District Court allows prerecorded-voice-based claims to proceed
On March 23, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of New York partially granted a defendant debt collector’s motion for summary judgment in an action concerning the alleged use of an automated telephone dialing system (autodialer) to collect unpaid medical debt. Plaintiff claimed the defendant repeatedly called his cell phone using an autodialer and left messages using a prerecorded voice message even after he asked the defendant to stop. These actions, the plaintiff said, violated the FDCPA and the TCPA. In partially granting the defendant’s motion for summary judgment, the court found that the plaintiff’s TCPA claims concerning the alleged use of an autodialer were “no longer viable” following the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Facebook v. Duguid (covered by a Special Alert), which narrowed the definition of autodialer under the TCPA, resulting in the law only covering equipment that generates numbers randomly and sequentially.
Although both parties agreed that the Facebook decision does not affect plaintiff’s prerecorded-voice-based-claims (which are distinct from claims based on the use of an autodialer), the parties disputed how the defendant came to possess the plaintiff’s cell phone number. The defendant maintained that the hospital that treated the plaintiff provided the cell phone number; however, the plaintiff contended that he did not recall providing his number to the hospital. The court reviewed, among other things, whether the plaintiff expressly consented to receiving calls—prerecorded or not. Under the TCPA, “[p]roviding one’s phone number to an entity constitutes consent for that entity to use the number to collect a debt, so long as ‘such number was provided during the transaction that resulted in the debt [being] owed,’” the court explained, adding that the burden is on the defendant to demonstrate that the plaintiff consented to receiving the calls that allegedly used a prerecorded voice.
A purported hospital intake form submitted by the defendant that included the plaintiff’s cell phone number did not indicate that “it was filled out by, or includes information provided only by, [the plaintiff],” the court said, also writing that “this document merely demonstrates that whenever the document was typed, [the hospital] had [plaintiff’s] phone number from some source.” This is not sufficient to indicate that the plaintiff consented to be contacted, the court ruled, holding that the defendant was not entitled to summary judgment based on its express consent affirmative defense. As a result, the court allowed the prerecorded-voice-based-claims to proceed to trial.