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On November 15, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit vacated the district court’s certification order of a class action alleging a national satellite TV company violated the TCPA by contacting individuals who had previously asked to not be contacted. According to the opinion, a consumer filed a class action against the company alleging that the company failed to maintain an “internal do-not-call list,” which allowed the company and its telemarketing service provider to contact him eighteen times after he repeatedly asked to not be contacted. The consumer sought certification “of all persons who received more than one telemarketing call from [the telemarketing service provider] on behalf of [the company] while it failed to maintain an internal do-not-call list.” The district court certified the class and the company appealed.
On appeal, the 11th Circuit disagreed with the district court, concluding the court incorrectly determined that issues common to the class predominated over issues individual to each member. Specifically, the appellate court noted that the class consisted of unnamed class members who may not have asked the company to stop calling and therefore, would never have been on an internal do-not-call list, had one been properly maintained. Thus, these members were not injured by the company’s failure to comply and their injuries are then “not fairly traceable to [the company’s] alleged wrongful conduct,” resulting in a lack of Article III standing to sue. The appellate court emphasized that recertification is still possible, but the district court would need to determine which of the class members made the request to not be contacted. However, if “few made [the] request, or if it will be extraordinarily difficult to identify those who did, then the class would be overbroad” and individualized issues may “overwhelm issues common to the class.”
On November 7, the FCC released a public notice seeking comment on a petition filed by a financial institution requesting a declaratory ruling on whether a company can send a follow-up clarification text message in response to an opt-out message from a consumer without violating the TCPA. More specifically, in connection with informational texts that the consumer previously consented to receive, the institution desires to “discern the scope of that opt-out,” because “[s]ome customers want to opt-out of all texts; others merely want to opt-out of the specific category of text message alert they received most recently.” The institution notes it filed the petition “in an abundance of caution” in light of the highly technical nature of TCPA compliance, and that it believes the FCC’s 2012 ruling in SoundBite Communications, Inc. Petition for Expedited Declaratory Ruling is clear that a sender may clarify in an opt-out confirmation message the scope of the consumer’s request without violating the TCPA as long as the message does not contain marketing or promotional content or seek to encourage or persuade the recipient to reconsider the opt-out.
Comments on the FCC’s public notice are due by December 9, with reply comments by December 24.
On October 28, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois granted final approval of a $12.5 million TCPA class action settlement between a group of consumers and three cruise lines and their marketing group (collectively, “defendants”). According to the opinion, a consumer filed the action against the defendants alleging they violated the TCPA’s prohibition of the use of an autodialer without prior consent. While the motion for class certification was pending, the parties reached an agreement-in-principle for a class-wide settlement. The settlement requires the defendants to, among other things, set up a common fund of $12.5 million to permit each claimant to “recover for up to three calls per telephone number, with a maximum value for each call set at $300.” The court noted that after deducting attorneys’ fees, other costs, and an incentive award for the principal plaintiff, the nearly 275,000 class members will be eligible to receive an average of about $22 per claim. The court noted that while $22 is “significantly below the $500 recovery available under the statute for each call… a settlement does not need to provide the class with the maximum possible damages in order to be reasonable.” The court went on to state that the settlement “still serves the purpose of punishing [the cruise lines] for their role in the controversy,” and the total settlement fund is a “deterrent to potential future defendants who might think twice about violating the TCPA in an effort to boost business.”
On October 25, the FDIC announced its release of a list of administrative enforcement actions taken against banks and individuals in September. According to the press release, the FDIC issued 24 orders, which include “one consent order; five removal and prohibition orders; six assessments of civil money penalty; three voluntary terminations of deposit insurance; six section 19 orders; and three terminations of orders of restitution.”
Among other actions, the FDIC assessed separate civil money penalties (CMPs) against four banks for alleged violations of the Flood Disaster Protection Act:
- New Jersey-based bank CMP: Failure to (i) notify borrowers that they should obtain flood insurance; and (ii) follow force-placement flood insurance procedures;
- Wisconsin-based bank CMP: Failure to (i) maintain flood insurance coverage for the term of a loan; (ii) follow force-placement flood insurance procedures; and (iii) provide written notice to borrowers concerning flood insurance coverage prior to extending, increasing, or renewing a loan;
- Wisconsin-based bank CMP: Failure to (i) follow escrow requirements for flood insurance; and (ii) provide borrowers with notice of the availability of federal disaster relief assistance;
- Wisconsin-based bank CMP: Failure to (i) obtain flood insurance coverage on loans at the time of origination; (ii) obtain adequate flood insurance; (iii) follow escrow requirements for flood insurance; (iv) follow force-placement flood insurance procedures; and (v) provide borrowers with notice of the availability of federal disaster relief assistance.
