Nabil Ghawl v. Law Office of Howard Lee Schiff, P.C., No. 3:13-cv-115 (JBA) (D. Conn. Nov. 10, 2015)

Plaintiff asserted various claims, including a TCPA claim, against a  law firm and creditor on whose behalf the law firm allegedly attempted to collect debt. All Defendants moved for summary judgment on the TCPA claim, arguing that the number called was not a cell phone number. The number was assigned to a Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) line. VoIP “is a technology that allows [users] to make voice calls using a broadband Internet connection instead of a regular (or analog) phone line. [W]hile some VoIP services only work over [a] computer or a special VoIP phone, other services allow [users] to use a traditional phone connected to a VoIP adapter.”  In this situation, a call to Plaintiff’s VoIP line would simultaneously ring up to three additional lines, including Plaintiff’s cell phone, and connect to whichever line was answered first.

Plaintiff raised two alternative arguments opposing summary judgment: (1) Calls to the VoIP line violated the TCPA because he is charged airtime for use of the line; and (2) Calls to the VoIP line violated the TCPA because it connects to his cell phone. Concluding Plaintiff produced no evidence he was charged for calls to the VoIP line, the Court rejected this argument. With respect to the second argument, the Court stated: “There is little caselaw on how VoIP services fit into § 227(b), but in light of the purpose of the TCPA—‘to prohibit the use of [autodialers/prerecorded calls] to communicate with others by telephone in a manner that would be an invasion of privacy,’ there is no apparent conceivable reason on the record why the use of a VoIP number to connect to a cell phone should be treated differently from a direct call to a cell phone, at least where, as here, the caller informs the debt collector that the number connects to a cell phone.”

As such, the Court denied summary judgment as to the law firm, concluding there remained disputed questions of material fact as to whether and when Plaintiff informed the law firm that his VoIP number connected to a cell phone and whether and when he consented to autodialer/prerecorded calls to his number. While holding that the creditor could be held vicariously liable for the law firm’s alleged violation of the TCPA, the Court did grant summary judgment in the creditor’s favor individually because Plaintiff did not allege or demonstrate that he ever informed the creditor, as opposed to the law firm, that calls to the VoIP number went to his cell phone.