CE DESIGN LIMITED v. KING ARCHITECTURAL METALS (March 18, 2011)
CE Design is a small engineering firm near Chicago. It has a website where it posts its fax number and says "Contact Us." It also publishes its fax number in an online building industry directory. The directory requires a that its users allow all other directory users to communicate with it by fax or e-mail. King Architectural Metals is one of those other directory users. In 2009, King conducted a fax marketing campaign. It faxed over 50,000 advertisements, two of which went to CE Design. Design brought suit on behalf of a class pursuant to the Telephone Consumer Protection Act. Judge Bucklo (N.D. Ill.) certified a class of persons who received the fax without having given express permission. King petitions for permission to appeal from that certification.
In their opinion, Judges Posner, Manion, and Hamilton granted the petition, vacated the class certification, and remanded. The Act forbids unsolicited fax advertisements. An unsolicited advertisement is one sent without "express invitation or permission." Whether the "Contacts Us" language and the directory publication constitutes an unsolicited advertisement is a question that neither the statute, the case law, nor agency interpretations answer. Design's president testified at his deposition that he did not know that directory publication granted permission to others to communicate with Design by fax. Rule 23 requires that the class representative’s claim be typical of all claims and that the class representative will "fairly and adequately" represent the class. The Court stated that a plaintiff is not an appropriate class representative if it is subject to a defense that other class members are not subject to -- its claim is no longer typical. Likewise, a class representative should not have credibility problems. Here, the district court expressed doubts about the president's truthfulness but dismissed it as a immaterial. Questions about his credibility and the presence of a potential defense based on the expressed consent given through the directory detract from Design's ability to adequately represent the class. The Court remanded for reconsideration of the identity of the class representative. The Court emphasized that it was not questioning the viability of the class action itself.