Last week, the Eleventh Circuit ruled that a single unsolicited text message doesn’t meet the harm requirement necessary to proceed with a Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) claim.   The Eleventh Circuit ruling, Salcedo v. Hanna, reverses a decision by a lower court allowing the plaintiff to move forward with a TCPA claim on grounds that he received an unsolicited text message from his former attorney.

“The chirp, buzz, or blink of a cell phone receiving a single text message is more akin to walking down a busy sidewalk and having a flyer briefly [waved] in one’s face,” Circuit Judge Elizabeth L. Branch opined for the Eleventh Circuit three-judge panel. “Annoying, perhaps, but not a basis for invoking the jurisdiction of the federal courts.”

In reaching its conclusion, the Eleventh Circuit panel drew from the legislative history of the TCPA, its own precedent and the Supreme Court’s decision in Spokeo v. Robins which emphasized that in order to meet the Article III standing requirement, a concrete injury must be alleged.

While we often report on the growing circuit split stemming from Spokeo in the context of data breach litigation, due its lack of clarity on what constitutes a concrete injury (see here and here), the Spokeo ruling has generated a similar circuit split in the context of the TCPA. For example, in 2017 the Ninth Circuit concluded that receiving two unsolicited text messages was sufficient to meet the Spokeo standard for a concrete injury. The Eleventh Circuit panel was not persuaded by the Ninth Circuit’s reasoning, highlighting that the Ninth Circuit,

“…stopped short of examining whether isolated text messages not received at home come within that judgment of Congress. Instead, it concluded that ‘Congress identified unsolicited contact as a concrete harm’… We disagree with this broad overgeneralization of the judgment of Congress.”  

The Eleventh Circuit did not quantify how many unsolicited text messages, if any, would be enough to satisfy the concrete harm requirement to establish standing under the TCPA. The Eleventh Circuit decision may suggest that TCPA text messaging class actions are no longer possible, at least in the Eleventh Circuit. However until the Supreme Court weighs in, by clarifying its ruling in Spokeo, we will continue to see a lack of consistency across the circuit courts, both in the TCPA and data breach litigation contexts.

Although the Eleventh Circuit concluded that a single unsolicited text message did not meet the actual harm requirement necessary to sustain a TCPA claim, any organization that uses text messaging for promotional marketing purposes, should be mindful of the legal and regulatory guidelines that govern text message communications. Likewise, when contracting out these services, companies should ensure that their vendors are compliant with all regulatory requirements.