Justia Class Action Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Communications Law
Holtzman v. Turza
Attorney Turza sent fax advertisements to accountants. In 2013, the Seventh Circuit affirmed that these faxes violated the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), 47 U.S.C. 227, but reversed a plan to distribute a $4.2 million fund to the class members and donate any remainder to charity. Meanwhile, Turza posted a $4.2 million supersedeas bond. Invoking the common-fund doctrine, the district judge awarded class counsel about $1.4 million. TCPA authorizes an award of up to $500 per improper fax. The court ordered two-thirds of that sent to every class member. If some members fail to cash their checks or cannot be found, there would be a second distribution. The maximum paid out per fax would be $500. If money remains, the residue returns to Turza. The Seventh Circuit reversed in part. This is not a common-fund case; suits under TCPA seek recovery for discrete wrongs. If a recipient cannot be located, or spurns the money, counsel are not entitled to be paid for that fax. TCPA is not a fee-shifting statute. Turza is not required to pay the class’s attorneys just because he lost the suit. Distributing more than $500 per fax ($333 to the recipient and $167 to counsel) would either exceed the statutory cap or effectively shift legal fees to Turza. The $4.2 million represents security for payment, so once the debt is satisfied, the surplus can be returned to Turza. View "Holtzman v. Turza" on Justia Law
In re Certified Question (Deacon v. Pandora)
Peter Deacon, individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated, brought an action in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California against Pandora Media, Inc., which operated an Internet-based music-streaming program. In relevant part, Deacon claimed that Pandora violation of the Michigan preservation of personal privacy act (PPPA) by publically disclosing personal information concerning his music preferences. The federal district court ruled in favor of defendant, and under MCR 7.305(B), the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit certified a question of Michigan law to the Michigan Supreme Court: "Has Deacon stated a claim against Pandora for violation of the VRPA by adequately alleging that Pandora is [in] the business of 'renting' or 'lending' sound recordings, and that he is a 'customer' of Pandora because he 'rents' or 'borrows' sound recordings from Pandora? " Having heard oral argument and considered the issues involved, the Michigan Supreme Court granted the Ninth Circuit’s request to answer its question. However, the Michigan Court limited the question to whether Deacon could be characterized under the PPPA as a "customer" of Pandora because at the relevant time he was a person who "rent[ed]" or "borrow[ed]" sound recordings from defendant. The Supreme Court concluded that Deacon was not such a "customer." View "In re Certified Question (Deacon v. Pandora)" on Justia Law
Paldo Sign & Display Co. v. Wagener Equities, Inc.
Wagener agreed to review proposed ads from MR, then received a fax from MR, including pricing and sample fax advertisements, and stating that MR would not send out ads unless Wagener returned an approved copy. During a follow-up call, Wagener stated that he did not like the samples. The caller agreed to provide a new sample and a list of potential recipients. Wagener wanted to verify that potential recipients were businesses that would be interested in his services and were located in the relevant geographical region. Wagener did not receive that list or a final ad and was surprised to find that a fax advertisement had been transmitted to thousands of recipients without his approval. Wagener immediately tried to contact MR but received no response. Wagener then learned that his employee had mistakenly mailed a check to MR. Wagener’s bank implemented a stop order. Wagener never heard from MR again. The Telephone Consumer Protection Act, 47 U.S.C. 227(b)(1)(C), subjects the sender of unauthorized faxes to a statutory penalty of $500 per violation. The ads at issue violated the Act. The district court certified a class of more than 10,000 plaintiffs. A jury found that Wagener had not “authorize[d] the fax broadcast transmission,” and did not “have direct, personal participation in the authorization of the fax broadcast transmission.” The Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting challenges to evidentiary rulings and jury instructions. View "Paldo Sign & Display Co. v. Wagener Equities, Inc." on Justia Law
