On June 20, 2019, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its much-anticipated decision in PDR Network LLC (‘PDR”) v. Carlton & Harris Chiropractic (“C&H”), which concerned the extent to which district courts are bound by the FCC’s interpretations in TCPA cases. PDR allegedly sent a fax to C&H, a chiropractic practice. C&H claimed that the fax violated the TCPA’s prohibition on faxing “unsolicited advertisements.” PDR moved to dismiss the complaint, arguing that the fax was not an advertisement under the TCPA. C&H opposed and relied on a 2006 FCC Order (the “2006 Order”) that interpreted the definition of unsolicited advertisement in the TCPA to include faxes that promote goods and services offered at no cost. On reply, PDR challenged the FCC’s interpretation of unsolicited advertisement.
The district court allowed PDR’s challenge and dismissed the case. In doing so, the district court both exercised jurisdiction and did not follow the FCC’s definition of unsolicited advertisement. The Fourth Circuit reversed, holding that the district court violated the Hobbs Act. The Fourth Circuit held that under the Hobbs Act only federal courts of appeal can determine the validity of agency orders. The Supreme Court granted certiorari on the question of whether the Hobbs Act required divesting the district court of jurisdiction to address the 2006 Order.
The Court unanimously agreed to vacate the Fourth Circuit’s decision but disagreed on the next steps in the case. The case is remanded for the appellate court to address: (1) whether the 2006 Order is a “legislative rule” or an “interpretive rule,” and (2) whether PDR had a “prior and adequate opportunity” to seek judicial review of the 2006 Order under a Hobbs Act petition.
The Court’s majority opinion emphasized that each of these questions “may” (its word) impact whether a district court is bound by an FCC interpretation in a subsequent case to enforce the TCPA. Concurring opinions by Justices Kavanaugh and Thomas suggested more expansive theories under which district courts would be permitted to rule on the scope of the TCPA despite a prior FCC order.
At this point, the Fourth Circuit must address the questions raised by the Supreme Court. After the Fourth Circuit issues its decision, either party may seek review from the Supreme Court, but such review is not guaranteed.