Passing of Justice Ginsburg and the Future of the TCPA?

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The passing of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg will likely bring with it many shifts in the Court on key issues, among which are matters regarding the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), most imminently –  what qualifies as an auto dialer. The TCPA has been ever evolving in recent years as courts and legislatures attempt to keep pace with changes in technology.

When the TCPA was enacted in 1991, most American consumers were using landline phones, and Congress could not begin to contemplate the evolution of the mobile phone. The TCPA defines “Automatic Telephone Dialing System” (ATDS) as “equipment which has the capacity—(A) to store or produce telephone numbers to be called, using a random or sequential number generator; and (B) to dial such numbers.” 47 U.S.C § 227(a)(1). In 2015, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) issued its 2015 Declaratory Ruling & Order (2015 Order), concerning clarifications on the TCPA for the mobile era, including the definition of ATDS and what devices qualify. The 2015 Order only complicated matters further, providing an expansive interpretation for what constitutes an ATDS, and sparking a surge of TCPA lawsuits in recent years.

This past July the Supreme Court accepted petition for review of a Ninth Circuit ruling on the issue of whether the definition of “ATDS” in the TCPA encompasses any device that can “store” and “automatically dial” telephone numbers, even if the device does not “us[e] a random or sequential number generator.” The Supreme Court’s decision should help resolve the circuit split and provide greater clarity and certainty for parties facing TCPA class action litigation.

President Trump’s recent nomination of Seventh Circuit judge Amy Coney Barrett could be particularly impactful on the issue of defining ATDS under the TCPA.  In February of this year, Judge Barrett