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.
In the wake of Campbell-Ewald v. Gomez, in which the Supreme Court held that an unaccepted Rule 68 offer of complete relief does not moot a plaintiff’s individual claims, the Third Circuit recently held that an unaccepted settlement offer “has no force” and therefore neither the plaintiffs’ individual claims nor the class claims in the suit were mooted by defendant’s offer of full relief prior to the filing of a motion to certify a class in Weitzner et al. v. Sanofi Pasteur Inc. et al. (Our previous analysis of Campbell-Ewald can be found here.)
On January 20, 2016, the United States Supreme Court issued its decision in Campbell-Ewald Company v. Gomez regarding Rule 68 offers of judgment. The Court held that a defendant cannot moot a case by merely offering complete relief to a plaintiff but left unanswered whether a defendant may do so by actually providing complete relief. Nor did the Court reach the question of whether a plaintiff can continue to seek to represent a putative class when his or her individual claims are mooted before a class is certified.
The United States Supreme Court recently granted certiorari in a Telephone Consumer Protection Act class action challenging text messages which a U.S. Navy vendor sent to recruit new sailors. In Campbell-Ewald Company v. Gomez, No. 14-857, the Supreme Court will review (1) whether a defendant’s offer to provide complete relief as to individual claims deprives the plaintiff of Article III standing, and (2) whether such an offer can also prevent a putative class plaintiff from proceeding where no class has yet been certified.
In Campbell-Ewald, the plaintiff brought suit under the TCPA for himself and a putative class of individuals who the plaintiff claimed had not provided consent to receive a recruiting text message from the Navy. Before the plaintiff moved for class certification, the defendant made a Rule 68 “offer of judgment” offering the plaintiff complete monetary and non-monetary relief. When the plaintiff rejected the offer, the defendant moved to dismiss on the basis that its offer of complete relief mooted both the plaintiff’s individual and class claims under Article III.
The district court denied the motion to dismiss. On appeal, the Ninth Circuit agreed with that aspect of the district court’s ruling. The Supreme Court’s review should resolve a split among the circuits as to the effect of a Rule 68 offer in the class action context. A decision, however, is not likely until June 2016. Our recent client alert by Irene C. Freidel and Jennifer J. Nagle, To Offer or Not to Offer: Post Genesis, Uncertainty Continues Regarding the Impact of Rule 68 Offers of Judgment in the Class Action Context, provides additional discussion of Rule 68 and offers of judgment in class actions, more generally.
Campbell-Ewald is the second case in which the Supreme Court recently granted cert., which could have potential impacts on TCPA class action litigation. In addition, in Spokeo, Inc. v. Robins, No. 13-1339, which will also be heard next term, the Supreme Court will consider whether a plaintiff must have suffered actual harm in order to have standing to sue for statutory damages under the Fair Credit Reporting Act. That statute, like the TCPA, appears to permit recovery of statutory damages upon the showing of a violation, and the federal circuit courts of appeal are currently split over whether a plaintiff may state a claim for statutory damages without separately showing injury-in-fact as a necessary prerequisite for standing. The Supreme Court’s resolution of this issue in the FCRA context may have significant implications for class action and individual litigation under a wide range of federal statutes, including the TCPA. For more information on the Spokeo case, please see our recent post in K&L Gates Consumer Financial Services Watch blog.