Ninth Circuit jolts Crunch TCPA case back to life

Ripple Effect

Back in March, the D.C. Circuit trimmed back a 2015 Federal Communications Commission (FCC) order that expanded the scope of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA). ACA International v. FCC struck down the commission’s broad definition of autodialer, pinching the definition of an autodialer by excluding systems with a mere theoretical capacity to place autodialed calls.

That ruling’s effects continue to be felt. First, the Third Circuit put a long-disputed class action to rest with a June decision, and now the Ninth Circuit has revived a class action that was put to sleep by the Southern District of California in 2014.

The original case, brought by one Jordan Marks, alleged that gym and health center Crunch San Diego violated the TCPA with three marketing text messages to Marks. The Southern District ruled that the text system that sent the messages to Marks was not an automatic telephone dialing system (ATDS) because it didn’t feature a random or sequential number generator.

The Ninth Circuit, in a unanimous three-judge panel decision, reversed the Southern District’s summary judgment ruling, specifically relying on the D.C. Circuit’s rejection of the FCC’s ruling.

“In light of the D.C. Circuit’s recent opinion in ACA International v. Federal Communications Commission,” the Ninth Circuit held, “…and based on our own review of the TCPA, we conclude that the statutory definition of ATDS includes a device that stores telephone numbers to be called, whether or not those numbers have been generated by a random or sequential number generator.”

The Ninth Circuit’s review included a re-examination of the original TCPA wording. “After struggling with the statutory language ourselves, we conclude that it is not susceptible to a straightforward interpretation based on the plain language alone,” the court wrote. But “The structure and context of the TCPA as originally enacted indicate that Congress intended to regulate devices that make automatic calls.”

The Takeaway

With that, the case was vacated and remanded to the Southern District of California. It’s a ruling that brings the TCPA back to its roots, but also introduces more uncertainty regarding the definition of an ATDS. We explore it further in a blog post here.