Can I still bring a TCPA claim if harassing calls to my cell phone didn’t cost me anything out of pocket?
Cell phone harassment is a hot topic in consumer protection law and the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, or TCPA for short, is one of the hottest topics. More and more litigation has started to surround the TCPA; the Supreme Court of the United States has even gotten involved! But let’s take a step back and consider: where does the TCPA come from? What is the TCPA? And what did the Supreme Court say about it?
Where did the TCPA come from? The TCPA is a law that is interpreted by the FCC. The FCC (Federal Communications Commission) is overseen by Congress. This means that the FCC has the law-making power of Congress. Specifically, it’s the FCC’s job to regulate communications throughout the entire United States that occur by radio, television, wire, satellite, and cable. As a part of its job, the FCC is the primary authority for communications laws and regulations. So, in the context of laws like the TCPA, what the FCC says, goes. And the FCC says that consumers have statutory rights under the TCPA.
Which brings us to our next question: what is the TCPA? The TCPA is a statute that prohibits companies from making non-emergency telephone calls to a person’s cell phone number without that person’s consent, which is commonly known as “robo calls.” You have probably heard that a person may get up to $1,500 per phone call that’s in violation of the TCPA. This may sound simple, but it’s not; there are numerous factors considered in a TCPA claim, all of which cannot be explained in this one article. Instead, this article will focus on one factor—whether a consumer even has the right to bring a TCPA claim against a company if that consumer received harassing calls, but did not suffer actual, monetary losses.
An example of actual, monetary losses would be when you’re in a car accident and your car has $1,000 in damage—you have a bill that shows how much money you lost because someone hit your car. Now you can sue the person that hit your car to get your $1,000 in actual, monetary losses back. However, unlike a suit involving a car accident, many people do not have actual, monetary losses in a TCPA case. Lucky for you, this article explains that a consumer may still have a claim under the TCPA against companies that place harassing calls even without these actual, monetary losses.
What does the Supreme Court have to say about TCPA claim legitimacy without actual, monetary damages? In its Spokeo, Inc. v. Robins opinion from May 16, 2016, the Supreme Court tackled the issue of whether a person may still sue under consumer protection statutes when that person does not have actual, monetary losses. The Court ruled in consumers’ favor, holding that a person can sue under consumer protection statutes (like the TCPA) without actual, monetary losses, reasoning that a person still suffers damage when a company violates their statutory right. Broken down, this means that a consumer has rights under the TCPA—including the right to not be contacted on their cell phone without permission—and they may sue when that right is violated without suffering any actual, monetary losses.
The Supreme Court’s ruling is important because it has already been analyzed by two lower courts whose decisions apply to individuals in the Tampa Bay area: the Middle District of Florida and the Eleventh Circuit. The Middle District of Florida, in its Prindle v. Carrington Mortgage Services, LLC opinion from August 16, 2016, held that Congress and its Commissions (like the FCC) have the power to enact statutes to create individual rights and a violation of those rights is sufficient to support a lawsuit. Similarly, in its Church v. Accretive Health, Inc. opinion from July 6, 2016, the Eleventh Circuit held that a person who claims they suffered an injury to a statutorily-created right can bring a lawsuit for violation of that right. Both of these opinions, along with a handful more that have been issued by the Middle District and Eleventh Circuit, are in line with the Supreme Court’s rule—a person whose statutory right is violated can bring a lawsuit against the company that violates their right.
In the end, it is important to have a lawyer that keeps up with these constantly changing rules and knows how to make sure your rights are vindicated after they’re violated. If you have companies calling you after you tell them to stop, please be sure to contact us so we can make sure your claims align with all the recent consumer protection laws and that your rights are protected.