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On January 27, the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota, granted final approval of a $7.05 million class action settlement between consumers and a large national retailer for allegedly making robocalls. The lead plaintiff filed a proposed class action suit in 2016 against the retailer claiming that it used an automated dialing system to place collection calls to his cell phone in violation of the TCPA. The suit additionally asserted that some plaintiffs were charged by their cellphone service providers for these collection calls.
According to the settlement approval order, the settlement class includes individuals who received debt collection calls on their cell phones from the retailer between March of 2012 and May of 2018. Additionally, the court determined that, among other things, (i) the notice plan is the best plan practicable and provides sufficient notice to class members; (ii) the settlement is “fair, reasonable, and adequate”; and (iii) the class was adequately represented in the settlement negotiations. The court approved attorneys’ fees and costs of nearly $2 million, and an incentive award of $10,000 to the lead plaintiff, both to be paid out of the funds of the settlement.
On January 10, the FTC announced that it entered into two settlement agreements: one with a call center and two individuals, and one with an additional individual (together, “the settling defendants”) that it claims made illegal robocalls to consumers as part of a cruise line’s telemarketing operation allegedly aimed at marketing free cruise packages to consumers. According to the two settlements (see here and here), the settling defendants “participated in unfair acts or practices in violation of . . . the FTC Act, and the FTC’s Telemarketing Sales Rule [(TSR)]” by “(a) placing telemarketing calls to consumers that delivered prerecorded messages; (b) placing telemarketing calls to consumers whose telephone numbers were on the National Do Not Call Registry; and (c) transmitting inaccurate caller ID numbers and names with their telemarketing calls.” The defendants are permanently banned from making telemarketing robocalls, and have been levied judgments totaling $7.8 million, all but $2,500 of which has been suspended due to the defendants’ inability to pay.
Also on January 10, the FTC filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida against the remaining six defendants allegedly involved in the telemarketing operation, for violations of the FTC Act and TSR based on the same actions alleged against the settling defendants.
On December 30, President Trump signed S. 151—the “Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence Act” (TRACED Act)—which, among other things, grants the FCC authority to promulgate rules to combat illegal robocalls and requires voice service providers to develop call authentication technologies. The TRACED Act, Public Law No. 116-105, also directs the FCC to issue regulations to ensure that banks and other callers have effective redress options if their calls are erroneously blocked by call-blocking services.
Highlights of the TRACED Act include:
- STIR/SHAKEN implementation. Within 18 months of enactment, the FCC must require voice service providers to implement “STIR/SHAKEN” caller ID authentication framework protocols at no additional charge to consumers. Providers will be required to adopt call authentication technologies to enable telephone carriers to verify the authenticity of the calling party’s calls. (Previously covered by InfoBytes here.)
- Increased enforcement authority. The FCC will be able to levy civil penalties of up to $10,000 per violation, with additional penalties of as much as $10,000 for intentional violations. The TRACED Act also extends the window for the FCC to take enforcement action against intentional violations to four years.
- FCC requirements. The TRACED Act directs the FCC to (i) initiate a rulemaking to protect subscribers from receiving unwanted calls or texts from callers who use unauthenticated numbers; (ii) initiate a proceeding to protect parties from “one-ring” scams “in which a caller makes a call and allows the call to ring the called party for a short duration, in order to prompt the called party to return the call, thereby subjecting the called party to charges”; (iii) submit annual robocall reports to Congress; and (iv) establish a working group to issue best practices to prevent hospitals from receiving illegal robocalls.
- Agency collaboration. The TRACED Act directs the DOJ and the FTC to convene an interagency working group comprised of relevant federal departments and agencies, such as the Department of Commerce, Department of State, Department of Homeland Security, FTC, and CFPB, which must consult with state attorneys general and other non-federal entities, to identify and report to Congress on recommendations and methods for improving, preventing, and prosecuting robocall violations.
