On May 16, 2019, FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly gave a speech at the ACA International Washington Insights Conference in Washington, DC, which gave a preview of how the Commission may shape the TCPA landscape in the near future. Commissioner O’Rielly’s full speech is available here. He gave his thoughts on a number of subjects and some of the highlights are below.

As to the TCPA’s definition of “automatic telephone dialing system” (ATDS or more commonly known as “autodialer”) litigation post-ACA Int’l v. FCC, 885 F.3d 687 (D.C. Cir. 2018), the Commissioner correctly noted that the “‘fog of uncertainty’ . . . remains thicker than ever,” with numerous courts struggling to interpret the TCPA and issuing conflicting decisions. He characterized some decisions as “illogically [finding] the FCC’s 2003 and 2008 orders defining an ATDS to be controlling post-ACA.” And, he went on to remark that:

[T]hat just pales in comparison to the medley of courts that have chosen to ignore the DC Circuit [in ACA Int’l] and instead follow the 9th Circuit’s extremely misguided and breathtakingly expansive definition of ATDS [in Marks v. Crunch San Diego, LLC, 904 F.3d 1041 (9th Cir. 2018)] as a device that stores numbers to be called, irrespective of whether they have been generated by a random or sequential number generator.


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The Federal Trade Commission’s settlement with an online consumer lending platform, Avant LLC, highlights the importance of legal and regulatory compliance in the fintech space, including—perhaps most importantly—what happens after a loan is made.

According to the Commission’s complaint, Avant offered personal consumer loans through its website. The complaint notes that although the loans were formally issued through a bank partner, Avant handled all stages of the process, and all consumer interactions, including advertising, application processing, and all aspects of loan servicing and collection of payments.

The Commission’s allegations stem primarily from Avant’s collection activities, and Avant’s representations about the payment process, under the Federal Trade Commission Act, the Telemarking Sales Rule (TSR); and the Electronic Fund Transfer Act (EFTA) and Regulation E. The allegations include that Avant:


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Twombly and Iqbal—two names that invoke fond memories of the first year of law school for the (much) younger attorneys—have defined the bar that each plaintiff must meet to survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss. Walk into any first-year civil procedure class and you’ll hear the students muttering the following like a nursery rhyme or a page from a Dr. Seuss book, “Twombly said ‘enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face’ and Iqbal followed ‘[a] pleading that offers labels and conclusions or a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.’” The lesson the students are supposed to take away is that a complaint must connect the dots between a defendant and the claim.

In a recent ruling issued by the Southern District of California, Ewing v. Encor Solar, LLC, No. 18-2247, 2019 WL 277386 (S.D. Cal. Jan. 22, 2019), the court confirmed that this fundamental requirement applies, unsurprisingly, to Telephone Consumer Protection Act (“TCPA”) claims against multiple defendants. In particular, the court dismissed the TCPA claim because the plaintiff failed to identify who actually called him.


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We love us some Jim Croce here at Venable and his 1972 ballad, Operator (That’s Not the Way It Feels), is resonating with us right now. In Operator, Croce sings about a man confessing to an operator about his love for an ex-girlfriend. He needs the operator’s help to find a telephone number for his ex, as she’s moved on and she is no longer at the number he has for her. Ironically, if the heartbroken man were to leave a message for his lost love at her old telephone number, well, the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (“TCPA”) plaintiffs’ bar might be all over it and allege a violation of the Act for leaving a prerecorded message without the consent of the new owner of that number. Silly? Yes. Possible? Also yes. However, a recent decision out of the U.S. District Court for District of Minnesota – the first of its kind as far as we are aware – gives a bit of security to industry. There, the court applied a “reasonable reliance” test to determine whether a caller could be liable for leaving a prerecorded message for the wrong person when the previous owner of the telephone number had provided his prior express consent to receive calls at that number.

In Stewart L. Roark v. Credit One Bank, N.A., No. 16-173, 2018 WL 5921652 (D. Minn. Nov. 13, 2018), defendant Credit One Bank placed 140 collection calls to the plaintiff’s cell phone over a three-month period; in four of those calls, the bank left a prerecorded message in the plaintiff’s voicemail box. Credit One, however, was seeking to reach the account holder, rather than the plaintiff. Unbeknownst to Credit One, the account holder, for whom the bank had appropriate TCPA consent, had changed telephone numbers, with his former number being reassigned to the plaintiff. The bank had no relationship with the plaintiff. When the plaintiff finally informed Credit One that he was not the individual whom the bank was trying to reach, the bank immediately added the number to its internal do-not-call list and placed no more calls to him. Nonetheless, the plaintiff alleged that Credit One violated the TCPA.


