A Pennsylvania federal judge has brought clarity around the issue of text messages, automatic telephone dialing systems, and the Telephone Communications Protection Act (TCPA).
On March 20, District Judge Michael M. Baylson granted summary judgment to Yahoo, saying a plaintiff failed to prove that Yahoo’s text messages fit the law’s definition of computerized, unsolicited phone calls.
The judge dismissed the class action against Yahoo Inc. because the plaintiff did not show that Yahoo’s opt-in text service qualified as an automatic telephone dialing system (ATDS).
“(The plaintiff) has not offered any evidence to show that Yahoo’s system had the capacity to randomly or sequentially generate telephone numbers … as required by the statutory definition of ATDS,” Judge Baylson said.
Because Yahoo’s service was not an ATDS, Judge Baylson said he did not have to consider whether the messages could be considered advertisements or marketing messages.
Judge Baylson said that the arguments did not get “at the crux of the issue,” which was whether the system had the capacity to “use a random or sequential number generator to store or produce telephone numbers and then send a text message to those numbers.”
The upshot of the ruling is that the FCC can’t impose its interpretation of an ATDS because, according to the judge, the law is clear and unambiguous.
The plaintiff filed the suit after he bought a mobile phone with a recycled number and began receiving texts from Yahoo alerting him to new email messages, even though he did not have an account, his complaint alleged. The previous owner of the phone number had apparently signed up for a Yahoo Mail service that allowed a user to receive SMS alerts.
The case was Dominguez v. Yahoo Inc., case number 2:13-cv-01887, in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.
As you may recall, TCPA was in the news last fall when new TCPA rules from the Federal Communications Commission went into effect regarding the requirements for prior written consent necessary to send text marketing messages. The changes affected those using an automated telephone dialing system.
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