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Supreme Court Agrees to Review Growing Circuit Split on Definition of ATDS

On Thursday, the United States Supreme Court agreed to review the question of what type of dialing equipment qualifies as an “automatic telephone dialing system” (ATDS) under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA).  The Court’s review arises from a challenge to the Ninth Circuit’s broad definition of ATDS. 

The plain language of the TCPA states that an ATDS is “equipment which has the capacity to store or produce telephone numbers to be called, using a random or sequential number generator; and to dial such numbers.”  47 U.S.C. § 227(a)(1).  Since the D.C. Circuit abrogated the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) rulings construing that language, see ACA International v. FCC, 885 F.3d 687, 701 (D.C. Cir. 2018), a split has emerged among the federal circuit courts that have examined the definition.  The Ninth and Second Circuits have held that a dialing system need only have the capacity to “store numbers to be called” and “to dial such numbers automatically” to constitute an ATDS.  See Duran v. La Boom Disco, Inc., 955 F.3d 279, 283-84 (2d Cir. 2020); Marks v. Crunch San Diego, LLC, 904 F.3d 1041, 1052-53 (9th Cir. 2018).  The Third, Seventh, and Eleventh Circuits, on the other hand, have reined in the definition of ATDS.  These courts have held that a system cannot constitute an ATDS where it lacks the capacity either to (1) store telephone numbers to be called using a random or sequential number generator, or (2) produce telephone numbers to be called using a random or sequential number generator.  See Gadelhak v. AT&T Servs., Inc., 950 F.3d 458, 464, 469 (7th Cir. 2020); Glasser v. Hilton Grand Vacations Co., 948 F.3d 1301, 1310 (11th Cir. 2020); Dominguez v. Yahoo, Inc., 894 F.3d 116, 119-21 (3d Cir. 2018).   

The Supreme Court’s decision to review the definition of ATDS arises from a Ninth Circuit ruling that overturned the dismissal of a putative class action lawsuit in which the consumer claimed to have received text messages on his cell phone from an ATDS in violation of the TCPA.  The Ninth Circuit reaffirmed its broad interpretation of an ATDS and concluded that the consumer’s allegations that the disputed text messages were sent from equipment that automatically dialed his cell phone number from a database with a stored list of numbers were sufficient to plead the use of an ATDS.  The defendant’s petition for writ of certiorari asked the Court to resolve two questions—(1) “Whether the TCPA’s prohibition on calls made using an ATDS is an unconstitutional restriction of speech;” and (2) “Whether the definition of ATDS in the TCPA encompasses any device that can ‘store’ and ‘automatically dial’ telephone numbers, even if the device does not ‘us[e] a random or sequential number generator.’”  The Supreme Court declined to review the first question, having issued an opinion on a related question this term discussed here.  The Court did agree to review the second question, and its decision has the potential to resolve the circuit split as to the meaning of ATDS.

Copyright 2020 K & L GatesNational Law Review, Volume X, Number 192


About this Author

Andrew Glass, KL Gates Law Firm, Financial Litigation Attorney

Mr. Glass is a partner resident in K&L Gates’ Boston office, and a member of the firm's Consumer Financial Services Litigation and Class Action Litigation Defense groups, with extensive experience in complex commercial litigation. Mr. Glass's practice focuses on the defense of federal and state class action litigation brought against consumer financial services, mortgage lending, and consumer credit institutions. These class actions concern challenges under federal statutes, including the Fair Housing Act, Equal Credit Opportunity Act, Fair Credit Reporting Act, Real...

Gregory Blace, KL Gates Law Firm, Class Action Litigation Attorney

Mr. Blase is a partner in the Boston office of K&L Gates where he is a member of the firm's Class Action Litigation Defense group. Mr. Blase has experience in complex commercial litigation, and has represented mortgage lenders, servicers and other financial institutions in class action and individual suits under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, Fair Credit Reporting Act, Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, Truth in Lending Act, Fair Housing Act, Equal Credit Opportunity Act, Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act, and various state unfair and deceptive practices statutes.

Joseph C. Wylie II, KL Gates Law Firm, Commercial Litigation Attorney

Mr. Wylie’s practice focuses on complex class-action defense and complex commercial litigation with a particular emphasis on consumer and securities matters. He represents clients in defending against a wide range of individual and class-action consumer claims, including consumer fraud actions and claims brought under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act. He also represents investment advisers and mutual fund families in connection with government investigations and investor claims, including claims made under the Investment Company Act. Mr. Wylie also represents...

Molly K. McGinley, KLGates Law Firm, Complex Litigation Attorney

Molly K. McGinley concentrates her practice at K&L Gates in commercial litigation with a focus on complex litigation, including investment company litigation, securities litigation and consumer class action defense. Ms. McGinley is a member of the firm’s Securities and Transactional Litigation Practice and Class Action Litigation Defense Groups. Ms. McGinley has litigated in numerous state and federal jurisdictions, representing a broad range of clients, including small companies, Fortune 500 Companies and investment advisers. She has handled various commercial...

 Hollee M. Boudreau Associate Boston Financial Institutions and Services Litigation

Hollee Watson is an associate in the firm’s Boston office focusing her practice on complex civil litigation in the areas of antitrust, distribution, commercial disputes, and financial services. Ms. Watson’s antitrust and distribution experience includes assisting in the prosecution of federal antitrust claims brought under the Sherman and Clayton Acts and advising clients on grey market suppression and distribution matters. Additionally, Ms. Watson’s financial services and commercial disputes experience includes representing businesses, national banks, mortgage lenders,...