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In Huge Victory for Businesses, Supreme Court Adopts Narrow Interpretation of Autodialer Under TCPA

Litigation & Dispute Resolution Alert Jacob Bradley, Gregory T. Everts, Zac Foster, John M. O'Neal

It’s no joke, on April 1, 2021, the Supreme Court of the United States issued its long-awaited opinion in Facebook v. Duguid. And the result is great news for companies that use dialing technology to place calls or send text messages. The Court unanimously held that the definition of Automatic Telephone Dialing System (autodialer) 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. No random or sequential number generator; no autodialer.

The Court rejected the broad interpretation of autodialer adopted by the Ninth, Sixth, and Second Circuits, ruling it is not enough that the system can store and call numbers from a set list. After all, the Court explained, such a construction could potentially impose Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) liability on users of virtually all modern cell phones. Instead, unless the system stores or produces numbers “using a random or sequential number generator,” it is not an autodialer.

The Court’s analysis relied upon grammatical rules, including the series-qualifier canon. That canon provides that the modifier at the end of a list of nouns or verbs in a series “normally applies to the entire series.” Applying that canon to the TCPA, the Court found the phrase “using a random or sequential number generator” modified both verbs “store” and “produce.” That is the most natural construction of the provision, one that is confirmed by the statutory context.

Because the parties did not dispute that the TCPA’s prohibition also extends to text messages, the Court assumed it does without addressing the issue. The opinion also leaves untouched the TCPA’s prohibition against using “artificial or prerecorded voice” calls, irrespective of the type of technology used to place such calls.

The opinion is available here.

Today’s ruling will significantly curtail TCPA litigation moving forward (at least where companies are not using prerecorded messages). Please contact the Quarles & Brady TCPA team to discuss the impact of today’s ruling on pending TCPA cases.