On July 9, 2020, the Supreme Court granted Facebook’s petition for certiorari in a case with potentially broad implications for both class action litigation and business communications with their current and potential customers. The Supreme Court’s disposition of Facebook’s petition may settle the complex question of what qualifies as an automatic telephone dialing system (“ATDS”) under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, 47 U.S.C. § 227, et seq. (“TCPA”).

The TCPA prohibits telemarketing calls to be placed using an ATDS without the requisite level of prior consent. Thus, the definition of what technology qualifies as an ATDS is often a fundamental, threshold question upon which TCPA litigation turns. Prior to 2015, the FCC had offered various, sometimes vague, interpretations of the term.  In 2015, the FCC offered an expansive definition, which was set aside in March 2018 in the ACA International decision. While the issue has been before the FCC on remand for over two years now, courts nevertheless engaged in their own analysis of the statute, resulting in a broadening Circuit split on how the law is interpreted and applied and divergent outcomes based on the court in which the case is filed. Now the Supreme Court is poised (potentially) to resolve that dispute.


Continue Reading Supreme Court to Weigh-in on the Definition of an Autodialer Under TCPA

On the same day that the FCC set a call blocking declaratory ruling for vote at its July 2020 Open Meeting, the FCC’s Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau issued rulings in two long-pending petitions for clarification of the requirements of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (“TCPA”). Although these clarifications do not address the core questions regarding the definition of an autodialer and consent requirements that were remanded two years ago in ACA International v. FCC, they may signal an effort to clean up TCPA issues in what is expected to be the waning months of FCC Chairman Pai’s tenure at the Commission.

In the first ruling, P2P Alliance, the Bureau ruled that an automatic telephone dialing system (“ATDS”) is not determined by whether the equipment has the capability to send a large volume of calls or texts in a short period of time. Instead, the Bureau, while recognizing that the Commission’s interpretation of the ATDS definition remains pending, ruled that “whether the calling platform or equipment is an autodialer turns on whether such equipment is capable of dialing random or sequential telephone numbers without human intervention.” The Bureau also provides an illuminating discussion of the so-called “human intervention” element of prior FCC statements regarding autodialers.

In the second ruling, Anthem, Inc., the Bureau denied a petition to exempt certain healthcare-related calls from the TCPA’s consent requirements. In this order, the Bureau breaks less new ground and instead reiterates that prior express consent must be obtained before a call (or text) is made and that the supposed value or “urgency” of the communication does not necessarily make it permissible.

Besides these two petitions, the Commission has nearly three dozen petitions pending before it on a variety of matters relating to exemptions from the TCPA’s consent requirements, the collection and revocation of consent, the “junk fax” provisions, and other questions raised by the flood of TCPA class action litigation in the last five years. If the FCC begins addressing these other pending petitions, the course of TCPA class action litigation could change significantly.


Continue Reading Beginning of a TCPA Clean-Up? FCC Sets Another Robocall Blocking Item for Vote While Addressing Two of Nearly Three Dozen Pending Petitions

On Wednesday, May 6th, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral argument in a case concerning the scope of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (“TCPA”) that is of great interest to businesses and communications industry practitioners. In William P. Barr et al. v. American Association of Political Consultants et al., Case No. 19-631 (2020) (“Barr”) the Supreme Court agreed to review a ruling by the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, which declared a 2015 government debt collection exemption unconstitutional and severed the provision from the remainder of the 1991 TCPA. The 2015 amendment exempts calls from the TCPA’s autodialer restriction, if the call relates to the collection of debts guaranteed by the U.S. government. On Wednesday, the Supreme Court will consider if: 1) the government-debt exception to the Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991’s automated-call restriction violates the First Amendment; and 2) whether the proper remedy for any constitutional violation is to sever the exception from the remainder of the statute.

TCPA litigation has largely focused on the autodialer restriction over the past decade. In 2015, the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”) adopted an expansive interpretation of the restriction, which the U.S. Court of Appeals vacated and remanded in 2018. While the industry has waited for the FCC to offer further guidance, entities making calls and sending texts have navigated an environment plagued by uncertainty. Several courts of appeals have adopted conflicting interpretations of the autodialer provision. Meanwhile, the FCC could offer its interpretation at any time, throwing the issue into further litigation in all probability.  In this environment, the Supreme Court agreed to hear the constitutionality of one TCPA exemption in the Barr case. Many are hoping for a decision that goes beyond the 2015 amendment and offers definitive guidance on the autodialer provision’s scope. This post discusses what to expect – and what to watch for – in the Supreme Court’s oral argument this week.


Continue Reading TCPA In Jeopardy? US Supreme Court Reviews Constitutionality

“Yes FCC, we meet again old friends” was the message comedian John Oliver had for the FCC on his show Last Week Tonight, when he devoted nearly 20 minutes to an in-depth criticism of “robocalls” and the FCC’s approach to regulating such calls. (Oliver had previously taken aim at the FCC in multiple segments about net neutrality – which included comparing then-FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler to a dingo – and he allegedly crashed the FCC’s comment system after encouraging his viewers to submit pro-net neutrality comments in the proceeding that led to the decision to revert back to light-touch regulation of broadband Internet access service.) He ended the March 10th segment by announcing that he was going to “autodial” each FCC Commissioner every 90 minutes with a satirical pre-recorded message urging them to take action to stop robocalls.

