined through a competitive bidding process. 

            The reassigned-number database will provide callers with more certainty in ensuring that their records correctly reflect the current subscriber to a particular number.  Similar to the databases used to determine if phone numbers have been assigned to cellular subscribers, the new database should greatly ease compliance with the Telephone Consumer Protection Act.

District Court Adopts Narrow ATDS Interpretation, Dismisses TCPA Suit

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

A district court in Illinois recently dismissed a lawsuit against Yahoo!, Inc. (“Yahoo”) alleging violations of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (“TCPA”), reversing its previous decision denying summary judgment. In Johnson v. Yahoo! Inc., Case No. 14-cv-2028 (N.D. Ill. Nov. 29, 2018), the court granted Yahoo’s motion for reconsideration based on recent interpretations of the definition of an automatic telephone dialing system (“ATDS”) under the TCPA, particularly the decision in ACA Int’l v. FCC, 885 F.3d 687, 695 (D.C. Cir. 2018) (previously discussed here).  In its ruling, the district court rejected prior Federal Communication Commission (“FCC”) pronouncements and adopted a narrow interpretation of ATDS, holding that only a system that actually dials randomly or sequentially generated numbers can be an ATDS.

Rachel Johnson sued Yahoo in 2014, alleging that Yahoo’s “PC2SMS” texting service was an ATDS and it had used that service to text her in violation of the TCPA. Yahoo’s PC2SMS service caused a text message to be sent to Johnson by pulling her number from a database of stored numbers, an address book, and then automatically sending that number a text message. In an earlier order, the court denied Yahoo’s motion for summary judgment because of disputes over whether PC2SMS was an ATDS under the FCC‘s interpretation of the TCPA. See Johnson v. Yahoo!, Inc., No. 14 CV 2028, 2014 WL 7005102, at *6 (N.D. Ill. Dec. 11, 2014). Yahoo asked for reconsideration and for entry of summary judgment based on the holding in ACA Int’l.

In ACA Int’l, the court set aside the FCC’s explanation of what devices qualify as an ATDS. See ACA Int’l, 885 F.3d at 695. The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit found that including a device that “can call from a database of telephone numbers generated elsewhere” within the scope of the definition of an ATDS would be incompatible with a definition of ATDS requiring the device to generate random or sequential numbers to be dialed. Id. at 701–03. The FCC’s lack of clarity about the qualifying functions of an ATDS, in addition to its unreasonably expansive understanding of “capacity,” led the court to “set aside the Commission’s treatment of those matters.” Id. at 703.

The district court in Johnson v. Yahoo! explained that it had previously denied summary judgment to Yahoo because it was bound by the FCC’s definition of an ATDS. However, because ACA Int’l changed the premise upon which the earlier ruling was based, the court concluded that reconsideration was appropriate.

Under the TCPA, the term ATDS is defined as equipment which has the capacity “to store or produce telephone numbers, using a random or sequential number generator” and “to dial such numbers”. 47 U.S.C. § 227(a)(1). Yahoo’s PC2SMS system did not have the capacity to generate random or sequential numbers to be dialed — it dialed numbers from a stored list. In its order granting reconsideration, the court explained that a device that stores or produces numbers without the use of a random or sequential number generator is not an ATDS. Accordingly, Yahoo was entitled to judgment as a matter of law.

This decision is noteworthy in that it specifically holds that as a result of ACA Int’l, courts are not bound by prior FCC orders from 2003, 2008, and 2012 interpreting what sort of devices qualify as ATDS; a conclusion that has been reached by other courts in recent decisions, including Marks v. Crunch San Diego, LLC, 904 F.3d 1041 (9th Cir. 2018) (previously discussed here).

Furthermore, the Johnson v. Yahoo! court noted, even if the FCC orders concerning the scope of the term ATDS were not vacated by ACA Int’l, district courts nevertheless may not be bound by FCC’s orders, depending on the outcome in PDR Network, LLC v. Carlton & Harris Chiropractic, Inc., No. 17-1705, 2018 WL 3127423, at *1 (U.S. Nov. 13, 2018) (previously discussed here), in which the U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari on whether the Hobbs Act requires the district court to accept the FCC’s legal interpretation of the TCPA.  The Supreme Court decision, which is anticipated next year, is expected to resolve this question and clarify the weight of the FCC’s orders for future TCPA cases.

