US Supreme Court Sides with Facebook at TCPA Case
Under the Court’s narrow interpretation of the robocall prohibit, Facebook didn’t violate the TCPA as it delivered unsolicited text messages for individuals without their permission.
Facts of the Case
The Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991 (TCPA) proscribes abusive telemarketing practices by, among other things, restricting specific communications made using an”automatic phone dialing system.” The TCPA defines such”autodialers” as equipment with the capacity both”to keep or produce telephone numbers to be called, using a random or sequential number generator,” and also to dial those numbers.
Petitioner Facebook, Inc., asserts a social media platform that, as a safety feature, enables users to choose to get text messages whenever someone attempts to log into the user’s account in a new device or browser. Facebook sent such texts to Noah Duguid, alerting him to login action to a Facebook account connected to his phone number, but Duguid never created the account (or any account on Facebook). Duguid tried without success to stop the unwanted messages, and finally brought a putative class action against Facebook. He alleged that Facebook breached the TCPA by simply maintaining a database that stored phone numbers and programming its own equipment to send automated text messages. Facebook cautioned that the TCPA doesn’t apply since the technology it used to text Duguid didn’t use a”sequential or random number generator”
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed. It held the §227(a)(1) applies to a notification platform such as Facebook’s that has the capacity to dial automatically saved amounts.
Supreme Court’s Decision
The Supreme Court unanimously reversed. Justice Sonia Sotomayor composed on behalf of the Court.
“The matter before the Court is whether definition encompasses equipment that will’save’ and dial phone numbers, even if the machine doesn’t’us[e] a sequential or random number generator’ It doesn’t,” Justice Sotomayor wrote. “To qualify as an’automatic phone dialing system,’ an apparatus has to have the capacity to keep a phone number with a sequential or random generator or to produce a phone number with a sequential or random number generator”
In reaching its decision, the Court agreed with Facebook the TCPA clause”with a sequential or random number generator” contrasts both verbs,”shop” and also”produce” In support, the Court cited the conventional rules of grammar, specifically the”series-qualifier canon,” which instructs a modifier in the end of a succession of nouns or verbs applies to the whole series. As Justice Sotomayor clarified , the canon indicates the changing phrase”with a sequential or random number generator” contrasts both antecedent verbs,”shop” and also”produce” She further noted that since the changing phrase immediately follows a concise, incorporated clause (“store or produce telephone numbers to be called”), that uses the word”or” to join two verbs that share a common direct object (“phone numbers to be called”), it could be”strange” to apply the modifier to only one part of their paychecks.
The Court also found that the statutory circumstance supported its interpretation. As Justice Sotomayor explained, Congress discovered autodialer technology dangerous because autodialers could dial emergency lines occasionally or tie up all the sequentially numbered phone lines in a single thing. Duguid’s interpretation, on the other hand, would encircle any equipment that stores and dials phone numbers.
Last, the Court rejected Duguid’s counterarguments, including that the TCPA ought to be treated as an”Loaded” instrument and that accepting Facebook’s translation will unleash a”torrent of robocalls.”
Duguid significantly overstates the effects of accepting Facebook’s interpretation. The statute separately prohibits calls with”an artificial or prerecorded voice” to various kinds of phone lines, such as home phones and cell phones, unless an exception applies. Our decision doesn’t affect that prohibition. In any case, Duguid’s quarrel is with Congress, that didn’t specify an autodialer as malleably as he’d have liked. “Senescent” as a number generator (and perhaps the TCPA itself ) could be, that isn’t any justification for eschewing the best reading of §227(a)(1)(A). This Court must interpret what Congress composed, and that’s that”with a sequential or random number generator” modifies both”shop” and also”produce”
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