The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) unanimously decided that an “automatic telephone dialing system” as defined under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) should have a narrow definition. This ruling was a win for Facebook, who challenged a Ninth Circuit interpretation of the term. According to the Ninth Circuit, the term included any device that stored and automatically dialed numbers. This led to an extension to include devices that did not use a random number generator. With this interpretation, the court held that Facebook was in violation of the TCPA when it sent out unwanted text messages.
Back up a bit — why was Facebook sending text messages?
The case began when an individual, Noah Duguid, sued Facebook for sending text messages. The text messages were a triggered alert notifying Duguid that another user was attempting to log on to his account. Duguid was annoyed and filed suit because he did not have a Facebook account and never gave the group permission to use his number.
So what does this holding mean?
It signals a win for businesses because SCOTUS essentially took some of the teeth out of the TCPA when it narrowed the meaning of an “automatic telephone dialing system.”
Although this can help businesses, business leaders are wise to continue to review their marketing policies and tread forward carefully. The justices noted that the argument is one to take up with Congress, not the court. As a result, there is the likelihood of future legislation that provide additional restrictions to marketing practices. There is also the issue of the reach of other provisions within the TCPA as well as the potential for state law claims.