- Criminal prosecutions. The TRACED Act encourages the DOJ to bring more criminal prosecutions against robocallers.
Earlier on December 20, the FCC issued a public notice seeking industry input on current practices for blocking unwanted calls as part of a study required by last June’s declaratory ruling and proposed rulemaking (covered by InfoBytes here; Federal Register notice here). The FCC will use the information collected in an upcoming report on the current state of call blocking efforts. Comments will be accepted until January 29, and reply comments are due on or before February 28.
On December 5, the FTC and the Ohio attorney general announced that the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas issued a temporary restraining order (TRO) against a VoIP service provider and its foreign counterpart for facilitating (or consciously avoiding knowing of) a “phony” credit card interest rate reduction scheme committed by one of its client companies at the center of a joint FTC/Ohio AG action. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the original complaint alleged that a group of individuals and companies—working in concert and claiming they could reduce interest rates on credit cards—had violated the FTC Act, the Telemarketing Sales Rule, and various Ohio consumer protection laws. In addition to obtaining a TRO against the most recent alleged participants, the FTC and Ohio AG amended their July complaint to add the telecom companies as defendants alleging the companies “played a key role in robocalling consumers to promote a credit card interest reductions scheme.”
On October 2, the California governor signed SB 208, the “Consumer Call Protection Act of 2019,” which requires telecommunications service providers (TSPs) to implement specified technological protocols to verify and authenticate caller identification for calls carried over an internet protocol network. Specifically, the bill requires TSPs to implement “Secure Telephone Identity Revisited (STIR) and Secure Handling of Asserted information using toKENs (SHAKEN) protocols or alternative technology that provides comparable or superior capability by January 1, 2021. The bill also authorizes the California Public Utilities Commission and the Attorney General to enforce certain parts of 47 U.S.C. 227, making it unlawful for any person within the U.S. to cause any caller identification service to knowingly transmit misleading or inaccurate caller identification information with the intent to defraud, cause harm, or wrongfully obtain anything of value.
As previously covered by InfoBytes, in June 2019, the FCC adopted a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) requiring voice providers to implement the “SHAKEN/STIR” caller ID authentication framework. The FCC argued that once “SHAKEN/STIR” is implemented, it would “reduce the effectiveness of illegal spoofing and allow bad actors to be identified more easily.”
On September 9, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California entered a final judgment against a debt collection agency that was found guilty of violating the TCPA by making more than 500,000 unsolicited robocalls using autodialers. The court’s final judgment is consistent with the jury’s verdict from last May, which identified four classes of individuals: two involving consumers who received skip-tracing calls or pre-recorded messages, and two involving non-debtor consumers who never had debt collection accounts with the defendant but received calls on their cell phones. In a February 2018 order, the court resolved cross motions for summary judgment, affirming that the dialers used by the defendant to place the calls constituted autodialers within the meaning of the TCPA and that the defendant lacked prior express consent to place the calls. Under the more than $267 million final judgment, class members will each receive $500 per call, with one of the named plaintiffs receiving $7,000 for his individual TCPA claim.
On August 27, the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California denied a car manufacturer’s motion to dismiss a class action alleging that it violated the TCPA by sending unwanted automated text messages. According to the opinion, after a consumer visited a car dealership, she allegedly received unsolicited text messages to her cell phone from the dealership. The consumer filed a proposed class action alleging the corporate car manufacturer “directed, encouraged, and authorized its dealerships  to send text messages promoting the sale of [the] automobiles to [the consumer] and other members of the proposed Class, pursuant to a common marketing scheme” and that the text messages were transmitted using an automated telephone dialing system (autodialer) in violation of the TCPA. The manufacturer moved to dismiss the action, arguing that the plaintiff failed to allege (i) that the manufacturer sent the text messages or that the dealership sent the text messages as the manufacturer’s agent; and (ii) that the text messages were sent using an autodialer.
