In a recent decision, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois found that the host of an automobile website did not violate the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, 47 U.S.C. § 227 (“TCPA”), by providing its users a platform to send automated text messages regarding car listings. In Serban v. CarGurus, Inc., Case No. 1:16-cv-02531 (N.D. Ill. Mar. 12, 2018), a user of the defendant’s website mistyped her telephone number when attempting to send herself a car listing. In doing so, the user performed a multi-step process—including selecting the “Send to Phone” option, entering the telephone number, and clicking a “Send” button—to generate a text message automatically created by CarGurus based on the car selected. As a result of the mistyped telephone number, the text message was transmitted to the plaintiff rather than the user.
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.
In a ruling issued on December 1, 2016, the District Court for the Central District of California denied class certification in a Telephone Consumer Protection Act (“TCPA”) case due to the putative class representatives’ status as a so-called professional plaintiff. This ruling continues a trend in which courts have significantly limited the ability of professional plaintiffs to bring TCPA class actions. Courts increasingly view professional plaintiffs’ conduct in inviting the complained-of communications as a basis to challenge these plaintiffs’ standing and rendering them inadequate class representatives.
On November 18, 2016, the Federal Communications Commission’s Enforcement Bureau (“Bureau”) released an Enforcement Advisory clarifying the TCPA’s limits on the use of autodialed text messages, known as “robotexts.” The Bureau confirmed that its rules restricting the use of automatic telephone dialing systems include those that deliver texts in addition to those that place calls. The Bureau also clarified the applicable rules regarding consent, texts to reassigned wireless numbers, advertising texts, and enforcement.
Consistent with prior FCC guidance, the Bureau confirmed that the TCPA prohibits autodialed text messages, unless made with the prior express consent of the called party, to any telephone number assigned to a cell phone or other mobile device unless the robotexts fall into one of three exceptions: (1) texts made for emergency purposes; (2) texts that are free to the end user and have been exempted by the Commission, subject to conditions prescribed to protect consumer privacy rights; or (3) texts made solely to collect debts “owed to or guaranteed by the United States.” See 47 U.S.C. § 227(b)(1)(A)(iii). The Bureau confirmed that text messages sent through texting apps, “Internet-to-phone” text messaging, and similar technology meet the statutory definition of an autodialer, and therefore fall within these restrictions.
On Monday, the U.S. Department of Justice (“DOJ”) declined to intervene in Thorne v. Donald J. Trump for President, Inc., 1:16-cv-04603 (N.D. Ill.). As previously discussed here, a class of plaintiffs sued President-Elect Trump’s campaign alleging violations of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (“TCPA”) in connection with text messages sent during the campaign. In seeking dismissal of the suit, the campaign argued that the TCPA does not pass muster under the First Amendment. Specifically, the campaign asserted that Congress’s November 2015 exemption of calls relating to government debt constitutes “preferential treatment” and qualifies as a “blatant and egregious form of content discrimination.”
The DOJ did not provide a reason for declining to intervene, and the campaign is now faced with the prospect of going it alone in its First Amendment challenge to the TCPA.
Donald Trump’s presidential campaign recently moved to dismiss a Telephone Consumer Protection Act (“TCPA”) claim on First Amendment grounds. Thorne v. Donald J. Trump for President, Inc., 1:16-cv-04603 (N.D. Ill.). The class-action complaint alleged that the campaign violated the TCPA by sending text messages without permission. In response, the campaign argued that the TCPA’s prohibition on the use of automatic telephone dialing systems (“ATDS”) for calls or text messages placed to cellular telephones, 47 U.S. Code § 227(b)(1)(A)(iii) (the “cell phone ban”), improperly regulates speech on the basis of content. Specifically, the campaign asserted that the ban cannot withstand strict scrutiny because it does not “further a compelling interest” and is not “narrowly tailored to achieve that interest.” Arizona Free Enterprise Club’s Freedom Club PAC v. Bennett, 564 U.S. 721, 734 (2011).
The wireless trade group CTIA–The Wireless Association recently asked the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”) to reject a petition that asks the agency to declare that text messages fall under the FCC’s Open Internet Order. Twilio, Inc., a cloud-based company that manages and facilitates the sending of automated text messages, filed the petition, which seeks to have the FCC confirm that text messages are telecommunication services subject to Title II of the Communications Act of 1934 and the protections of the Open Internet Order. The petition argues that wireless carriers use imprecise filtering systems to block millions of text messages that people have asked to receive, including critical information from their schools. It also claims that wireless carriers are violating the FCC’s rules under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, 47 U.S.C. § 227, by blocking text messages without giving consumers a choice or making them aware of the practice.
A federal court in California recently dismissed a class action accusing mobile application company Life360, Inc. (“Life360”) of violating the TCPA on the grounds that the company could not be liable for texts initiated by app users. The Court found that Life360 was not the “sender” of the texts initiated using its platform and, therefore, could not be held liable under the TCPA, because users—not the application itself—selected when and to whom the texts were sent.
Life360 operates a mobile phone application that allows users to communicate with and see the location of their friends and family. Users of the app who provide Life360 with access to their phone’s contact list can direct the app to “Invite” certain contacts to use the app and share their location and exchange messages with the user. According to the complaint, the user is not instructed on how or when invitations will be sent. Plaintiff Terry Cour alleged that Life360 sent him unwanted texts even though he was not a Life360 user and had never downloaded the app onto any device. Following the receipt of text messages from the app, Cour filed a lawsuit on behalf of himself and a class of persons similarly situated, alleging that Life360’s texts violated the TCPA.
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.
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.