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Financial Services Law Insights and Observations

11th Circuit offers new autodialer definition under TCPA

Courts Appellate Eleventh Circuit Autodialer TCPA Debt Collection

Courts

On January 27, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit issued a split opinion on the definition of an automatic telephone dialing system (autodialer) within the context of the TCPA. The TCPA defines an autodialer 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.” According to the 11th Circuit, “to be an auto-dialer, the equipment must (1) store telephone numbers using a random or sequential number generator and dial them or (2) produce such numbers using a random or sequential number generator and dial them.”

In the first case, a Florida plaintiff filed the putative class action complaint alleging a hotel chain used an autodialer to call her cell phone without her consent. (Previously covered by InfoBytes here.) The hotel moved for summary judgment, arguing that the system did not qualify as an autodialer under the TCPA because it required a hotel agent to click “Make Call” before the system dialed the number. The court agreed, concluding that the defining characteristic of an autodialer is “the capacity to dial numbers without human intervention,” which the court noted remains unchanged even in light of the D.C. Circuit decision in ACA International v. FCC (covered by a Buckley Special Alert here). In the second case, a plaintiff contended a loan servicer placed 35 calls to her cell phone about unpaid student loans. However, in this instance, the district court ruled that the company used an autodialer because the system did not require human intervention and had the capacity to automatically dial a stored list of numbers. Additionally, the court ruled that 13 of the 35 calls were willful violations of the TCPA.

On appeal, the appellate court affirmed the district court’s ruling in the first case, concluding that the hotel calling system, which required human intervention before a call was placed and “used randomly or sequentially generated numbers,” did not qualify as an autodialer under the TCPA. The appellate court, however, partially affirmed and partially reversed the district court’s ruling in the second case, holding that while 13 of the calls received by the plaintiff were placed using an artificial or prerecorded voice (a separate violation of the TCPA), the phone system used in this case did not qualify as an autodialer because it did not use random or sequentially generated numbers. One of the judges stated in a partial dissent, however, that she read the TCPA to cover equipment that only has the capacity to dial and not produce random numbers, similar to the phone system used by the loan servicer. The 11th Circuit’s opinion is consistent with the D.C. Circuit’s holding in ACA International, which struck down the FCC’s definition of an autodialer; however it conflicts with the 9th Circuit’s holding in Marks v. Crunch San Diego, LLC (InfoBytes coverage here), which broadened the definition of an autodialer to cover all devices with the capacity to automatically dial numbers that are stored in a list.

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