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What is an autodialer under the TCPA? That’s a good question and one with which courts across the country are struggling as much as Charles Darnay struggled with his aristocratic heritage leading up to the French Revolution. My memory of the CliffsNotes to the Dickens classic aside, fortunately, the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”) is, as its Chairman recently described it, “poised” to provide clarity on what types of devices fall within the definition as part of an ongoing declaratory ruling proceeding. Nonetheless, several courts recently have issued divergent decisions regarding technology that constitutes an autodialer under the statute.

The Best of Times: On September 21, 2018, the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey held, in Fleming v. Assoc. Credit Servs., Inc., No. 16-3382, 2018 WL 4562460 (D.N.J. Sept. 21, 2018), that that the defendant’s calling platform (LiveVox’s Human Call Initiator (“HCI”)), which “dials numbers from a list that was not randomly or sequentially generated when the list was created” does not qualify as an “automatic telephone dialing system” (“ATDS” or autodialer) under the TCPA based on the statutory definition. In other words, because HCI did not randomly or sequentially generate the numbers that ultimately were contained on the list of numbers called, the platform did not fit the ATDS definition. Specifically, the court explained: “The phrase ‘using a random or sequential number generator,’ I believe, applies to the manner in which the numbers make their way onto the list – not to the manner in which the numbers are dialed once they are on the list.”


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Technology is present in nearly everything we do and not only in the form of a smartphone. Now, when people brush their teeth, turn on the car, or tune an instrument, there’s likely some form of digital technology at work. With all of these activities, it can be unclear when the user is manually performing the action versus when it’s become automated. Courts have struggled with this same issue while applying the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) after the D.C. Circuit set aside the FCC’s interpretation of an automatic telephone dialing system (ATDS) in ACA International v. FCC, 885 F.3d 687 (D.C. Cir. 2018). As we’ve outlined in previous blogs, ACA International clearly invalidated the ATDS standard from the FCC’s 2015 TCPA Order, but, since that decision, district courts have grappled with the validity of the FCC’s 2003 and 2008 predictive dialer rulings, which concluded that predictive dialers that dial from set lists of specific telephone numbers are autodialers.

While several courts have ruled on this issue, there still isn’t a consensus on the proper approach. Last week, however, the Northern District of Illinois issued a well-reasoned and detailed decision that may help guide that debate – Pinkus v. Sirius XM Radio, Inc., No. 1:16-cv-10858 (N.D. Ill. July 26, 2018). The court in Pinkus had to wrestle with the exact set of circumstances that ACA International has thrown into confusion: namely, whether predictive dialing technology qualifies as an ATDS if it does not randomly or sequentially generate the phone numbers to be called. The 2015 FCC Order that was struck down in ACA International, as well as previous FCC orders, included this type of technology under the definition of ATDS.


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gavel and question markLate June was busy in the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) litigation world, with the U.S. Courts of Appeals for the Second and Third Circuits weighing in on an issue that arises all the time with the TCPA – what is and is not an autodialer. As readers of this blog know, earlier this year in ACA Int’l v. FCC, 885 F.3d 687 (D.C. Cir. 2018), the D.C. Circuit set aside the FCC’s interpretation of “automatic telephone dialing system” (ATDS) as it was defined in the FCC’s 2015 TCPA Order, however, the court left open the issue of how to define an ATDS. Now, two other Circuits have jumped into the mix, with opinions showing that defining what constitutes an ATDS is easier said than done.

In King v. Time Warner Cable, Case No. 15-2474-cv, 2018 U.S. App. LEXIS 17880 (2d Cir. June 29, 2018), the plaintiff received 153 collection calls from Time Warner Cable through its “interactive voice response” calling system, which automatically identified customers whose accounts were 30 days past due, called their telephone numbers, and left prerecorded messages if there were no answers. There was no dispute that the defendant’s calling lists were not created by a human; in fact, there was no human involvement at any stage of the customer selection, list compilation, or dialing processes.


