The system used by a cab company to send text messages to customers does not constitute an automatic telephone dialing system (ATDS) under the TCPA, a Washington federal court has ruled.

Orange Cab Company relies upon TaxiMagic, a computer program that links dispatch terminals, mobile terminals operated by drivers, and an SMS modem, to send texts to customers. When a customer needs a ride, the dispatcher who answers the phone obtains the rider’s name, telephone number, and dropoff and pickup locations; the phone number may also be captured by caller ID. After a driver is selected, and “accepts” the ride, the program composes a text message to the consumer that confirms the cab number.

Plaintiff Torrey Gragg called Orange Cab to request a ride last February and received a text message reading “Taxi #850 dispatched @ 5:20. Smart phone? Book our cabs with Taxi Magic-#1 FREE taxi booking app” Gragg filed a putative class action under the TCPA based on the text message, claiming that it was made with an autodialer without prior express consent.

But Orange Cab moved for summary judgment, arguing that the complaint lacked a necessary element of a TCPA claim: the use of an ATDS. The TaxiMagic program is only capable of generating and sending text notifications in response to a customer’s initial request for a cab, the company said, and is not capable of randomly or sequentially dialing numbers.

In a recent decision, U.S. District Court Judge Robert S. Lasnik first clarified that his analysis of the program’s status under the TCPA was based on its “present, not potential, capacity to store, produce, or call randomly or sequentially generated numbers.” Simply looking to a program’s potential capacity could lead to an absurd result, he noted, and would capture many of the most common technological devices within the statutory definition (including all iPhones).

“The telephone numbers utilized by the system are those provided directly by customers or captured using Caller ID and inputted by the dispatcher,” he wrote. “Plaintiff has submitted no evidence that the TaxiMagic program can autonomously, randomly, or sequentially generate numbers to be dialed as required to fulfill the statutory definition of an ATDS.”

The program also does not function as a predictive dialer, the court determined. “In order for a text dispatch notification to be sent to a customer, the customer must have first provided some amount of information to both the TaxiMagic program and the nearest available driver, and the driver must have pressed ‘accept’ on his or her mobile data terminal,” the court said. “The system is able to dial and transmit the dispatch notification only after the driver has physically pressed ‘accept’: human intervention is essential.”

To read the order in Gragg v. Orange Cab Company, click here.

Why it matters: In a valuable ruling for TCPA defendants, Judge Lasnik analyzed whether the present capacity of the system constituted an ATDS under the statute. This decision is one of a handful of decisions issuing recently from courts that are taking a common-sense approach to the TCPA’s statutory language in order to avoid “absurd” results. However, it is significant that many courts don’t seem to be as clear in their readings of “capacity,” and that the issue hasn’t been decided by appellate courts, so that the judicial interpretation of “capacity” is thus still up for grabs.