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Recently, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part a district court’s ruling that a defendant knew its third-party contractor was making pre-recorded calls to prospective consumers without consumers’ consent in violation of the TCPA. As previously covered by InfoBytes, in December 2017, consumers filed a consolidated class action against a cruise line, alleging violations of, among other things, the TCPA for marketing calls made to class members’ cell phones using an automatic telephone dialing system between November 2016 and December 2017. The suit alleged that the defendant hired a company to generate leads and initiate telephone calls to prospective consumers for cruise packages. The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California denied dismissal of the TCPA action for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, concluding that the Court’s decision in Barr v. American Association of Political Consultants Inc., did not invalidate the TCPA in its entirety from 2015 until July 2020. In Barr the U.S. Supreme Court held that the TCPA’s government-debt exception is an unconstitutional content-based speech restriction and severed the provision from the remainder of the statute. (Covered previously by InfoBytes here.)
On the appeal, the issue was whether the defendant is liable under the TCPA for prerecorded voice calls made by the third-party contractor to the plaintiffs, who had not given prior express consent to be called. The 9th Circuit agreed with the district court’s decision in granting summary judgment for the defendant where the TCPA did not require the defendant to ensure that the third-party contractor had prior express consent for each call that it made to the defendant’s customers, nor did the defendant have actual authority over the third-party contractor. However, the 9th Circuit concluded that the defendant may be vicariously liable for the third-party contractor’s calls because it might have ratified them. The appellate court noted that the defendant knew that it received 2.1 million warm-transferred calls from the company between January 2017 and June 2018, but only 80,081 of those transfers were from individuals who had allegedly consented to receiving the calls. The defendant also had knowledge that there was a slew of mismatched caller data, and that the third-party contractor placed calls using prerecorded voices. The appellate court wrote that, “[t]hese facts, in combination with the evidence of widespread TCPA violations in the cruise industry, would support a finding that [the defendant] knew facts that should have led it to investigate [the company’s] work for TCPA violations.”
On March 3, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Kentucky partially granted and partially denied a defendant bank’s motion for summary judgment in a TCPA case. According to the opinion, the plaintiff allegedly did not meet his minimum monthly credit card payments, so the defendant began conducting debt collection calls. The defendant allegedly attempted 574 communications via phone call, prerecorded messages, or text messages, including 111 prerecorded messages, during a 7-month period.
The plaintiff filed suit, alleging the defendant violated the TCPA by contacting him using an automatic telephone dialing system (ATDS) before and after he allegedly revoked consent to be contacted. The district court held that the telephone system used by the defendant to contact the plaintiff did not qualify as an ATDS under the Supreme Court’s ruling in Facebook v. Duguid (Covered by a Buckley Special Alert here), which narrowed the definition of an ATDS under the TCPA. The court was “not persuaded by [the plaintiff’s] argument that [the telephone system] is an ATDS simply because it has the ‘capacity to store telephone numbers using a random or sequential number generator, and then to dial those numbers without human intervention.’”
The plaintiff also argued that the defendant violated the TCPA by sending the 111 prerecorded messages. The court determined that while the plaintiff had initially consented to being contacted by the defendant when he provided his telephone number to create his account, there was a genuine dispute of material fact as to whether the plaintiff subsequently revoked his consent. Even though the defendant submitted seven call recordings between itself and the plaintiff in support of its argument that the plaintiff did not specifically revoke consent, the court explained that “the evidence could lead reasonable minds to differ,” including the plaintiff’s deposition testimony, his request to have information sent to him via mail, his refusal to talk to a collector and hanging up the phone on a subsequent call, and his failure to answer the phone when the defendant called.
On January 19, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of a defendant accused of violating the TCPA after allegedly using an automatic telephone dialing system (autodialer). The plaintiff claimed that the defendant’s platform qualifies as an autodialer since it “stores telephone numbers using a sequential number generator because it uploads a customer’s list of numbers and produces them to be dialed in the same order they were provided, i.e., sequentially.” According to the 9th Circuit, the plaintiff’s interpretation would mean that “virtually any system” with the capability to store a pre-produced list of telephone numbers would qualify as an autodialer if it could also autodial the stored numbers. The court noted that this interpretation was rejected in the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2021 decision in Facebook Inc. v. Duguid, which narrowed the definition of what type of equipment qualifies as an autodialer under the TCPA and held that an autodialer “must have the capacity either to store a telephone number using a random or sequential generator or to produce a telephone number using a using a random or sequential number generator.” (Covered by a Buckley Special Alert here.)
