If you have seen members of the TCPA plaintiffs’ bar sweating a bit more than usual lately, it’s not just the summer heat—they’re probably concerned about the steady stream of positive cases for the defense bar over the past month. Since our last update, a considerable number of new TCPA decisions have come out, including several circuit level decisions. And while not every case discussed in this edition of the TCPA Case Law Review went the way of the defendants, a clear tendency this summer is for courts to rule against TCPA class action plaintiffs. Let’s hope this is one trend that continues after Labor Day.
On August 9, 2018, the United States District Court for the Northern District of Alabama agreed with the Second Circuit Court of Appeals decision in Reyes v. Lincoln Auto. Fin. Servs., 861 F.3d (2d Cir. 2017), which held that contractual consent to be contacted by an automatic telephone dialing system (“ATDS”) could not (and cannot) be unilaterally revoked because the consent formed part of a bargained-for exchange in the contract. The Second Circuit’s ruling was favorable for companies seeking clarification on consent revocation issues that exist with respect to claims brought under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (“TCPA”).
The TCPA continues to generate significant case law nationwide. Since our last published update on June 5, 2018, there have been several significant decisions that all TCPA defense practitioners should be aware of. As always, we will continue to keep you apprised of developments going forward. The decisions are listed by issue category in alphabetical order.
Continue Reading TCPA Case Law Review (Vol. 3)
In case there was any doubt that TCPA cases continue to flood federal court dockets nationwide, we recently reviewed the nearly 300 decisions referencing the TCPA that have been published since mid-December. Some of them have obviously made big headlines, like ACA v. FCC or the dueling interpretations of the ACA decision in Reyes v. BCA Fin. Servs. and Herrick v. GoDaddy.com, LLC. But many lesser-known decisions also could prove useful in defending TCPA cases. The decisions are listed by issue category in alphabetical order.
Overview of the Ruling
On March 16, 2018, just before tip-off in the first round of the NCAA tournament, the D.C. Circuit provided the TCPA defense bar with a new playbook of sorts, in the form of a decision that will surely change the game for TCPA litigation. The case, of course, is ACA International v. FCC, and the ruling came down nearly 18 months after oral arguments. ACA Int’l et al. v. FCC, No. 15-1211, Doc. No. 1722606 (D.C. Cir. Mar. 16, 2018). It appears to be worth the wait as the D.C. Circuit slam dunked the former definition of automated telephone dialing equipment (“ATDS”) and the “one-call safe harbor” rule for reassigned numbers.
If you follow developments in TCPA case law, you’ve probably heard by now that the DC Circuit Court of Appeals last week overturned the 2015 FCC Order that had required TCPA opt-out notices on both solicited and unsolicited faxes. The court held that the FCC’s rule was “unlawful to the extent that it requires opt-out notices on solicited faxes.” See Bais Yaakov of Spring Valley v. FCC, et al., Case No. 14-1234 (D.C. Cir.). In fact, the DC Circuit—despite years of FCC guidance, 13 consolidated appeals and more than two dozen lawyers participating in the briefing—seemed to view this as a relatively simple issue of statutory construction: “The text of the Act provides a clear answer to the question presented in this case. . . . Congress drew a line in the text of the statute between unsolicited fax advertisements and solicited fax advertisements. Unsolicited fax advertisements must include an opt-out notice. But the Act does not require (or give the FCC authority to require) opt-out notices on solicited fax advertisements. It is the Judiciary’s job to respect the line drawn by Congress, not to redraw it as we might think best.” Continue Reading DC Circuit Opts Out of Flawed FCC Ruling
Yet another court has found that consent in a TCPA case is an inherently individualized issue that precludes class certification. In Newhart v. Quicken Loans, Inc., 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 168721 (S.D. Fla. Oct. 13, 2016), the plaintiff moved to certify a class of individuals who had received calls from defendant on their cellular telephones, allegedly in violation of the TCPA. The court denied class certification, finding that “resolving the consent issue will depend upon multiple layers of individualized evidence about each call and the circumstances that preceded it. Therefore, predominance is lacking.” Id. at *6. Importantly, the court did not need to decide “whether any class member actually consented.” Id.
The court held that the consent analysis had two parts. First, the trier of fact must determine “whether each challenged call was made for a telemarketing purpose.” Id. If so, prior express written consent would be required. If not, the consent need not be in writing. Id. Second, the trier of fact must determine whether the defendant “possessed the requisite consent before making each call.” Id. at *6–7. The court’s decision that an individualized analysis was necessary turned largely on its finding that the trier of fact must look at each individual call, not the “purpose of the overall campaign. Id. at *7–8. Analogizing to the TCPA fax provision, the court noted that, “[t]he FCC has expressly recognized, in the unsolicited fax context, that even when some aspect of a series of communications might meet the telemarketing rule, others might not, and so it is necessary to examine the communications separately.” Id. at *8. Because evidence showed that the challenged calls in the case were not uniform in purpose, the telemarketing issue could not be resolved on a class-wide basis. Id. at *10. Continue Reading TCPA Class Certification Denials Continue to Pile Up, This Time in Florida
Despite claims from the plaintiffs’ bar that the Supreme Court’s decision in Spokeo Inc. v. Robins, 136 S. Ct. 1540 (2016), did not significantly change the landscape for class actions, courts continue to rely on Spokeo to dismiss claims that have no concrete injury beyond a statutory violation. In the last month, two more cases — including one federal circuit-level decision and one TCPA decision — were dismissed because the plaintiff was unable to demonstrate Article III standing under Spokeo. These cases demonstrate the important role that Spokeo-related arguments can play in stymying class actions.
In Nicklaw v. CitiMortgage, Inc., 2016 U.S. App. LEXIS 18206 (11th Cir. Oct. 6, 2016), the court held that the plaintiff lacked Article III standing to pursue a claim where the class action complaint alleged statutory violations and sought only statutory damages. The only claim asserted by the plaintiff in Nicklaw was that the plaintiff failed to comply with a New York statute requiring it to sign and record a certificate of discharge within 30 days of a mortgage satisfaction. Based on the defendant’s alleged failure to do so, the plaintiff sought monetary damages. The court held that plaintiff alleged “neither a harm nor a material risk of harm that the district court could remedy.” This opinion marked the first time that the Eleventh Circuit had applied the Spokeo framework and will undoubtedly have a ripple effect on district court cases within the circuit (and beyond) when defendants make similar arguments. Although Nicklaw is not a media or privacy case, it certainly provides a roadmap for all manner of class actions. Continue Reading Spokeo as a Class-Action Silver Bullet? Two More Dismissals Based on Lack of Concrete Harm
Try as they might, Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) plaintiffs’ lawyers continue to face judicial resistance to deeming all phones autodialers (automatic telephone dialing systems or ATDS’s). In the latest example, the U.S. Southern District of California granted summary judgment to the defendant, finding the plaintiff’s “evidence” of autodialer use too speculative and too disconnected to the specific calls at issue. See Chyba v. Bayview Loan Serv., 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 133849 (S.D. Cal. Sept. 27, 2016). As the court reasoned, “[N]o matter the name given to the equipment, the ‘basic function’ of an autodialer is ‘the capacity to dial numbers without human intervention.’” Id. at *5 (quoting In re Rules and Regulations Implementing the Tel. Consumer Prot Act of 1991, 18 FCC Rcd. 14014, 14092 (July 3, 2003)). Continue Reading Another Desperate TCPA ATDS Claim Bites the Dust