The FDIC also assessed a CMP against an Oregon-based bank for allegedly violating RESPA and the TCPA by (i) placing telemarketing calls to consumers listed on the Do-Not-Call registry; and (ii) using an automated dialing system to send pre-recorded calls or text messages to consumers’ cell phones.
Additionally, the FDIC entered a notice of charges and hearing against a Georgia-based bank relating to alleged weaknesses in its Bank Secrecy Act compliance program.
On September 27, the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida denied class certification in an action alleging violations of the TCPA, the Florida Consumer Collection Practices Act, and the FDCPA brought against two companies. The action alleged that defendants used an automated telephone dialing system (autodialer) to call the plaintiff’s cell phone using a “prerecorded voice” while trying to contact a different individual to collect an unpaid debt. The defendants allegedly called the plaintiff’s cell phone number—which was listed as the other individual’s home phone number but had been reassigned to the plaintiff—multiple times even after the plaintiff informed the defendants that they had the wrong phone number. The plaintiff alleged violations of the TCPA, claiming the defendants placed the calls without first obtaining prior express consent.
Among other arguments, the defendants challenged the proposed class definition, which included more than 9,000 non-customers who allegedly received calls from the defendants and were identified by a code that the plaintiff contended is assigned to calls made to “bad phone” numbers. According to the defendants, the plaintiff’s expert developed a process for “identify[ing] calls where [autodialed] calls and prerecorded messages were made to cell phones after a record documenting an event consistent with a wrong number and/or a request to stop calling.” However, the defendants argued, among other things, that there are many different reasons why a “bad phone” code could be assigned to an account, and that the plaintiff’s assertions do not “satisfy the clearly ascertainable standard,” which must be met for class certification.
“Indeed, when presented with similar evidence regarding ‘wrong number’ call log designations, this [c]ourt recognized that ‘in the debt collection industry ‘wrong number’ oftentimes does not mean non-consent because many customers tell agents they have reached the wrong number, though the correct number was called, as a way to avoid further debt collection,’” the court stated. “The difficulty in ascertaining this information is compounded by the fact that the phone numbers at issue were initially provided to [the defendants] by consenting customers.”
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 September 3, the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey denied a medical laboratory’s motion to dismiss, ruling that the company cannot use a Supreme Court ruling to avoid a proposed TCPA class action suit concerning allegations that it made unsolicited calls using an “autodialer.” As previously covered by InfoBytes, the court denied the defendant’s motion to dismiss last December after it concluded that the plaintiff sufficiently alleged the equipment used to make unsolicited calls qualified as an “autodialer.” The defendant argued, however, that the court should reconsider its decision in light of a 2019 Supreme Court ruling in which separate concurring opinions written by Justices Kavanaugh and Thomas concluded that district courts are not bound by the FCC’s interpretation of the term “autodialer” under the TCPA. According to the defendant, because of these concurring opinions, the court “was not bound by the FCC’s 2003 and 2008 guidance on the definition of an ‘autodialer,’” and should therefore revisit its prior opinion. However, the court stated that the Supreme Court’s case does not change any of the “controlling law” dealing with the TCPA issue in the current lawsuit. “Because defendant’s arguments are not based on any actual change in controlling law,” its motion for reconsideration is denied, the court stated, noting that concurring opinions “do not change ‘controlling law.’”
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 28, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit held that receiving one unsolicited text message is not enough of a concrete injury to establish standing under the TCPA. According to the opinion, a former client of an attorney received an unsolicited “multimedia text message” from the attorney offering a ten percent discount on services. The client filed a putative class action, alleging the attorney violated the TCPA arguing the text message caused him “‘to waste his time answering or otherwise addressing the message’” leaving his cell phone “‘unavailable for otherwise legitimate pursuits’” and resulted in “‘an invasion of  privacy and right to enjoy the full utility’” of his cell phone. The attorney moved to dismiss the complaint for lack of standing and the district court denied the motion. However, the court allowed the attorney to pursue an interlocutory appeal.
On appeal, the 11th Circuit looked to the Supreme Court decision in Spokeo, Inc. v. Robins— which held that a plaintiff must allege a concrete injury, not just a statutory violation, to establish standing—as well as the legislative history of the TCPA and determined there was “little support” for treating the client’s allegations as a concrete injury. Specifically, the panel noted that the allegations of “a brief, inconsequential annoyance are categorically distinct from those kinds of real but intangible harms” Congress set out to protect. Moreover, the “chirp, buzz, or blink of a cell phone” is annoying, but not a basis for invoking federal court jurisdiction. The panel also acknowledged that Congress, not a federal court, is “well positioned” to assess the new harms of technology. Because the client failed to allege a concrete harm by receiving the unsolicited text message, the panel reversed the district court decision.
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.
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