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Following confusion in both the courts and the FCC, Congress is now looking to step in and resolve disputed provisions of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA). As readers of this blog know, earlier this year in ACA Int’l v. FCC, 885 F.3d 687 (D.C. Cir. 2018), the D.C. Circuit set aside the FCC’s interpretation of “automatic telephone dialing system” (ATDS) as it was defined in the FCC’s 2015 TCPA Order (2015 Order). In the same decision, the D.C. Circuit also vacated the 2015 Order’s approach to calling reassigned and wrong numbers. As a result, it’s now unclear what the relevant standard is for these provisions of the TCPA.

So far, courts have found addressing the fallout of the ACA Int’l decision to be Mission Impossible. They’re split as to whether the FCC’s prior 2003, 2008, and 2012 orders are still valid or whether the D.C. Circuit’s decision also vacated those rulings. One common question is whether all predictive dialers should be considered ATDS or if the definition should only encompass automatically dialed numbers that are randomly or sequentially generated. The District of Arizona, for example, has said that “this Court will not defer to any of the FCC’s . . . [earlier orders] regarding the first required function of an ATDS . . . .” Herrick v. GoDaddy.com, No. CV-16-00254, 2018 WL 2229131, at *7 (D. Ariz. May 14, 2018). See also Marshall v. CBE Group, Inc., No. 2:16-cv-02406, 2018 WL 1567852, at *4 (D. Nev. Mar. 30, 2018). The Northern District of Georgia, however, applied the 2003 Order in its decision on the issue. Maddox v. CBE Group, No. 1:17-cv-1909, 2018 WL 2327037, at *4–*5 (N.D. Ga. May 22, 2018). Meanwhile, the Southern District of Florida held that the FCC’s position is unclear and either interpretation of ATDS is acceptable. Reyes v. BCA Fin. Services, No. 16-24077, 2018 WL 2220417, at *9 (S.D. Fla. May 14, 2018). To sum it up, the ACA Int’l decision left courts confused as to what extent predictive dialers fall under the definition of ATDS and subsequently the TCPA.


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CommentsThe FCC is going back to the drawing board—and it wants some help.

Earlier this week, the Commission announced that it is seeking comments “on several issues related to interpretation and implementation of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), following the recent decision” of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit in ACA International v. FCC, 885 F.3d 687 (D.C. Cir. 2018).

As we have written previously, in March the D.C. Circuit issued its long-awaited ruling on the FCC’s 2015 Omnibus Telephone Consumer Protection Act Order (2015 Order) in which the Commission set out to resolve 21 requests for clarification about the TCPA and related rules and orders. The D.C. Circuit’s decision dealt a partial blow to the 2015 Order, setting aside the FCC’s interpretation of “automatic telephone dialing system” (“autodialer” or “ATDS”) as overly broad and vacating the agency’s approach to calling reassigned numbers—i.e., restrictions on calls made to a phone number previously assigned to a person who had given consent but since reassigned to another (nonconsenting) person. The D.C. Circuit vacated in particular the FCC’s reading of the statute to permit a one-call safe harbor for callers to determine whether a number had been reassigned to a nonconsenting person. The court, however, did uphold the FCC’s conclusion that parties may revoke their consent through any “reasonable means” clearly expressing a desire to receive no further messages from the caller. It also upheld the scope of the Commission’s exemption for time-sensitive, healthcare-related calls.


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telemarketing lawsIn a blow to the soundboard industry, the D.C. Circuit recently ruled in Soundboard Association v. FTC, No. 1:17-cv-00150 (D.C. Cir. Apr. 27, 2018) that the Federal Trade Commission’s November 2016 opinion letter, which reclassified soundboard technology as “robocalls” under the Telemarketing Sales Rule (TSR), is not subject to judicial review. We previously blogged about the underlying litigation and FTC’s November 2016 opinion letter here. Soundboard technology allows telemarketers to communicate in real-time, dynamic, two-way conversations utilizing pre-recorded audio clips­­­­. These differ from the type of pre-recorded message contemplated by the drafters of the TSR in that there is a live agent monitoring the call and selecting the appropriate clip depending on the situation. The FTC’s 2016 opinion letter rescinds a 2009 letter that concluded that calls made with soundboard technology are not subject to the same restrictions as robocalls under the TSR.
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