Last week, a bi-partisan coalition of political groups and the federal government completed briefing cross motions for summary judgment in American Association of Political Consultants, Inc., et al. v. Sessions, Case No. 5:16-cv-00252-D (E.D.N.C.). The case challenges the constitutionality of a portion of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (“TCPA”). The plaintiffs contend that the TCPA’s prohibition on making auto-dialed calls or texts to cell phones without the requisite consent, 47 U.S.C. § 227(b)(1)(A)(iii) (the “cell phone ban”), imposes a content-based restriction on speech that fails to pass strict scrutiny and is unconstitutionally under-inclusive (the plaintiffs’ complaint is discussed here). The government is defending the statute’s constitutionality (previously discussed here).
A North Carolina federal district court recently denied a motion by the federal government to dismiss claims raising a First Amendment challenge to a portion of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (“TCPA”). See American Ass’n of Political Consultants v. Lynch, Case No. 5:16-00252-D (E.D.N.C.). At this early stage of the case, the government did not address the substance of the constitutional challenge. Rather, the government asserted that the court did not have jurisdiction over the case and that the political organizations which filed the suit did not have standing to maintain suit. The court, however, rejected the government’s arguments and allowed the case to proceed.
The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia recently granted summary judgment for the defendant alarm manufacturers in In re Monitronics International, Inc. Telephone Consumer Protection Act Litigation (“Monitronics”). In doing so, the Monitronics court rejected Telephone Consumer Protection Act (“TCPA”) claims based on alleged liability for acts of vendors, distributors, or other third parties. The court also expressly overruled its own earlier, contrary opinion rendered in Mey v. Monitronics International, Inc., which matter was consolidated into Monitronics as part of a multidistrict litigation (“MDL”). Thus, the court joined a growing number of jurisdictions that have questioned the ability of plaintiffs to prove vicarious liability in connection with TCPA claims.
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On Monday, the U.S. Department of Justice (“DOJ”) declined to intervene in Thorne v. Donald J. Trump for President, Inc., 1:16-cv-04603 (N.D. Ill.). As previously discussed here, a class of plaintiffs sued President-Elect Trump’s campaign alleging violations of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (“TCPA”) in connection with text messages sent during the campaign. In seeking dismissal of the suit, the campaign argued that the TCPA does not pass muster under the First Amendment. Specifically, the campaign asserted that Congress’s November 2015 exemption of calls relating to government debt constitutes “preferential treatment” and qualifies as a “blatant and egregious form of content discrimination.”
The DOJ did not provide a reason for declining to intervene, and the campaign is now faced with the prospect of going it alone in its First Amendment challenge to the TCPA.
On September 22, 2016 the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Communications and Technology held a hearing on modernizing the TCPA. The hearing is significant because it marks the first time that lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have said the TCPA needs to be updated to reflect changing technology and business practices, and to draw a distinction between “harassing, malicious” calls from “bad actors” and “legitimate, informational calls that consumers want.” Republican members of the Subcommittee have raised concerns about the TCPA during past FCC oversight hearings, but this hearing actually was held at the request of full Committee Ranking Democrat Member Frank Pallone Jr. (D-NJ), Subcommittee Ranking Democrat Anna Eshoo (D-CA), and Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky (D-IL).
The Sixth Circuit recently held that a facsimile which lacks commercial components on its face does not constitute an advertisement under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act and ruled that the possibility of remote economic benefit to a defendant is “legally irrelevant” to determining whether the fax violates the TCPA. The Sixth Circuit’s narrow rule stands out among decisions from other courts that have adopted an expansive interpretation of “advertisement” under the TCPA, and demonstrates that the scope of the TCPA is indeed subject to limitations.
At its June 18, 2015, open meeting, a sharply divided Federal Communications Commission made good on Chairman Tom Wheeler’s recent promise to bolster the Telephone Consumer Protection Act’s already strict rules and to bring about “one of the most significant FCC consumer protection actions since it established the Do-Not-Call Registry with the FTC in 2003.” While plaintiffs’ class action lawyers are likely to applaud the new measures, businesses are concerned that the new rules could unfairly restrict legitimate communications with customers.