Bridgeview Health Care Ctr., v. Clark
Clark runs Affordable Hearing in Terre Haute, Indiana. In 2006, Clark received calls from a B2B employee, who offered to market Affordable Hearing’s services by faxed advertisements. Clark agreed to try fax-advertising, approved the language of the ad, and verbally instructed B2B to send about 100 faxes to businesses within a 20-mile radius of Terre Haute. He did not know what it cost to send a fax, but thought the quoted $279 was reasonable. Trusting that Melville would send the 100 faxes as authorized, Clark never asked to see the list of fax numbers that B2B was using. Clark did not realize that B2B actually faxed 4,849 ad flyers to businesses across Indiana, Illinois, and Ohio. After Bridgeview received a fax ad outside Chicago, it sued under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, which, unbeknownst to Clark, outlaws unsolicited fax ads. In granting summary judgment for class members located within 20 miles of Terre Haute, the district court gave the statutory penalty of $500 per recipient to 32 recipients within that 20-mile radius--a $16,000 judgment against Clark. The court held that Clark was not liable for the junk faxes sent more than 20 miles from Terre Haute. The Seventh Circuit affirmed class certification and the determinations of liability. View "Bridgeview Health Care Ctr., v. Clark" on Justia Law
Campbell-Ewald v. Gomez
The Navy contracted with Campbell to develop a recruiting campaign that included text messages to young adults who had “opted in” to receipt of solicitations on topics that included Navy service. Campbell’s subcontractor generated a list of cellular phone numbers for consenting 18- to 24-year-olds and transmitted the Navy’s message to more than 100,000 recipients, including Gomez, age 40, who claims that he did not "opt in" and was not in the targeted age group. Gomez filed a class action under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), 47 U.S.C. 227(b)(1)(A)(iii), which prohibits “using any automatic dialing system” to send text messages to cellular telephones, absent prior express consent, and seeking treble statutory damages for a willful violation. Before the deadline for a motion for class certification, Campbell proposed to settle Gomez’s individual claim and filed an FRCP 68 offer of judgment, which Gomez did not accept. The district court granted Campbell summary judgment, finding that Campbell acquired the Navy’s sovereign immunity from suit. The Ninth Circuit reversed, holding that Gomez’s case remained live but that Campbell was not entitled to derivative sovereign immunity. The Supreme Court affirmed. An unaccepted offer of judgment does not moot a case. Campbell’s settlement bid and offer of judgment, once rejected, had no continuing efficacy; the parties remained adverse. A federal contractor may be shielded from liability unless it exceeded its authority or authority was not validly conferred; the Navy authorized Campbell to send text messages only to individuals who had “opted in.” View "Campbell-Ewald v. Gomez" on Justia Law
Chapman v. First Index, Inc.
Chapman, proposed to represent a class, under 47 U.S.C. 227, the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, who received faxes from First Index despite not having given consent. First Index responded that it always had consent, though it may have been verbal (during trade shows or phone conversations). Discovery was conducted and experts’ reports submitted. Chapman asked the judge to certify a class of all persons who had received faxes from First Index since August 2005 (four years before the complaint was filed) without their consent. The court declined, ruling that the difficulty of deciding who had provided oral consent made it infeasible to determine the class. Chapman proposed a different class: All persons whose faxes from First Index either lacked an opt-out notice or contained one of three specific notices that Chapman believes violated FCC regulations. The court declined to certify that class, finding that Chapman had known about the potential notice issue from the outset of the litigation but had made a strategic decision not to pursue it earlier. Changing the focus of the litigation almost five years into the case was impermissible. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the decision not to certify a class, but vacated with respect to Chapman’s personal claim. View "Chapman v. First Index, Inc." on Justia Law
Imhoff Inv., LLC v. Alfoccino, Inc.