The irony of John Oliver making robocalls in order to protest robocalls is rather funny. But, it raises the question – are these calls legal? The fact that the calls appear to be lawful – and would be legal regardless of the action Oliver called for in the program – highlights that there is an important distinction between illegal calls and unwanted calls. In the end, Oliver’s segment demonstrates some of the problems with modern efforts to apply the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (“TCPA”), a statute that was adopted well before the proliferation of cell phones in America, and seems to deter many legitimate calls while not sufficiently stopping scam calls.


Continue Reading John Oliver Robocalls the FCC: Is it Legal?

[Spencer Elg co-wrote this post]

The current and future definition of what qualifies as an automatic telephone dialing system (“ATDS” or “autodialer”) remains a hotly debated and evaluated issue for every company placing calls and texts, or designing dialer technology, as well as the litigants and jurists already mired in litigation under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (“TCPA”). Last year, the D.C. Circuit struck down the FCC’s ATDS definition in ACA International v. FCC, Case No. 15-1211 (D.C. Cir. 2018). Courts since have diverged in approaches on interpreting the ATDS term.  See, e.g., prior discussions of Marks and Dominguez. All eyes thus remain fixed on the FCC for clarification.

In this post, we revisit the relevant details of the Court’s decision in ACA International, and prior statements of FCC Chairman Ajit Pai concerning the ATDS definition to assess how history may be a guide to how the FCC approaches this issue.


Continue Reading Taking Stock of the TCPA in 2019: What is an “Autodialer”?

Kelley Drye introduces a new Full Spectrum series, “Inside the TCPA,” which will offer a deeper focus on TCPA issues and petitions pending before the FCC. Each episode will tackle a single TCPA topic or petition that is in the news or affecting cases around the country. In this inaugural episode, partner Steve Augustino discusses the definition of an autodialer or ATDS. This episode addresses the 2018 D.C. Circuit decision in ACA International and the FCC’s new proceeding to examine the definition. With initial comments filed on June 13th, Steve  analyzes the principal arguments made by commenters and discuss whether Congress will weigh in on the matter. To listen to this episode, please click here.*

Continue Reading Podcast – Inside the TCPA: Autodialers

On May 14, 2018, the FCC issued a Public Notice seeking comment on a number of issues regarding the proper interpretation of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) in light of the recent decision by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn most of the FCC’s 2015 Omnibus TCPA Declaratory Ruling.  Given Chairman Pai’s strong dissent from the 2015 Declaratory Ruling and his statement praising the D.C. Circuit’s findings regarding it, this comment cycle presents a valuable opportunity for parties who have been adversely affected by the uncertainty surrounding the TCPA in certain years to provide input to the FCC on how it should interpret the statute to best serve its intended purpose.

Continue Reading FCC Turns to ATDS, Other TCPA Issues Following D.C. Circuit Decision

In the largest forfeiture ever imposed by the agency, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) issued a $120 million fine against Adrian Abramovich and the companies he controlled for placing over 96 million “spoofed” robocalls as part of a campaign to sell third-party vacation packages.  The case has received significant attention as an example of the growing issue of spoofed robocalls, with lawmakers recently grilling Mr. Abramovich about his operations.  The item took the lead spot at the agency’s May meeting and is emblematic of the Pai FCC’s continued focus on illegal robocalls as a top enforcement priority.  While questions remain regarding the FCC’s ability to collect the unprecedented fine, there is no question that the FCC and Congress intend to take a hard look at robocalling issues this year, with significant reforms already teed up for consideration.

Continue Reading FCC Imposes Record-Setting $120 Million Fine for Spoofed Robocall Campaign

iStock_000036215158LargeOn July 10, 2015, the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC” or the “Commission”) released the text of its omnibus Declaratory Ruling and Order (“TCPA Declaratory Ruling and Order” or “Ruling”), which the Commission adopted by a 3-2 vote almost a month earlier, on June 18, 2015.

In Friday’s Ruling, the FCC responded to 21 petitions by a number of companies and trade associations who sought relief or clarification regarding the requirements of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991 (“TCPA”).  The Ruling redefines what equipment falls within the definition of “autodialer,” specifies liability for calls to reassigned telephone numbers, provides consumers with a right to revoke consent by any reasonable means, and establishes new exceptions for financial and healthcare related calls, among other changes. 
Continue Reading A First Look at the FCC’s 2015 TCPA Declaratory Ruling and Order

This post was co-written by Randy Sifers.

In February, the FCC adopted several changes to its telemarketing rules, including a new requirement that telemarketers must receive express written consent to send certain autodialed or prerecorded message calls. On June 11, the FCC’s order was published in the Federal Register. The Federal Register summary is available here.

As a result, the new rules will take effect beginning July 11, 2012. As explained after the jump, some of the rules will not take effect until OMB approves the new recordkeeping requirements. Nevertheless, publication in the Federal Register starts the clock for appeals and petitions for reconsideration of the rules.


Continue Reading Revised Telemarketing Rules to Take Effect Beginning July 11