The plaintiff attempted to rely on a footnote in the Court’s ruling, which endeavored to explain why the terms “produce” and “store” were used in the definition of an autodialer, but the 9th Circuit concluded that the footnote discussion was not central to the Court’s analysis in Duguid and therefore did not require it to adopt the plaintiff’s interpretation. After finding that the defendant’s system does not qualify as an autodialer “merely because it stores pre-produced lists of telephone numbers in the order in which they are uploaded,” the appellate court concluded that the plaintiff’s TCPA claims failed. It further determined that even if Duguid did not foreclose the plaintiff’s argument, the district court was correct to conclude that the system at issue “does not have the capacity to automatically dial telephone numbers.”
On August 10, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit revived a lawsuit against an insurance servicing company (defendant) for allegedly using both an automated telephone dialing system and an artificial or pre-recorded voice to place a job-recruitment call without obtaining the plaintiff’s consent. According to the opinion, the plaintiff filed a suit alleging, among other things, TCPA violations after receiving the pre-recorded voicemail from the defendant regarding his “industry experience” and that the defendant is “looking to partner with select advisors in the Los Angeles area.” The district court dismissed the plaintiff’s action under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) for failing “to state a claim upon which relief can be granted,” holding that the TCPA and the relevant implementing regulation do not prohibit conducting job recruitment robocalls to a cellular telephone number. In addition, the district court “read the Act as prohibiting robocalls to cell phones only when the calls include an ‘advertisement’ or constitute ‘telemarketing,’ as those terms have been defined” by the FCC. The court found that since the plaintiff admitted that the job recruitment call he received did not involve advertising or telemarketing, he had not adequately pleaded a violation of the TCPA.
On the appeal, a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit determined that the district court misread the TCPA and the implementing regulation when dismissing the plaintiff’s suit and remanded the case for further proceedings. The appellate court noted that the FCC provision was intended to tighten the consent requirement for robocalls that involve advertising or telemarketing, but the lower court incorrectly perceived the provision as “effectively removing robocalls to cellphones from the scope of the TCPA’s coverage unless the calls involve advertising or telemarketing.” Moreover, the panel wrote that “[t]he applicable statutory provision prohibits in plain terms ‘any call,’ regardless of content, that is made to a cellphone using an automatic telephone dialing system or an artificial or pre-recorded voice, unless the call is made either for emergency purposes or with the prior express consent of the person being called.”
On June 29, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma granted final approval to a $1.75 million class action settlement involving a now-bankrupt, marketing company hired to place pre-recorded robocalls on behalf of a home security company without receiving consumers’ prior written express consent, in alleged violation of the TCPA. According to the motion for final approval of class settlement, the lead plaintiff alleged, among other things, that the marketing company was directly liable for calls advertising home security services placed using an automated soundboard system, and that the home security company was vicariously liable for hiring the marketing company to place the calls. In this case, the court decided in summary judgment that the soundboard technology used to place the calls at issue (“rather than traditional unattended prerecorded messages”) was regulated by the TCPA, an issue that the plaintiff believes to be of first impression. The settlement agreement also enjoins the company “from initiating any telephone call to any telephone line that delivers a prerecorded message and/or using soundboard technology to deliver a prerecorded message where the principal purpose of the telephone call is advertising or marketing, unless the called party has provided prior express written consent to receive such calls.” Additionally, as noted in the motion, the court previously granted final approval to a $1.85 million class wide settlement with the alarm company last November.
On June 29, the Florida governor signed SB 1120, which prohibits telephone solicitations and sales calls involving an “automated system for the selection or dialing of telephone numbers or the playing of a recorded message” without first receiving the prior express written consent of the called party. Among other things, the act (i) provides a “rebuttable presumption that a telephonic sales call made to any area code in this state is made to a Florida resident or to a person in this state at the time of the call”; (ii) provides a private right of action to enjoin such violations or recover the greater of actual damages or $500; and (iii) authorizes a court to increase the amount of the award for willful and knowing violations. Additionally, Florida law is amended to provide that it is an unlawful act or practice to, among other things, make “[m]ore than three commercial telephone solicitation phone calls from any number to a person over a 24-hour period on the same subject matter or issue, regardless of the phone number used to make the call.” Additionally, companies may not use technology to “deliberately display a different caller identification number than the number the call is originating from to conceal the true identity of the caller.” The act takes effect July 1.