Avio claimed that Alfoccino violated the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), 47 U.S.C. 227(b)(1)(C), (b)(3), by hiring B2B to send unsolicited facsimile advertisements to Avio and a class of similarly situated persons. The district court dismissed for lack of Article III standing and found that Avio could not prove Alfoccino was vicariously liable for B2B’s transmission of the faxes. The Sixth Circuit reversed. Avio demonstrated standing. Though the TCPA does not expressly state who has a cause of action to sue under its provisions, its descriptions of prohibited conduct repeatedly refer to the “recipient” of the unsolicited fax, and in enacting the TCPA, Congress noted that such fax advertising “is problematic” because it “shifts some of the costs of advertising from the sender to the recipient” and “occupies the recipient’s facsimile machine so that it is unavailable for legitimate business messages while processing and printing the junk fax.” FCC regulations define “sender” with respect to the TCPA’s prohibition of unsolicited fax advertisements as being “the person or entity on whose behalf a facsimile unsolicited advertisement is sent or whose goods or services are advertised or promoted in the unsolicited advertisement,” indicating that primary, not vicarious liability attaches to Alfoccino. View "Imhoff Inv., LLC v. Alfoccino, Inc." on Justia Law
Golan v. Veritas Entm’t, LLC
In 2012 the Golans received two unsolicited, prerecorded messages on their home phone line. Each message, recorded by Mike Huckabee, stated: "Liberty. This is a public survey call. We may call back later." The Golans had not answered the phone; more than one million people did and received a much longer message. The Golans filed a putative class action, alleging that the phone calls were part of a telemarketing campaign to promote the film, Last Ounce of Courage, in violation of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, 47 U.S.C. 227, and the Missouri Do Not Call Law. The district court dismissed with prejudice, concluding that the Golans did not have standing and were inadequate class representatives, being subject to a "unique defense" because they had heard only the brief message recording on their answering machine. The Eighth Circuit reversed and remanded. The calls were initiated and transmitted in order to promote Last Ounce of Courage and qualified as "telemarketing" even though the messages never referenced the film. Because the purpose of the calls was the critical issue, the Golans were not subject to a unique defense. Nor did they suffer a different injury than class members who heard the entire message. View "Golan v. Veritas Entm't, LLC" on Justia Law
Andermann v. Sprint Spectrum, L.P.
The Andermanns obtained mobile phone service from U.S. Cellular in 2000. Their renewable two-year contract was renewed for the last time in 2012. It included an arbitration clause that “survives the termination of this service agreement” and provided that “U.S. Cellular may assign this Agreement … without notice.” In 2013 U.S. Cellular sold the Andermanns’ contract to Sprint, without notice to the Andermanns. Months later Sprint sent Andermanns a letter, informing them of the sale and that their mobile service would be terminated on January 31, 2014 because Andermanns’ phones were not compatible with Sprint’s network. In December Sprint phoned to remind them that their service was about to expire, and added that Sprint had “a great set of offers and devices available to fit [their] needs.” Sprint made six such calls. Andermanns answered none, but filed a purported class action, contending that the unsolicited advertisements contained in the calls violated the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, 47 U.S.C. 227. Sprint requested arbitration, 9 U.S.C. 4. The district court denied Sprint’s motion. The Seventh Circuit reversed, finding connection to the contract, asking: What would Sprint have done if forbidden to call the customers whom it had inherited from U.S. Cellular and must now terminate because of technical incompatibility? View "Andermann v. Sprint Spectrum, L.P." on Justia Law
Fischer v. Time Warner Cable Inc.
Time Warner Cable buys content from programmers, who require it to offer their channels as part of TW’s enhanced basic cable programming tier. TW paid the Lakers $3 billion for licensing rights to televise Lakers games for 20 years. Subscription rates rose by $5 a month as result. TW paid the Dodgers $8 billion for the licensing rights to televise games for 25 years, raising monthly rates by another $4. Subscribers filed a class action lawsuit, alleging that the arrangement violated the unfair competition law (Bus. & Prof. Code 17200) because: acquisition of licensing rights to the games made TW both programmer and distributor; surveys showed that more than 60 percent of the population would not pay separately to watch the games; there were no valid reasons for bundling sports stations into the enhanced basic cable tier instead of offering them separately; TW expanded the reach of this scheme by selling its rights to the games to other providers, requiring those providers to include the channels as part of their enhanced basic tiers; and the teams knew the increased costs would be passed on to unwilling subscribers and were intended beneficiaries of these arrangements. The court of appeal affirmed dismissal: regulations implementing federal communications statutes expressly preempt the suit. View "Fischer v. Time Warner Cable Inc." on Justia Law