April 22, 2018

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Worth the Wait! D.C. Circuit Vacates Key Portions of FCC’s July 2015 TCPA Order

At the Federal Communications Bar Association’s TCPA symposium in D.C. last month, panelists from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and private practice expressed uncertainty regarding when the D.C. Circuit would issue its much-anticipated ruling in the appeal of the FCC’s July 2015 Declaratory Ruling and Order (the “2015 Order”). It turns out that that day is today. And the ruling was well worth the wait.

The D.C. Circuit’s ruling upheld the FCC’s approach to revocation of consent (permitting revocation through any reasonable means) and the scope of the healthcare exemption, but set aside the FCC’s expansive definition of an “automatic telephone dialing system” (ATDS) and its untenable approach to liability for communications to reassigned telephone numbers.

ATDS: Petitioners prevailed in whole as to the interpretation of the ATDS definition, with the Court setting aside that portion of the 2015 Order, which had held that the word “capacity” refers not to equipment’s present capacity today but rather to its potential capacity next month or even next year. The Court agreed with Petitioners that the FCC’s approach was overbroad—so overbroad, in fact, that it would even encompass smartphones. In addition, the Court reached back to prior FCC rulings (dating back to 2003) that had “clarified” the statutory definition to include equipment that dials from a stored list of numbers, such as predictive dialers (while dispensing with the requirement of generating random or sequential numbers); and other notoriously inconsistent FCC pronouncements as to human intervention and other issues. The Court concluded that the FCC’s position was so unclear that its “treatment of those matters” should be set aside.

Reassigned Numbers: The Court also found that the FCC’s one-call safe harbor for calls to reassigned numbers was arbitrary and capricious. It upheld the FCC’s interpretation that “called party” referred to the current subscriber, but found that the one-call safe harbor was contrary to the “reasonable reliance” standard the FCC had otherwise adopted. The Court noted that the 2015 Order had permitted the caller to rely on consent given by the number’s customary user (e.g., a close relative), whereas the one-call only approach was inconsistent with that approach. Rather than just redline the safe harbor, the Court set aside the Commission’s treatment of reassigned numbers as a whole. The Court noted in this regard the FCC’s current rulemaking regarding the reassigned number database.

Revocation of Consent: While upholding the portion of the 2015 Order that allowed consumers to revoke consent through any reasonable means, the Court highlighted the FCC’s concession that the ruling did not address contractual provisions that specify the means of revoking consent. That is good news, insofar as it preserves other court rulings that have enforced the law of contract in this area. 

The FCC will likely go back to the drawing board on the ATDS and reassigned number issues, now under the auspices of Commissioner Pai. Today’s opinion provides some significant guideposts for the agency’s further rulemaking in this area. Given the vigorous dissents to the 2015 Order on these very issues by Chairman Pai and Commissioner O’Rielly, this is a promising development for businesses seeking to communicate with consumers. 

©2018 Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP. All Rights Reserved


About this Author

Michael Daly, Drinker Biddle Law Firm, Philadelphia, Litigation and Retail Attorney

Michael P. Daly defends class actions and other complex litigation matters, handles appeals in state and federal courts across the country, and counsels clients on maximizing the defensibility of their marketing and enforceability of their contracts. A recognized authority on class action and consumer protection litigation, he often speaks, comments, and writes on recent decisions and developments in the class action arena. He is also a founder of the firm’s TCPA Team; the senior editor of the TCPA Blog, which provides important information and insight...

Meredith Slawe, Litigation lawyer, Drinker Biddle

Meredith C. Slawe is a partner in Drinker Biddle & Reath’s Litigation Group and a Vice Chair of the firm’s Class Actions Team. Meredith is a highly accomplished attorney who focuses on the defense of purported class actions and complex commercial litigation matters in courts across the country. She has extensive experience representing companies in a range of actions, including matters related to cutting-edge technology and privacy issues.

Meredith is a leader in the firm’s interdisciplinary Retail Industry Group and has a deep understanding of issues facing retailers, including data privacy and security, product labeling and advertising, omni-channel marketing, customer outreach, behavioral marketing, promotional pricing, hiring practices, automatic renewals, e-commerce, and compliance with a host of statutes, including the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act (FACTA), Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA), Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA), Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act, Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA), Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), Video Privacy Protection Act (VPPA), Truth-in-Consumer Contract, Warranty and Notice Act (TCCWNA), California False Advertising Law (Bus. & Prof. Code 17500), California Unfair Competition Law (Bus. & Prof. Code 17200), California Invasion of Privacy Act (Cal. Penal Code 630, et seq.) and §California False Advertising Law (Business & Professions Code § 17500), California Unfair Competition Law (Business & Professions Code § 17200), California Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act, California Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (Rosenthal Act), California Consumers Legal Remedies Act (CLRA), California Song-Beverly Credit Card Act (Cal. Civ. Code § 1747, et seq.), California Penal Code § 327 (endless chain/pyramid scheme), California's Invasion of Privacy Act (Cal. Penal Code § 630, et seq.) and other federal and state consumer protection statutes.

Michael Stortz, Class action lawyer, Drinker Biddle

Michael J. Stortz defends companies against claims of unfair competition, false advertising, consumer fraud, breach of warranty and product defect, as well as claims arising under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) and related federal and state statutes. He also counsels companies as to compliance with these statutes. Michael is a partner in the firm’s Litigation Group and a Vice Chair of the Class Actions team.

Michael’s practice includes the successful defense of national consumer class actions. He has a track record of defeating such...