On June 24, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California granted a motion to dismiss a putative class action suit, in which the plaintiff alleged that the defendant sent messages using an “automatic telephone dialing system” (autodialer) within the meaning of the TCPA. As previously covered by a Buckley Special Alert, in April the U.S. Supreme Court in Facebook, Inc. v. Duguid narrowed the definition of what type of equipment qualifies as an autodialer under the TCPA, a federal statute that generally prohibits calls or texts placed by autodialers without the prior express consent of the called party. In this district court case, the platform utilized by the defendant to contact the plaintiff allegedly placed calls only to phone numbers supplied by consumers when signing up for the defendant’s services. The plaintiff alleged that the platform nonetheless qualified as an autodialer because it used a “random number generator to determine the order in which to pick from the preproduced list of consumer phone numbers, such that it does qualify as an autodialer.” The plaintiff claimed this feature brought the platform within the TCPA’s definition of an autodialer, referring to a line from footnote 7 of the Duguid opinion. That footnote states that “an autodialer might use a random number generator to determine the order in which to pick phone numbers from a preproduced list. It would then store those numbers to be dialed at a later time.” However, in the order, the district court rejected the plaintiff’s argument as inconsistent with the rationale in Facebook and an “acontextual reading” of the footnote. In rejecting the argument, the court explained that under Facebook’s holding, “to qualify as an autodialer, a device must have ‘the capacity to use a random or sequential number generator to either store or produce phone numbers to be called.” The district court found that defendant’s platform was only texting customers who had already provided their contact information. As a result, the platform did not qualify as an autodialer as a matter of law and the court dismissed plaintiff’s TCPA claim without leave to amend.
On June 16, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California granted a Delaware-based debt collector’s (defendant) motions to dismiss with prejudice and compel arbitration in an FDCPA, TCPA class-action case, while denying as moot the defendant’s motion to strike or stay. The plaintiff’s unpaid credit card debt was sold to the defendant, who sought to collect the debt by calling the plaintiff’s cell phone two dozen times in a span of two weeks using an automated telephone dialing system. The plaintiff filed a lawsuit originally alleging TCPA violations. He later amended the complaint to include FDCPA violations after he claimed he never received notice as required by the FDCPA. Under the FDCPA, debt collectors are required to provide a consumer with written notice containing various required information within five days after the initial communication in connection with the collection of any debt, “unless the. . .information is contained in the initial communication or the consumer has paid the debt.” The defendant initially moved to dismiss, but after the plaintiff opposed, filed an instant motion to compel arbitration based on an arbitration provision contained in a set of terms and conditions in the plaintiff’s credit card agreement with the original creditor. The plaintiff countered, among other things, that the debt collector cannot enforce the arbitration provision because the plaintiff never signed it, and further argued that the card agreement is unconscionable.
The court disagreed, ruling that the defendant did not waive its right to arbitrate the plaintiff’s claims, pointing out that the arbitration provision between the plaintiff and the defendant is part of the card agreement, which the plaintiff accepted once he began using the credit card. According to the court, the arbitration provision “states that it covers ‘any claim, dispute or controversy between you and us arising out of or related to your [a]ccount, a previous related [a]ccount, or our relationship,’ including but not limited to those ‘based on. . .statutory or regulatory provisions, or any other sources of law.’” According to the court, the plaintiff’s dispute with the defendant relates to violations of the TCPA and FDCPA and exists between the plaintiff and the original creditor’s assignee (the defendant). Thus, because the claims relate to a creditor-debtor relationship arising out of the card agreement, the court determined that the arbitration provision “constitutes a valid agreement to arbitrate” and was unpersuaded by the plaintiff’s arguments that the arbitration provision is unconscionable. With respect to the plaintiff’s TCPA claims, the court found that it “disregards as unreasonable and implausible Plaintiff’s allegation that any calls he received related to amounts unpaid arising out of his [credit card] were unlawful in light of the [c]ard [a]greement,” which expressly authorizes the original creditor or its assignees to call the plaintiff once the plaintiff accepted the card agreement. The court found that as the plaintiff did not plead sufficient facts to show that the calls were inconsistent with the FDCPA, the defendant had every right to call him.
