On September 30, 2014, AT&T Mobility (“AT&T”) asked a U.S. District Court judge to approve a settlement agreement that would resolve a class action arising under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (“TCPA” or “Act”). In this case, the plaintiffs alleged that AT&T made auto-dialed calls to wireless phone numbers without receiving the prior express consent of the recipients, as required by the TCPA. Specifically, the plaintiffs’ allegations concerned collection calls made to former customers at the wireless number provided when the account was established with AT&T. AT&T disputed the plaintiffs’ claims, arguing that the recipients gave consent to receive these calls when they provided their phone number as the “can-be-reached-at” number for calls regarding AT&T customer accounts. Nevertheless, according to the joint motion submitted to the court, the company has agreed to pay $45 million to settle the dispute. This is one of the largest TCPA settlements in recent history, and continues a trend of high profile TCPA class actions.
In the settlement, AT&T will pay $45 million into a settlement fund for the benefit of class members. Members of the class would be able to collect up to $500 for each call received, with actual payment amounts being determined on a pro rata basis depending upon the number of claims filed. Additionally, the individual who initiated the case in April 2013 will receive an incentive award of $20,000.
Although telephone service providers don’t usually find themselves at the center of TCPA litigation, the AT&T settlement serves as a reminder to wireless carriers that they too can be the subject of a TCPA class action. In this case, AT&T was acting on its own behalf, seeking to collect debts owed to it. AT&T may have been motivated to settle the case rather than to litigate, as a result of the FCC’s recent amicus brief in an unrelated TCPA case urging the court to adopt a narrow view of “express consent” with respect to autodialed calls.
TCPA-based litigation has skyrocketed in recent years. Perhaps, at least in part as a response to this trend, parties who are forced to defend themselves in such actions increasingly are seeking clarification or a declaratory judgment from the FCC regarding the lawfulness of their conduct in the hopes of securing a favorable outcome in the litigation. As of October 10, 2014, the FCC has 46 TCPA-related petitions pending before it.