Federal Court Strikes Down Exemption in TCPA for Government-Backed Debt Calls

The exemption was a 2015 amendment to the TCPA passed in the Bipartisan Budget Act allowing calls with autodialers for certain government-owed debts, such as mortgages or student loans.

4/25/2019 4:00 PM

Federal Court Strikes Down Exemption in TCPA for Government-Backed Debt Calls

On April 24, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ruled an amendment to the Telephone Consumer Protection Act allowing calls with autodialers for government debt is unconstitutional, Bloomberg Law reports.

“The decision marks the first time a court has held that the 2015 amendment to the nearly three-decade-old law violates the First Amendment,” according to the article.

The court’s ruling in American Association of Political Consultants v. FCC comes as ACA International and the accounts receivable management industry await clarity from the Federal Communications Commission on the definition of an automated telephone dialing system (ATDS.)

The FCC is tasked with revisiting the definition of an ATDS following the March 2016 D.C. Circuit Court’s decision in ACA Int’l v. FCC, which struck down the overly broad interpretation of what was considered an autodialer.

According to Politico (a subscription may be required to view this article), “The exemption ... cannot be said to advance the purpose of privacy protection, in that it actually authorizes a broad swath of intrusive calls,” 4th Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Robert King wrote in the ruling.

Further analysis of the court’s ruling from Daniel L. Delnero, senior attorney at Squire Patton Boggs, shows the court rejected an argument in the case that “the government-backed debt exception regulates based on the relationship of the debtor and creditor, not the content of the speech.”

Essentially, the government-backed debt calls and the content of the calls counter privacy interests Congress sought to protect in the TCPA, according to the court’s ruling.

ACA submitted comments supporting the Bipartisan Budget Act, stating, “Congress created an exemption in the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 (“Budget Act”) that exempts calls made solely to collect a debt owed to or guaranteed by the United States from the prior express consent requirement of the TCPA. However, the FCC previously took an extremely narrow reading of this exemption, which deviates significantly from the intent of Congress and the purpose of the exemption.”

ACA International continues seeking TCPA reforms through Congress, the FCC and in its victory in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.

Read more analysis on the court's decision from Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck in "The Fourth Circuit Strikes TCPA Government Debt Collection Exception."

Related Content from ACA International:

Working for You: ACA Calls for FCC to Clarify TCPA As Soon As Possible

Lawmakers Request FCC to Rescind Rule that Excludes Government Contractors from TCPA

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