Bipartisan Bill Introduced In The Senate To Thwart Illegal Robocall Scams

By Pamela Garvie, Amy Carnevale, Andrew Glass, Gregory Blase, Joseph Wylie, and Molly McGinley

Sen. John Thune (R-SD), chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, and Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA), a member of the Committee and author of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), recently introduced S. 3655, the Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence Act (the TRACED Act), to prevent illegal robocall scams.  In brief, the bill would extend the statute of limitations for the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to pursue robocall scammers and others who intentionally violate the law, impose additional penalties on such violators, require call authentication and blocking technologies, and establish an interagency working group to explore further ways to prosecute robocallers who intentionally violate the law.

The genesis of the bill rests with the Commerce Committee’s April 2018 hearing (previously discussed here) on abusive robocalls and caller ID spoofing, and how to combat them.  During the hearing, Committee members and witnesses highlighted the fact that robocalls and ID spoofing have “exploded in recent years” and that “about a quarter of these calls are scam calls.”  Senators agreed that consumer education, aggressive FCC and Federal Trade Commission enforcement actions, and the use of new ID verification and robocall-blocking technologies are important tools in combating these calls, and identified gaps and shortcomings in these tools.  For example, as Chairman Thune said in introducing the TRACED Act, the current “enforcement regime is totally inadequate for scam artists, and we need to do more to separate enforcement of carelessness and other mistakes from more sinister actors.”

To address these gaps and shortcomings, the TRACED Act would:

  • broaden FCC authority to impose civil penalties of up to $10,000 per call on those who intentionally violate the law and to impose criminal fines on such persons;
  • extend the statute of limitations from one year to three years for the FCC to pursue civil actions against those who intentionally violate the law;
  • eliminate the requirement that the FCC issue a citation against such violators before pursuing civil actions, although it would require the FCC to provide notice before initiating such actions;
  • establish an interagency working group led by the Department of Justice in consultation with the FCC, and consisting of various federal agencies, state attorneys general, and other non-federal entities, to identify and report to Congress on improving deterrence and criminal prosecution of robocall scams at the federal and state levels;
  • direct the FCC to adopt a rule that requires voice service providers (defined to include voice-over-Internet (VOIP) providers) to implement appropriate and effective call authentication technologies that enable such providers to verify that incoming calls are legitimate before they reach consumers’ phones;
  • delay implementation of the FCC authentication technology rule if the agency determines after public notice and comment that each voice service provider has established voluntary rules for an appropriate and effective authentication framework and is implementing the framework; FCC Chairman Ajit Pai recently sent letters to companies urging the adoption of such voluntary rules;
  • direct the FCC to adopt rules that provide for (1) a safe harbor for voice service providers from liability for unintended or inadvertent blocking or misidentification of calls, and (2) a process permitting a calling party adversely affected by the authentication framework to verify the authenticity of the party’s calls; and
  • direct the FCC to adopt a rule to help protect subscribers from receiving unwanted calls or text messages from a caller using an unauthenticated number.

With the current Congress scheduled to wrap up business next month, little if any action is expected on the bill this year.  At the same time, the bill is noteworthy, and should not be ignored, for a number of reasons:

First, it is bipartisan bill, and could garner support not only in the Senate, but also in the soon-to-be Democratic-controlled House.  In addition, both the telecom industry and consumer groups issued positive statements on the bill after its introduction.

Second, we expect Sens. Thune and Markey to re-introduce the bill next Congress and we understand that House Energy & Commerce Committee members have expressed interest in the legislation as well.  Sens. Thune and Markey are well-positioned to help pass the bill.  Sen. Thune was just elected the Senate Majority Whip for the next Congress, and although he has to give up his chairmanship of the full Commerce Committee because of Senate Republican term-limit rules, he could decide to chair the Committee’s Communications Subcommittee.  Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS), the current Communications Subcommittee Chairman, who also cosponsored the bill, is likely to be the next chairman of the full committee.  Further, Sen. Markey could play an influential role not only in the Senate, but also with his former House colleagues on the Energy & Commerce Committee.

