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By: Matt Foree
The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit recently affirmed a judgment based on a jury verdict of over $61 million for illegal telemarketing calls made under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (“TCPA”). As a matter of background, plaintiff Thomas Krakauer brought the TCPA lawsuit against Dish Network, L.L.C. (“Dish”) after he received telemarketing calls from Dish’s third-party contractor, Satellite Systems Network (“SSN”), which made calls on its behalf, despite the fact that Krakauer had listed his telephone number on the national Do Not Call registry. The TCPA provides for a private right of action to those who have received more than one telephone solicitation within any 12-month period to a number listed on the Do Not Call registry without consent or an established business relationship. The TCPA provides for statutory damages of $500 per violation, which can be trebled to $1500 per violation for willful or knowing violations.
In 2015, Krakauer filed a class action lawsuit in the District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina. The District Court certified the class and the case went to a jury trial. The jury awarded $400 per call as damages and found that the calls were willful, thereby trebling the damages, which resulted in an over $61 million jury verdict.
Dish appealed the judgment on several bases. When it challenged the standing of some of the class members, the Fourth Circuit made quick work of that argument, relying on the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent Spokeo, Inc. v. Robins decision to find that standing existed. In so holding, the court underscored the legal traditions recognizing intrusions upon personal privacy. Dish also challenged class certification. Noting that Dish’s core argument seemed to be that the class included a large number of uninjured persons, the Fourth Circuit upheld class certification, finding that the class certified by the District Court easily met the demands of Rule 23.
Finally, Dish argued that it was not liable for SSN’s conduct and that the violations were not knowing or willful to permit treble damages. The court found that considerable evidence supported an agency relationship between Dish and SSN. Among other things, the court referred to the provisions of the parties’ contract giving Dish broad authority over SSN’s business and the fact that Dish authorized SSN to use its name and logo during its operations. Finally, the court found that the willful or knowing standard was met, thereby upholding the judgment.
Throughout the Fourth Circuit’s opinion, the court made several charitable statements about the TCPA, suggesting that the statute is straightforward and easy to apply. It also described the appropriateness of TCPA claims for class certification. In sum, this case provides a case study of many of the landmines confronted by TCPA defendants, including potentially devastating statutory damages, class certification, and vicarious liability issues. This case is just the latest reminder that those operating in this space would do well to ensure strict compliance with the TCPA to avoid a similar fate.
If you have questions or would like more information, please contact Matt Foree at [email protected].