On Friday, June 19, 2009, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a district court decision involving a mobile marketing campaign. A key issue in the case is whether text messages are subject to the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (the "TCPA"), a law that was drafted before the advent of text messaging. Although the Ninth Circuit remanded the case so that the district court could develop more facts, the decision underscores the importance of ensuring that marketers get express consent before sending text messages to consumers.
Background on the Case
Laci Satterfield became a registered user of Nextones in order to receive a free ring tone. During the registration process, Ms. Satterfield checked a box which read, in part: "I would like to receive promotions from Nextones affiliates and brands." On January 18, 2006, Ms. Satterfield received a text message from Simon & Schuster advertising a novel by Stephen King. Shortly thereafter, Ms. Satterfield filed a class action lawsuit alleging that Simon & Schuster’s text message campaign violated the TCPA.
In June 2007, the Federal Court for the Northern District of California granted summary judgment to Simon & Schuster holding that the company did not violate the TCPA. Specifically, the court determined that the text message campaign did not violate the TCPA’s prohibition against using an automatic telephone dialing system (an "ATDS") because the device used to send the messages did not fall within the statutory definition of an ATDS. Moreover, the court found that Ms. Satterfield had agreed to receive text messages when she registered for Nextones.
Ninth Circuit Opinion
On Friday, June 19, 2009, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the district court decision and remanded the case for further proceedings. The Ninth Circuit held that the district court had erred because (1) the text message was a "call" within the meaning of the TCPA, (2) there was a disputed issue of material fact as to whether the system Simon & Schuster used was an ATDS, and that (3) Ms. Satterfield did not consent to receive messages from Simon & Schuster because Simon & Schuster is not an affiliate or brand of Nextones.
The TCPA applies to certain types of "calls." Simon & Schuster had argued that the sending of text messages did not constitute a "call" under the TCPA. Although the district court did not rule on that point, the Ninth Circuit disagreed with Simon & Schuster’s argument. The term "call" is not defined by the TCPA. However, the Federal Communications Commission has noted that the statute