Since the U.S. Supreme Court decided Facebook v. Duguid in April, trial courts have employed the decision to analyze Telephone Consumer Protection Act (“TCPA”) cases that come before them. Specifically, courts have addressed how the Facebook decision impacts alleged TCPA automatic telephone dialing system (“ATDS” or “autodialer”) claims. In a recent case captioned Watts v. Emergency Twenty Four, Inc., d/b/a Emergency24, an Illinois court added its voice to the chorus of post-Facebook TCPA ATDS cases.
How does Watts affect TCPA ATDS claims?
Emergency24 provides alarm and security system services businesses in Illinois. Watts alleged that Emergency24 violated the TCPA when it used an ATDS to call him numerous times after something tripped his former employer’s alarm system. Watts alleged that the dialing equipment Emergency24 used could: (i) place thousands of telephone calls a day, (ii) store telephone numbers of people who had not consented to be contacted, and (iii) place calls to those stored telephone numbers. Emergency24 moved to dismiss the claims. Emergency24 argued that Watts failed to allege that it used a random or sequential number generator to store or produce the telephone numbers that it had called.
The Court agreed with Emergency24. In its ruling, the Court held that Emergency24 called Watts from a cultivated and pre-selected list. More specifically, the Court found that Emergency24 did not use a random or sequential number generator to either store or produce Watts’s telephone number. To survive a motion to dismiss, a plaintiff must include allegations in her/his complaint that take the claim from possible to plausible. The Watts Court found that Watts did not allege sufficient facts to make his TCPA ATDS claims plausible. In doing so, the Court added itself to the growing list of courts that have ruled that the Facebook decision narrows the definition of autodialer by excluding equipment that calls/texts from a cultivated contact list.
Why does the Watts decision matter to your business?
As lower courts continue to address TCPA ATDS claims in the immediate aftermath of the Facebook decision, each decision’s importance is amplified. The Watts ruling adds to a potential consensus in how to interpret Facebook. In particular, it appears that courts are narrowing the definition of what constitutes an ATDS, requiring more specific evidence from plaintiffs to prove those claims.
Telemarketers are almost universally affected by TCPA decisions, perhaps none more so than the Facebook decision and its progeny. A narrower definition of TCPA ATDS claims provides some protection to telemarketers who employ cultivated contact lists for sending text messages or placing telephone calls. A national consensus on how to apply Facebook will take some time to develop. Still, these early decisions provide some meaningful tea leaves for the industry to read.
Hire experienced TCPA attorneys.
The TCPA is an ever-evolving statute. With each court ruling and regulatory decision, the compliance equation changes. For any business, this state of flux can prove challenging to navigate. Hiring experienced TCPA attorneys to provide compliance advice and litigation support takes some of that challenge away.