In late September, the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana issued a first of its kind  ruling regarding the Telephone Consumer Privacy Act (“TCPA”). The court held that TCPA provision,  47 U.S.C. § 227(b)(1)(A)(iii) – which prohibits calls (and messages) made using an Automatic Telephone Dialing Systems (“ATDS”)to any cellular telephone number – is unenforceable retroactively for the 5-year period between November 2015, when Congress amended the TCPA to include an exemption for government-debt, until July 2020 when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the government-debt exception was unconstitutional.

In July the Supreme Court held in Barr v. American Association of Political Consultants (“AAPC”) that Congress impermissibly favored government-debt collection speech over political and other speech, in violation of the First Amendment, and thus must invalidate the government-debt collection exception of the TCPA, and sever it from the remainder of the statute. Despite the potential that the Court would address the constitutionality of the TCPA in its entirety, the Court left untouched the TCPA’s general restriction on calls made with an “automatic telephone dialing system” (“ATDS”).

In response to the Supreme Court’s ruling, the federal court in Louisiana emphasized that,

Congress’s 2015 enactment of the government-debt exception rendered § 227(b)(1)(A)(iii) an unconstitutional content-based restriction on speech. In the years preceding Congress’s addition of the exception, § 227(b)(1)(A)(iii) did not discriminate on the content of robocalls, and was, as the Supreme Court has observed, a constitutional time-place-manner restriction on speech.  Likewise, now that [American Association of Political Consultants] has done away with the offending exception, § 227(b)(1)(A)(iii) figures to remain good law in the years to come.  However, in the years in which § 227(b)(1)(A)(iii) permitted robocalls of one category of content (government-debt collection) while prohibiting robocalls of all other categories of content, the entirety of the provision was, indeed, unconstitutional.

This groundbreaking Louisiana decision has already started a trend in court analysis of the issue. Only weeks later, a federal district court in Ohio issued a similar ruling granting defendant’s motion to dismiss in Lindenbaum v. Realgy Inc., in light of the retroactive impact of AAPC.

The plaintiffs in AAPC sought the right to speak going forward on the grounds that the statute, as written, is an unconstitutional content-based restriction. The Supreme Court denied that relief, but offered a remedy in the form of eliminating the content based restriction. But, in our case, severance of the content-based restriction does not offer a “remedy” to correct past harm. Here, defendants do not seek the right to speak, having already done so. They seek the right to be free from punishment for speaking during a time when an unconstitutional content-based restriction existed. A forward-looking fix offers no remedy for this past wrong.

As many currently active TCPA cases involve calls/texts/faxes sent between November 2015 and July 2020, these rulings have the potential to have an immediate and significant impact on TCPA class action litigation.  The rulings’ impact is heightened by the fact the courts dismissed each plaintiff’s claims on grounds that the court lacked subject matter jurisdiction as “federal courts lack authority to enforce unconstitutional laws.”  A subject matter jurisdiction dismissal is available in all phases of litigation, and cannot be waived, increasing the number of cases that could potentially be impacted by the court’s ruling.

Notably, the Louisiana court acknowledged the likelihood of a circuit split arising from its ruling, but placed culpability for this on the Supreme Court’s decision in AAPC that lacked a “clear majority” – Justice Kavanaugh authored a plurality decision. “The court’s failure to unite behind a sufficiently agreeable rationale does a disservice to litigants and lower courts…Here, it has led the parties to wildly dissimilar understandings of AAPC’s legal effect — all in the utmost good faith and preparation. In the future, it may engender a circuit split which confronts the court anew.”

2020 has been an important year for TCPA developments, and 2021 is likely to be much of the same. Organizations are advised to review and update their telemarketing and/or automatic dialing practices to ensure TCPA compliance.

In case you missed it, here are several other TCPA updates of late worth reviewing:

Print:
EmailTweetLikeLinkedIn
Photo of Jason C. Gavejian Jason C. Gavejian

Jason C. Gavejian is a Principal in the Morristown, New Jersey, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. and a Certified Information Privacy Professional (CIPP/US) with the International Association of Privacy Professionals.

