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FMG Law Blog Line

Breaking – U.S. Supreme Court Narrowly Interprets TCPA Autodialer Definition

Posted on: April 1st, 2021

By: Matt Foree

As we have discussed previously HERE and HERE, the Supreme Court of the United States has been considering an important Telephone Consumer Protection Act (“TCPA”) case concerning the statutory definition of “automatic telephone dialing system” (“ATDS”) in the Facebook v. Duguid case.  Today, the Supreme Court issued its opinion on the matter, resolving the split among the circuit courts in favor of a narrow interpretation of the autodialer definition.  The opinion can be found HERE.

The argument in the case centered around the definition of ATDS, which has created confusion among the courts, resulting in a patchwork of inconsistent decisions throughout the country.  The TCPA defines 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.”  Among other things, the TCPA prohibits using an ATDS to make calls to a cellular telephone without the consent of the called party. Therefore, whether an ATDS was used in making calls can be determinative of liability. 

In this case, Facebook argued that the clause “using a random or sequential number generator” modified both verbs that precede it (“store” and “produce”), while Duguid argued that it modifies only the closest one (“produce”).  After analyzing the issue under conventional rules of grammar, the Supreme Court unanimously concluded “that the clause modifies both, specifying how the equipment must either ‘store’ or ‘produce’ telephone numbers.”  Accordingly, it determined that the ATDS definition requires that “in all cases, whether storing or producing numbers to be called, the equipment in question must use a random or sequential number generator.”  As a consequence, it determined that Facebook’s notification system at issue was not an autodialer because it neither stored nor produced numbers “using a random or sequential number generator.”  

The narrow interpretation of the ATDS definition has significant implications for TCPA litigation.  It is a major win for TCPA defendants.  The practical effect of the decision is a limitation of the type of equipment that will qualify as an autodialer, which will mean fewer lawsuits.  Others will argue that this will result in an increase in robocalls.  It may ultimately mean that it is time for Congress to amend this 1991 statute to bring it into the present.  In the meantime, we are actively monitoring these and other TCPA developments. 

For more information on this topic, please contact Matt Foree at [email protected].

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