The Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) imposes liability for calling or texting cellular phone numbers using an Automatic Telephone Dialing System (ATDS) without sufficient prior express consent. The TCPA defines an ATDS as “equipment which has the capacity (A) to store or produce telephone numbers to be called, using a random or sequential number generator; and (B) to dial such numbers.” The TCPA creates a private cause of action and allows a plaintiff to recover statutory penalties of $500 per call or text in violation, or up to $1,500 for a knowing or willful violation. These statutory penalties have made the TCPA a useful tool for class-action plaintiffs’ attorneys seeking to hold companies liable for calls and texts over a four year statute of limitations period.
The Ninth Circuit has traditionally taken an expansive approach when defining what does and doesn’t qualify as an ATDS, extending the definition to virtually any kind of auto-dialer. Last year however, in Facebook, Inc. v. Duguid, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Ninth Circuit’s expansive approach to defining an ATDS, generally holding that an auto-dialer is not an ATDS if the numbers being dialed are from an existing list of specific numbers, such as from a database. Since Duguid, many TCPA defendants have argued that the definition of an ATDS requires that the random or sequential number generator be used to generate telephone numbers. Many TCPA defense attorneys also remained concerned that more liberal circuits, such as the Ninth and Second Circuits, might undermine Duguid’s conservative, defense-friendly ruling.
TCPA plaintiffs’ attorneys seized on a particular quirk in footnote 7 of the Duguid opinion where the Supreme Court addressed an argument concerning the overlapping of the “storing and producing functions” of an ATDS. In addressing a situation where an autodialer might not both store and produce numbers, the Supreme Court wrote: “For instance, an autodialer might use a random number generator to determine the order in which to pick phone numbers from a pre-produced list. It would then store those numbers to be dialed at a later time.” Plaintiffs’ attorneys have argued that companies that maintain customer contact lists and select which customers to contact on a given day using a random or sequential number generator are therefore using an ATDS. Continue reading ›