As a Certified Information Privacy Professional (CIPP/US), Mr. Gavejian focuses on the matrix…

Jason C. Gavejian is a Principal in the Morristown, New Jersey, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. and a Certified Information Privacy Professional (CIPP/US) with the International Association of Privacy Professionals.

As a Certified Information Privacy Professional (CIPP/US), Mr. Gavejian focuses on the matrix of laws governing privacy, security, and management of data. Mr. Gavejian is Co-Editor of, and a regular contributor to, the firm’s Workplace Privacy, Data Management & Security Report blog.

Mr. Gavejian’s work in the area of privacy and data security includes counseling international, national, and regional companies on the vast array of privacy and security mandates, preventive measures, policies, procedures, and best practices. This includes, but is not limited to, the privacy and security requirements under state, federal, and international law (e.g., HIPAA/HITECH, GDPR, California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), FTC Act, ECPA, SCA, GLBA etc.). Mr. Gavejian helps companies in all industries to assess information risk and security as part of the development and implementation of comprehensive data security safeguards including written information security programs (WISP). Additionally, Mr. Gavejian assists companies in analyzing issues related to: electronic communications, social media, electronic signatures (ESIGN/UETA), monitoring and recording (GPS, video, audio, etc.), biometrics, and bring your own device (BYOD) and company owned personally enabled device (COPE) programs, including policies and procedures to address same. He regularly advises clients on compliance issues under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) and has represented clients in suits, including class actions, brought in various jurisdictions throughout the country under the TCPA.

Mr. Gavejian represents companies with respect to inquiries from the HHS/OCR, state attorneys general, and other agencies alleging wrongful disclosure of personal/protected information. Mr. Gavejian negotiates vendor agreements and other data privacy and security agreements, including business associate agreements. His work in the area of privacy and data security includes counseling and coaching clients through the process of investigating and responding to breaches of the personally identifiable information (PII) or protected health information (PHI) they maintain about consumers, customers, employees, patients, and others, while also assisting clients in implementing policies, practices, and procedures to prevent future data incidents.

Mr. Gavejian represents management exclusively in all aspects of employment litigation, including restrictive covenants, class-actions, harassment, retaliation, discrimination, and wage and hour claims in both federal and state courts. Mr. Gavejian regularly appears before administrative agencies, including the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the Office for Civil Rights (OCR), the New Jersey Division of Civil Rights, and the New Jersey Department of Labor. Mr. Gavejian’s practice also focuses on advising/counseling employers regarding daily workplace issues.

Mr. Gavejian’s litigation experience, coupled with his privacy practice, provides him with a unique view of many workplace issues and the impact privacy, data security, and social media may play in actual or threatened lawsuits.

Mr. Gavejian regularly provides training to both executives and employees and regularly speaks on current privacy, data security, monitoring, recording, BYOD/COPE, biometrics (BIPA), social media, TCPA, and information management issues. His views on these topics have been discussed in multiple publications, including the Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, San Francisco Chronicle (SFGATE), National Law Review, Bloomberg BNA, Inc.com, @Law Magazine, Risk and Insurance Magazine, LXBN TV, Business Insurance Magazine, and HR.BLR.com.

Mr. Gavejian is the Co-Chair of Jackson Lewis’ Hispanic Attorney Resource Group, a group committed to increasing the firm’s visibility among Hispanic-American and other minority attorneys, as well as mentoring the firm’s attorneys to assist in their training and development. Mr. Gavejian also previously served on the National Leadership Committee of the Hispanic National Bar Association (HNBA) and regularly volunteers his time for pro bono matters.

Prior to joining Jackson Lewis, Mr. Gavejian served as a judicial law clerk for the Honorable Richard J. Donohue on the Superior Court of New Jersey, Bergen County.