Supreme Court Supports Narrow Autodialer Ban in Facebook TCPA Case

April 8, 2021

Supreme Court Supports Narrow Autodialer Ban in Facebook TCPA Case

The U.S. Supreme Court has sided with Facebook in a Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) case, unanimously ruling to overturn a previous Ninth Circuit ruling – a ruling which should significantly reduce the amount of class action litigations that emerge under the statute.

The previous ruling broadly defined the type of automatic telephone dialing systems (ATDS) prohibited by the TCPA to cover “any equipment that has the capacity to store and automatically dial numbers, even if the numbers haven’t been generated by a random or sequential number generator.”

However, the Supreme Court agreed with Facebook’s argument that the lower court’s broad definition of what qualified as an ATDS directly conflicts with the TCPA’s purpose to stop random-fired calls.

“In sum, Congress’ definition of an autodialer requires that in all cases, whether storing or producing numbers to be called, the equipment in question must use a random or sequential number generator,” wrote Justice Sonia Sotomayor. “This definition excludes equipment like Facebook’s login notification system, which does not use such technology.”

A Narrow vs. Broad Interpretation of the TCPA

Last Summer, the Supreme Court agreed to review the Ninth Circuit’s proposed class action accusing Facebook of sending unsolicited security notification text messages to consumers. This prompted the higher court to clarify what types of dialing equipment trigger liability under the TCPA.

The TCPA defines an ATDS as “equipment which has the capacity — (A) to store or produce telephone numbers to be called, using a random or sequential number generator; and (B) to dial such numbers.” Facebook and others favor a narrow grammatical interpretation of this definition, arguing that the phrase “using a random or sequential number generator” modifies both “store” and “produce.” On the other hand, those who support a broader reading argue that the phrase only modifies “produce” – meaning any equipment that can store and dial numbers is included.

Consequently, Facebook asserted that defining the law broadly to encompass all devices with the capacity to store and dial numbers would expose all smartphone users to hefty statutory penalties from $500 to $1,500 per call or text.

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