The Supreme Court of the United States has resolved a circuit split between federal courts of appeals regarding the interpretation of a key phrase in the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA). That key phrase determines, among other issues, whether or not companies need to secure a cellphone subscriber’s written consent to send them text messages, including commercial marketing text messages.

At issue before the Court was Facebook’s appeal of the Ninth Circuit’s holding in a putative class action lawsuit over text messages, Facebook sent the representative plaintiff. The Ninth Circuit held that a system capable of dialing automatically stored numbers is implicated by the TCPA’s definition of “autodialers”.

On appeal, the Supreme Court reversed the Ninth Circuit’s decision. Based on rules of statutory construction, the Court held that the term “autodialer”, whose use the TCPA regulates, applies only to systems that use “a random or sequential number generator” when they store or produce the telephone number.

The Court also found that the TCPA’s legislative background supports this interpretation. Congress found autodialers uniquely harmful because they could generate numbers, and “simultaneously tie up all the lines of any business with sequentially numbered phone lines”, particularly public emergency services. The Court also rejected the Ninth Circuit’s interpretation because it would “capture virtually all modern cell phones” and “ban ordinary cell phone owners in the course of commonplace usage”.

Barring legislative amendments or other restrictions in the TCPA, the Supreme Court’s holding now paves the way for companies to send unsolicited commercial text messages without having to obtain prior consent.

CLICK HERE to read the Supreme Court’s decision in Facebook Inc. v. Duguid et al.