District Court, citing Supreme Court in Facebook, says bank’s dialing equipment is not an autodialer
On June 9, the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina granted summary judgment in favor of a national bank, ruling that the dialing equipment used by the bank did not fit within the U.S. Supreme Court’s narrowed definition of the type of equipment that qualifies as an autodialer under the TCPA. As previously covered by a Buckley Special Alert, the Supreme Court held that in order to qualify as an “automatic telephone dialing system,” a device must have the capacity either to store or produce a telephone number using a random or sequential generator. The TCPA defines an autodialer as equipment with the capacity both “to store or produce telephone numbers to be called, using a random or sequential number generator,” and to dial those numbers. The question before the Supreme Court in Facebook Inc. v. Duguid was whether that definition encompasses equipment that can “store” and dial telephone numbers, even if the device does not use “a random or sequential number generator.” The Court held it does not, stating that the modifier “using a random or sequential number generator” applied to both terms “store” and “produce.”
In the South Carolina case, the plaintiff argued that the bank used an autodialer when it placed at least 155 debt collection calls without her consent. She sued the bank, alleging, among other things, violations of the TCPA, FCRA, and invasion of privacy. The court ruled in favor of the bank on the FCRA and invasion of privacy claims and directed the parties to refile their motions after the Supreme Court issued its decision in Facebook. Following the Facebook opinion, the plaintiff argued that “the dialer at issue must only have the capacity to store or produce numbers using a random or sequential number generator, and Defendant’s internal documents establish that the [bank’s dialing equipment] has that capacity,” and that, moreover, a footnote in Facebook “leaves open the possibility that the [equipment’s] ability to use a random number generator to determine the order in which numbers are dialed from a preproduced list may qualify it as an ATDS.”
The court disagreed, concluding that even though internal bank documents referred to the dialing equipment as an autodialer and showed that the equipment dialed numbers automatically without the assistance of an agent, the information was insufficient to meet the Supreme Court’s statutory definition. “As we learned from Duguid, the automatic dialing capability alone is not enough to qualify a system as an ATDS,” the court ruled. “The system at issue must store numbers using a random or sequential number generator or produce numbers using a random or sequential number generator to qualify as an ATDS.” According to the court, the bank’s equipment dialed members’ numbers from a pre-created list of targeted accounts. With respect to the plaintiff’s footnote argument, the court found that the plaintiff was taking the footnote in Facebook “out of context.”
On May 26, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit held that receiving a single unsolicited text message is enough to establish standing under the TCPA. The plaintiff alleged he received an unsolicited text message on his cell phone from the defendant after he had previously revoked consent and reached a settlement with the defendant to resolve a dispute over two other unsolicited text messages. The plaintiff filed a putative class action alleging that the defendant negligently, willfully, and/or knowingly sent text messages using an automatic telephone dialing system without first receiving consent, and that the unsolicited message was “a nuisance and invasion of privacy.” The district court dismissed the suit for lack of standing, ruling that a “single unwelcome text message will not always involve an intrusion into the privacy of the home in the same way that a voice call to a residential line necessarily does.”
On appeal, the 5th Circuit disagreed, concluding that the nuisance arising from the single text message was a sufficiently concrete injury and enough to establish standing. “In enacting the TCPA, Congress found that ‘unrestricted telemarketing can be an intrusive invasion of privacy’ and a ‘nuisance,’” the appellate court wrote, commenting that the TCPA “cannot be read to regulate unsolicited telemarketing only when it affects the home.” In addition, the appellate court found that the plaintiff separately alleged personal injuries that separated him from the public at large by arguing that the “aggravating and annoying” robodialed text message “interfered with [his] rights and interests in his cellular telephone.” In reversing the district court’s ruling, the 5th Circuit disregarded precedent set by the 11th Circuit in Salcedo v. Hanna (covered by InfoBytes here). Calling the other appellate court’s decision “mistaken,” the 5th Circuit contended the other appellate court took too narrow a view of the theory of harm by concluding that there must be some actual damage before an action can be maintained. Moreover, the 5th Circuit stated the 11th Circuit misunderstood the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Spokeo, Inc. v. Robins, writing “Salcedo’s focus on the substantiality of an alleged harm threatens to make this already difficult area of law even more unmanageable. We therefore reject it.”
- Kathryn L. Ryan to discuss "State licensing and NMLS challenges" at MBA’s Legal Issues and Regulatory Compliance Conference
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- Jeffrey P. Naimon to discuss “Contemplating the boundaries of UDAAP” at the MBA Legal Issues and Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Steven vonBerg to speak at closing “super session“ on compliance topics at MBA Legal Issues and Regulatory Compliance Conference
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- Jeffrey P. Naimon to discuss “Understanding the ESG impact on compliance” at the ABA’s Regulatory Compliance Conference