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Carefully Examine those TCPA Complaints!

Last month, in Woodard v. Health Insurance Alliance (“HIA”), a judge for the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Illinois issued a useful decision for defendants, dismissing Plaintiff’s Telephone Consumer Protection Act (“TCPA”) complaint for failure to state a claim. Plaintiff sued HIA for allegedly calling her twice without consent. In her TCPA complaint, Plaintiff alleged that these telemarketing calls violated both the TCPA and the Florida Telephone Solicitation Act (“FTSA”). The TCPA is a federal statute that restricts certain types of telemarketing communications. The FTSA, colloquially known as a “Mini-TCPA,” is Florida’s own set of telemarketing laws designed to regulate the delivery of intrastate telemarketing communications. Every day, numerous complaints under the TCPA and/or its state analogs are filed across the country. The Woodard decision is notable because it highlights the importance of scrutinizing the facts as plead in a TCPA complaint.

The Alleged Facts in the Woodard TCPA Complaint

HIA is a Florida-based company that sells health insurance. Plaintiff’s TCPA complaint states that, on at least two occasions, she received telemarketing calls promoting HIA’s health insurance services. Plaintiff alleged that her cellular telephone number was listed on the National Do-Not-Call Registry (“NDNC”) for roughly a year and a half prior to the calls at issue. Plaintiff also alleges that HIA placed the subject telemarketing calls using an “automated system” for the selection or dialing of telephone numbers. As our readers are aware, these allegations are contained in many TCPA litigation complaints, and are standard recitations of the actionable portions of the statutory language.

This TCPA complaint was peculiar, however, because Plaintiff first alleged that both calls were placed by HIA, but then claimed that one call was actually placed by a third party a few paragraphs later. Largely based upon this inconsistency, HIA filed a motion to dismiss.

The Woodard Decision

The Court ruled in favor of HIA and dismissed the Woodard TCPA complaint for two main reasons:

The “most immediate problem” was that Plaintiff contradicted herself by “alleg[ing] that HIA called her on March 13 in the same breath that she allege[d] a third party called her on March 1.” As the Court noted, contradictory statements hold no weight in federal courts. In order for Plaintiff to plausibly state a claim under either the TCPA or FTSA, her allegations must be based upon facts. It remains unclear as to which party placed the subject telemarketing calls. But because Plaintiff’s facts contradicted each other, she could not reasonably establish that HIA was responsible for them.

Plaintiff attempted to attribute a third party’s calls to HIA without directly stating how the third party and HIA were connected. In the absence of independent evidence, such as a contract between the two parties, the Court determined that Plaintiff had not established a formal relationship between HIA and the third party caller and, as such, ruled that the TCPA complaint failed to establish a principal-agent theory of liability against HIA.

To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must “provide enough factual information to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” A claim is facially plausible when the plaintiff pleads facts that allow a court to infer that a defendant is liable for the alleged violative conduct. TCPA complaints are often a mix of recitations of the statute’s actionable provisions and basic facts that barely meet this standard. In the Woodard proceeding, even those basic facts created a contradiction that the Court could not overlook, resulting in dismissal of the action.

Hire Experienced Attorneys to Carefully Examine TCPA Complaints

Numerous TCPA complaints are filed every day. Rulings, such as Woodard, serve as a reminder that the specificity of pleadings should not be overlooked by defendants. Operative facts need to be carefully examined, along with legal precedent that is in a constant state of flux. Businesses should hire experienced TCPA attorneys who stay up to date with constantly evolving case law and regulatory changes. Seasoned TCPA attorneys can help to ensure telemarketing law compliance and also explore all avenues to a successful litigation defense.

If you require assistance with telemarketing compliance or related litigation defense, please email us at info@kleinmoynihan.com or call us at (212) 246-0900.

The material contained herein is provided for information purposes only and is not legal advice, nor is it a substitute for obtaining legal advice from an attorney. Each situation is unique, and you should not act or rely on any information contained herein without seeking the advice of an experienced attorney.

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David Klein

David Klein is one of the most recognized attorneys in the technology, Internet marketing, sweepstakes, and telecommunications fields. Skilled at counseling clients on a broad range of technology-related matters, David Klein has substantial experience in negotiating and drafting complex licensing, marketing and Internet agreements.

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