Finally, scam robocalls and illegal ID spoofing are clearly a serious problem, and the FCC and Congress support multiple solutions to help combat them.  In the case of the TRACED Act, Sen. Markey said it “will provide every person with a phone much-needed relief” and will do so using “a simple formula: call authentication, blocking, and enforcement.”  As Sen. Thune noted, it also is intended to go after really bad actors and not legitimate businesses.  For this reason, it could help legitimate businesses and help clear the way for future legislation providing badly-needed TCPA reforms.  Yet, as we noted last spring after the Senate hearing leading to the introduction of the bill, there is risk that legitimate businesses could be adversely affected by the bill and that attempts could be made, especially in the Democratic-controlled House, to amend it to expand rather than reform the TCPA.  So, again, businesses should keep a close eye on the legislation.

In Wake of ACA Int’l, Ninth Circuit Adopts Expansive Definition of ATDS

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

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit recently adopted an expansive definition of the term “automatic telephone dialing system” (“ATDS”) under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (“TCPA”).  In Marks v. Crunch San Diego LLC, the panel held that, in light of ACA Int’l, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit’s landmark decision interpreting certain provisions within the TCPA (previously discussed here) and based on the panel’s own review of the TCPA, the statutory definition of an ATDS includes devices that store telephone numbers to be called, whether or not the device has the ability to generate numbers randomly or sequentially.  In so holding, the Ninth Circuit splits from a number of other decisions holding that an essential element of an ATDS is the capacity to generate random or sequential numbers.

The TCPA defines ATDS as “equipment which has the capacity–(A) to store or produce telephone numbers to be called, using a random or sequential number generator; and (B) to dial such numbers.”  In ACA Int’l, in brief, the D.C. Circuit invalidated the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”)’s interpretation of two key questions raised by the statutory definition of an ATDS, namely “(i) when does a device have the ‘capacity’ to perform the two enumerated functions; and (ii) what precisely are those functions?”  In so doing, the D.C. Circuit created uncertainty as to what features or attributes of a dialing system would bring it within the scope of the ATDS definition.

Plaintiff Jordan Marks filed suit against Crunch San Diego LLC (“Crunch”) after he joined the gym and received three text messages over a period of eleven months.  Crunch utilized a system called Textmunication.  In this system, phone numbers are captured and stored in one of three ways: an operator of the system can manually enter a phone number into the system; a current or potential customer may respond to a marketing campaign with a text; or a customer may provide a phone number by filling out a consent form on a Textmunication client’s website.  A client of Textmunication can then design a marketing campaign and Textmunication will automatically send the desired messages to the stored phone numbers at a time scheduled by the client.  When Crunch wants to send a text through Textmunication, a Crunch employee logs into the system, selects the recipient phone numbers, generates the content of the message, and selects the date and time for the message to be sent.  The messages are then automatically sent at the appointed time.

Prior to the decision in ACA Int’l, the district court held that Textmunication was not an ATDS because it lacked the present or potential capacity “to store or produce telephone numbers to be called, using a random or sequential number generator” and granted summary judgment for Crunch.  Marks appealed the decision, and following his appeal, ACA Int’l was decided.  The Ninth Circuit then reversed, holding that a system could be an ATDS if it has the capacity to store a list of numbers and call those numbers automatically, even if the system does not have the ability to generate random or sequential lists of numbers.  In doing so, the Ninth Circuit first reviewed the statutory definition of ATDS as set forth by Congress in 1991 and determined that the provision is ambiguous, and, accordingly, that it was appropriate to look to the context and structure of the statutory scheme.  The Ninth Circuit found that Congress intended to regulate devices that make automatic calls, including those devices that make automatic calls from lists of recipients, rather than utilizing a random or sequential number generator.  The Ninth Circuit rejected Crunch’s argument that because the system was not fully automatic, it did not qualify as an ATDS, holding that Congress had been clear that it was targeting equipment that could engage in automatic dialing rather than equipment that operated without any human oversight or contact.  The Ninth Circuit remanded the matter back to the district court for further proceedings.

In addition to the Ninth Circuit, several other courts have discussed the effect of ACA Int’l on the definition of ATDS:

  • In Gonzalez v. Ocwen Loan Servicing, LLC, the Court concluded that a predictive dialer that lacks the capacity to generate random or sequential telephone numbers and dial them, but it does include a predictive dialer that has the “present ability” to do so.
  • In Washington v. Six Continents Hotels, Inc., the Court agreed that ACA Int’l set aside not only the FCC’s 2015 ruling but also the FCC’s historic treatment of which devices qualify as an ATDS. 16-3719, 2018 WL 4092024, at *3 (C.D. Cal. Aug. 24, 2018)  The Court then determined that the complaint adequately alleged the use of an ATDS by claiming that the defendant “acquired Plaintiff’s number, stored it in a database connected to its telephonic or computer system . . . [the system] . . . has the capacity to generate random numbers . . . has the capacity to generate sequential numbers . . . [and] has the capacity to store and dial the random or sequential numbers it generates just like it stored and dialed Plaintiff’s number.”  Id.

