On June 30, 2016, the United States District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia issued an order in a putative class action brought under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (“TCPA”), denying a motion to dismiss filed by Got Warranty, Inc. and its principal, as well as co-defendants N.C.W.C., Inc. and Palmer Administrative Services, Inc. (collectively, ‘Defendants”). The Defendants moved to dismiss the TCPA class action on the ground that the plaintiffs did not suffer concrete harm by receiving the subject telephone calls, allegedly placed by an automatic telephone dialing system (“ATDS”) to the plaintiffs’ cellular telephones. The Court, relying on the recent United States Supreme Court decision in Spokeo, Inc. v. Robins, found to the contrary, expressly holding that “unwanted phone calls cause concrete harm.” In Spokeo, the United States Supreme Court held that standing in federal courts requires a “concrete” injury even in the context of a statutory violation.
In arriving at its decision, the Court pointed to three separate district court cases decided since Spokeo which have similarly held that telephone calls placed in violation of the TCPA cause concrete harm to consumers.
Why did the Court find that Unwanted Phone Calls Cause Concrete Harm Under the TCPA?
Unwanted Telephone Calls Cause “Concrete Harm” for TCPA Purposes
In deciding that unwanted telephone calls cause concrete harm, the Court began by observing:
For consumers with prepaid cell phones or limited-minute plans, unwanted calls cause direct, concrete monetary injury by depleting limited minutes that the consumer has paid for or by causing the consumer to incur charges for calls. In addition, all ATDS calls deplete a cell phone’s battery, and the cost of electricity to recharge the phone is also a tangible harm. While certainly small, the cost is real, and the cumulative effect could be consequential.
The Court also found “intangible harm” caused by telephone calls that violate the TCPA, such as an invasion of privacy, wasting the consumer’s time or causing the risk of personal injury due to interruption and distraction while driving. The Court likened TCPA claims to intrusion upon seclusion claims. As a result of the foregoing, the Court found that a complainant who brings a TCPA claim suffers concrete harm and, therefore, deserves to have the claim heard in court.
Shortly after the Spokeo decision, we blogged speculating about how the decision would affect TCPA claims. This latest decision is the third federal court decision since Spokeo that has held that telephone calls placed in violation of the TCPA cause concrete harm to consumers. Although no Court of Appeals has issued a ruling on the subject, the early returns since Spokeo seem to indicate that simply alleging receipt of a call in violation of the TCPA sets forth a concrete harm to the consumer.