The Sixth Circuit reversed a lower court’s denial of class certification and dismissal of an action following a lapsed offer for individual judgment in a decision released earlier this month. In doing so, the Sixth Circuit held that a defendant opposing class certification in a Telephone Consumer Protection Act (“TCPA”) case on the ground that issues of individualized consent predominate must do more than present “speculation and surmise to tip the decisional scales” because a “possible defense, standing alone, does not automatically defeat predominance.” The court also held that a defendant may not escape potential class-wide liability through an unaccepted offer of individual judgment.
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.
On August 4, 2016, the Federal Communications Commission (the Commission) released a Declaratory Ruling clarifying the meaning of the “emergency purpose” exception to the Telephone Consumer Protection Act’s (TCPA) prohibition on certain autodialed or prerecorded-voice calls. The Commission also found that the voluntary provision of cellphone numbers to schools or utilities constituted prior express consent to calls “closely related to” the educational and utility services offered by the callers.
In Hill v. Homeward Residential, Inc., the Sixth Circuit recently held that a plaintiff could not recover under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act for autodialed calls made to a wireless phone number that the plaintiff provided to the creditor. In so holding, the Court clarified that a consumer is deemed to have provided express consent to be contacted regarding a debt, so long as the consumer provides his or her wireless phone number “in connection with a debt he owes,” even if the phone number is not provided at the time the debt is created or the credit relationship is initiated.
The plaintiff in Hill obtained a mortgage but did not provide his cell phone number to the mortgage provider when the mortgage was first entered into. After his mortgage was sold, he voluntarily provided his cell phone number to the new mortgage company on a number of occasions, both orally and in writing. The successor mortgage provider proceeded to contact him at that number on hundreds of occasions, many of which involved use of a device that the plaintiff contended was an automated telephone dialing system under the TCPA.
The trial court denied summary judgment and allowed the case to proceed to trial on two disputed issues of material fact: whether the device in question was an ATDS, and whether the plaintiff had consented to be called via ATDS on his cell phone. The jury returned a general verdict in the defendant’s favor, and the plaintiff appealed.
As originally published in Law360
On Friday, July 10, 2015, the Federal Communications Commission issued its much-anticipated Declaratory Ruling and Order clarifying numerous aspects of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act. The commission had adopted the order at a particularly contentious June 18, 2015 open meeting (see earlier post), which one commissioner called “a farce” and another described as “a new low … never seen in politics or policymaking.”
In an unusual move, the commission made the order effective on its July 10 release date, rather than following publication in the Federal Register as is typical, providing companies with no opportunity to digest the order and adjust business practices accordingly.
As expected, the order largely brushes aside legitimate business concerns and a sensible approach to TCPA regulation in favor of findings that potentially increase risk for businesses in a variety of circumstances, including the possibility of increased class action litigation. In addition, beyond clarifying that carriers may offer call-blocking technologies to consumers, the order offers little to actually protect consumers from scam telemarketing schemes, including offshore “tele-spammers” that use robocalling or phone-number spoofing technologies.
A recent decision by a New York federal court serves as a stark reminder of the need for companies to adopt and follow robust “do not call” procedures in order to minimize the risk of rapidly escalating statutory damages under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act. The case appears to be the first to rely on the Federal Communications Commission’s recently-announced but at the time, unreleased TCPA declaratory rulings (previously discussed here). (The order has just been released, but as of this writing, the link was down.)
As originally published in Law360
At its June 18, 2015, open meeting, a sharply divided Federal Communications Commission made good on Chairman Tom Wheeler’s recent promise to bolster the Telephone Consumer Protection Act’s already strict rules and to bring about “one of the most significant FCC consumer protection actions since it established the Do-Not-Call Registry with the FTC in 2003.” While plaintiffs’ class action lawyers are likely to applaud the new measures, businesses are concerned that the new rules could unfairly restrict legitimate communications with customers.
Congress enacted the TCPA in 1991 to address what it perceived as the growing problem of unsolicited telemarketing with technologies such as fax machines, pre-recorded voice messages and automatic dialing systems. The TCPA requires anyone making a call to a wireless line using autodialer or pre-recorded voice-call technologies to obtain the “called party’s” “prior express consent,” and, following a 2012 FCC decision, “prior express written consent” for calls that introduce advertising or constitute telemarketing. Similarly, under that ruling, calls to residential lines using an artificial/pre-recorded voice that introduce advertising or constitute telemarketing require the called party’s prior express written consent. Read More
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit recently bolstered the Federal Communications Commission’s (“FCC”) interpretation of “prior express consent,” a key term under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (“TCPA”).
In Mais v. Gulf Coast Collection Bureau, Inc., the plaintiff’s wife provided the plaintiff’s cellphone number on a hospital admittance form. The form disclosed that any information supplied could be shared with the hospital’s affiliates and used for any purpose, including for billing. After the plaintiff failed to pay a hospital affiliate’s invoice for treatment services rendered, the affiliate provided the plaintiff’s contact information to the defendant, which initiated collection activity, including contacting the plaintiff at the cellphone number that was provided on his admittance form by his wife.
By Andrew Glass and Greg Blase
Courts continue to weigh in on the evolving body of law under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act. Last month, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit joined the conversation on the issue of who may be considered the “called party” under the TCPA for purposes of providing consent to receive auto-dialed and pre-recorded voice calls placed to a wireless number. The TCPA prohibits such calls to wireless phones without the “prior express consent of the called party.”