ACA International’s Industry Advancement Fund supports district court’s narrow interpretation of the statutory definition of an autodialer in Seventh Circuit appeal. Editor’s note: This content is available to members only.
The Industry Advancement Fund has had many opportunities this year to provide support—financially and as a “friend of the court”—in matters and on issues that have significant impact industry-wide. And, it’s only August. Most recently, funds from ACA International’s program helped provide amicus support in a Seventh Circuit appeal—the outcome of which will likely reverberate around the country.
In Gadelhak v. AT&T Services, Inc., the plaintiff, on behalf of a nationwide class, sued AT&T alleging that AT&T violated the Telephone Consumer Protection Act by using an autodialer to request that customers respond to customer-service related surveys via text message.
The parties cross-moved for summary judgment disagreeing over the proper definition of the statutory term “automated telephone dialing system.” This age-old disagreement has caused heartburn for businesses dependent on phone calls, like many ACA members, while creating an opportunity for consumer attorneys seeking a revenue stream.
The district court in Gadelhak granted AT&T’s motion and denied Gadelhak’s motion. In its memorandum and opinion, the district court rejected Gadelhak’s broad interpretation of an “automated telephone dialing system” concluding that predictive-dialing devices that lack the capacity to generate numbers either randomly or sequentially, and instead only dial numbers from a predetermined list, do not meet the statutory definition of ATDS. In doing so, the district court for the Northern District of Illinois expressly disagreed with the Ninth Circuit’s 2018 decision in Marks v. Crunch San Diego, LLC. Gadelhak appealed.
In its amicus brief, ACA points out that this case is not about telemarketing, the pain point that precipitated action from Congress and ultimately gave us the TCPA. ACA makes the distinction between the telemarketer that relies on random or sequential phone numbers in hopes that anyone will answer the phone with list-based callers who are looking for a specific person for a specific purpose. Further, ACA points out the absurdity of interpreting a section of the TCPA, with potential significant liability if violated, so broadly to encompass everyday American’s smart phones. Gadelhak rallied his own amicus support from the Electronic Privacy Information Center and National Consumer Law Center.
If the Seventh Circuit affirms the district court’s decision, there will be a true circuit split on what qualifies as an “automated telephone dialing system” pursuant to the statutory definition and paving the way for a review by the U.S. Supreme Court. Meanwhile, the Stopping Bad Robocalls Act (H.R. 3375) includes language directing the Federal Communications Commission to define an autodialer within six months and were Congress able to reconcile that Act with the TRACED Act (S. 151) in the U.S. Senate. In any event, this is a case with industry-wide significance and one to monitor.
Visit the Industry Advancement Fund website for more news and articles on cases supported by the program as well as daily case summaries.