The court first determined that the plaintiff plausibly alleged that the manufacturer directly sent the text messages, or, in the alternative, that the dealership was acting as the manufacturer’s agent when the texts were sent. Furthermore, the plaintiff alleged that the manufacturer used hardware and software programs with the requisite capabilities to qualify as an autodialer pursuant to the 9th Circuit’s decision in Marks v. Crunch San Diego, LLC (covered by InfoBytes here).
On August 22, North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein announced a bipartisan agreement between 51 state attorneys general and 12 voice service providers, adopting eight principles for fighting illegal robocalls and preventing consumer fraud. Under the principles, the voice providers will: (i) offer no-cost call-blocking technology, including easy-to-use call blocking and labeling tools; (ii) implement STIR/SHAKEN call authentication (as previously covered by InfoBytes, in June the FCC adopted a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking requiring voice providers to implement the caller ID authentication framework); (iii) analyze and monitor high-volume voice network traffic for robocall patterns; (iv) investigate suspicious calls and calling patterns and take appropriate action; (v) confirm identities of new commercial customers; (vi) require traceback cooperation in new and renegotiated contracts; (vii) provide for timely and comprehensive law enforcement efforts through cooperation in traceback investigations; and (viii) communicate with state attorneys general about recognized robocall scams and trends and potential solutions. AG Stein noted that the principles will also “make it easier for attorneys general to investigate and prosecute bad actors.”
On August 21, the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon upheld a $925 million jury verdict against a direct sales company in a TCPA class action lawsuit, denying the company’s motion to decertify the class. According to the opinion, the named plaintiff brought the 2015 class action lawsuit alleging the company violated the TCPA by calling consumers using an artificial or prerecorded voice without their consent. In April 2019, a jury concluded that a total of 1,850,436 calls were made using an artificial or prerecorded voice to either cell phones or landlines. However, in June 2019, the FCC granted a request made by the company in September 2017 for a retroactive waiver of the agency’s 2012 new written consent requirements for telemarketing robocalls, but only as it applied to “calls for which the petitioner had obtained some form of written consent.” Based on the newly-obtained waiver from the FCC, the company moved to decertify the class arguing that, among other things, (i) the named plaintiff lacked standing, and (ii) consent is now an individualized issue that “predominates” over the class issues. The court rejected these arguments, concluding that the company waived the affirmative defense of consent by not raising the defense earlier in the litigation when it knew its FCC waiver was pending. Specifically, the court reasoned that the failure to raise the issue “given the likelihood that the FCC would grant its waiver petition was unreasonable.” The court also rejected the company’s predominance arguments, concluding that whether the calls were made to a landline or cellphone is irrelevant as TCPA liability “attaches to any call made [to] either” type. The court concluded that class certification was proper, upholding the jury’s verdict.
On August 1, the FCC announced the adoption of new rules that will extend the Truth in Caller ID’s prohibitions against robocalls to caller ID spoofing of text messages and international calls, and implement measures passed last year in the RAY BAUM’s Act. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the rules are supported by a bipartisan group of more than 40 state attorneys general, and will allow the FCC to bring enforcement actions and assess fines on international players who try to defraud U.S. residents. However, while Commissioner Michael O’Rielly voted in favor of the measure, he raised concerns that the FCC may encounter problems when trying to enforce the rules across international borders. “As I expressed before, the expanded extraterritorial jurisdiction may prove difficult to execute in uncooperative nations and come back to bite us in other contexts,” O’Rielly stated. “In addition, the definitions of text messaging and voice services are broader than my liking and may cause future unintended consequences.” However, his statement did not specify what these unintended consequences might be.
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- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "Which bud’s for you? A deep-dive into evolving marijuana laws" at the ACAMS International AML & Financial Crime Conference
- John P. Kromer to discuss "Navigating the multi-state fintech regulatory regime" at the American Conference Institute Legal, Regulatory and Compliance Forum on Fintech & Emerging Payment Systems