Ride-sharing company Lyft is facing a putative class action suit for allegedly violating the TCPA by encouraging users to invite their friends to join the service.
Washington resident Kenneth Wright claims in a new federal complaint that he received a text message from Lyft stating: “Jo Ann C. sent you a free Lyft ride worth $25. Claim it at [Web site].” The text – and others presumably sent by the company – forms the basis for Wright’s complaint seeking statutory damages under both the TCPA as well as Washington’s Commercial Electronic Mail Act.
Lyft’s mobile app – which users launch to request a ride – includes an “Invite Friends” feature. When a user selects the “Invite Friends” tab, the app displays a list of all the contact names stored in the user’s mobile device. Users can select specific friends to invite or “Select All” to invite the entire list of stored contacts.
According to the complaint, the invitations are sent by Lyft’s computer systems, not the user’s telephone and cellular service carrier, and effectively transform the app into an automated telephone dialing system. To encourage users to invite friends, Lyft offers them $25 for each individual who downloads the app by using the link included in the invitation and subsequently uses Lyft’s service.
Lyft “caused and otherwise substantially assisted an aggressive marketing campaign which has relied upon this ATDS functionality,” Wright alleged. “Defendant’s system generates commercial advertisements on behalf of the defendant and, in an automated manner, transmits these advertisements as unsolicited . . . text messages to lists of cellular telephone numbers.” Wright said he did not provide Lyft with his phone number or his consent to receive the message.
“The links in these messages were designed and intended by defendant to connect plaintiff and consumers like him to websites through which defendants offered financial incentives calculated to cause consumers to download and install Lyft onto their cellular telephones and to use defendant’s services,” Wright contends, which constituted “unlawful and otherwise wrongful marketing and advertising practices” on the part of Lyft.
Wright asked the court to issue a declaratory judgment which makes clear that Lyft’s conduct was unlawful, grant a permanent injunction enjoining Lyft from engaging in such conduct, certify a nationwide class of recipients of Lyft’s “Invite Friends” text messages, as well as a subclass of Washington residents, and order Lyft to stop using the feature and pay class members statutory damages of at least $500 per violation.
To read the complaint in Wright v. Lyft, Inc., click here.
Why it matters: As the Lyft complaint demonstrates, TCPA class action suits continue to roll in, with class action counsel hardly struggling to find new defendants. Other similar suits include the social networking program Path, which was on the receiving end of three different TCPA class actions last year over an invite-a-friend feature. In a motion to dismiss one of the suits, Path argued that it should not be held liable under the statute because it simply forwarded a message from one of its users, and the text was not an advertisement but “solely an information text.” As the text messages in the Lyft action arguably involve a commercial aspect, that defense may not be available to Lyft.