  • In Heard v. Nationstar Mortg. LLC, the Court held that a system that could and did store customer information for at least 24 hours and did not have the capacity to store or produce telephone numbers to be called using a random or sequential number generator fell within the definition of ATDS. 16-694, 2018 WL 4028116, at *5-6 & n.2 (N.D. Ala. Aug. 23, 2018).
  • In King v. Time Warner Cable Inc., the Second Circuit determined that qualification as an ATDS was limited to those devices that were “capable at the time of use” of performing the functions of an autodialer, absent any modifications to the device’s hardware or software. 849 F.3d 473, 476–77 (2d Cir. 2018).
  • In Dominguez ex rel Himself v. Yahoo, Inc., the Court held that, absent any evidence that the device had the capacity to generate random or sequential telephone numbers and dial those numbers, the plaintiff failed to show that the text messaging system was an ATDS in light of ACA Int’l. 894 F.3d 116, 119 (3d Cir. 2018).

Given the split among courts on how to interpret ATDS, uncertainty will continue to prevail until there is additional clarification, either from the Supreme Court or the FCC.  The FCC has requested further comment from the public regarding the interpretation of the TCPA in light of this decision.

D.C. Circuit Strikes Key Elements of FCC’s 2015 Order Interpreting the TCPA, Upholds Certain Provisions

By Joseph Wylie, Andrew C. Glass, Molly K. McGinley, Gregory N. Blase, Nicole C. Mueller, and Roger L. Smerage.

On March 16, 2018, in a long-awaited decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit vacated key provisions of the 2015 Federal Communications Commission order regarding the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, 47 U.S.C. § 227, including provisions regarding the definition of an autodialer and calls to reassigned wireless numbers.  Click here for a full discussion of the decision.

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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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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Jury Awards $20M Verdict For Violation of National Do-Not-Call Rules

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

A Greensboro, North Carolina jury handed down a $20.5 million verdict against Dish Network (“Dish”) last week in a class-action lawsuit, Krakauer v. Dish Network L.L.C., case number 1:14-cv-00333, brought under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (“TCPA”). The verdict came after a five-day trial presided over by U.S. District Judge Catherine Eagles of the Middle District of North Carolina. Class representative Dr. Thomas Krakauer alleged Dish was responsible for telemarketing calls placed by an authorized Dish dealer to persons whose telephone numbers were on the National Do Not Call Registry.

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Ajit Pai to be Named New FCC Chairman

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

On Friday, January 20, 2017, shortly after the conclusion of the presidential inauguration, news broke that Ajit Pai, a Republican Commissioner on the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC” or “Commission”) and its acting Chairman, will be named the permanent Chairman of the FCC. Commissioner Pai will assume the permanent chairmanship from former Chairman Tom Wheeler, who resigned effective January 20, 2017.  Because Commissioner Pai is a sitting member of the FCC, his appointment as permanent chair does not require Senate confirmation.

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TCPA Class-Action Plaintiff Must Arbitrate Claims

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

The U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington (“Court”) recently allowed a defendant to enforce the arbitration provision in a TCPA plaintiff’s wireless agreements even though the defendant was not a party to the wireless agreements. The plaintiff in Rahmany, et al. v. T-Mobile USA, Inc., et al., Case No. 2:16-cv-01416-JCC (W.D. Wash.), brought suit against Subway Sandwich Shops, Inc. and the plaintiff’s wireless carrier, alleging that the companies violated the TCPA by sending unsolicited text messages to the plaintiff and a putative class of individuals. Shortly after filing suit, the plaintiff voluntarily dismissed the wireless carrier.  Subway, however, sought to enforce the mandatory arbitration clause in the agreement between the plaintiff and his wireless carrier, even though Subway was not a party to that agreement.  The clause required the plaintiff to individually arbitrate disputes unless the plaintiff opted out of the provision within 30 days of signing the contract, which the plaintiff had not done.

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