Federal court says FCC definition of automatic telephone dialing systems applies in debt collector suit

By Elizabeth Alt | May 23, 2018

MIAMI – The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida issued a ruling that the FCC definition of automatic telephone dialing systems are binding in district courts in a woman's case alleging a debt collector violated the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) by calling her cellphone without consent.

MIAMI – The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida issued a ruling that the FCC definition of automatic telephone dialing systems are binding in district courts in a woman's case alleging a debt collector violated the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) by calling her cellphone without consent. 

U.S. Magistrate Judge Jonathan Goodman wrote the court order on May 14 to grant in part a woman’s class action suit against a debt collector for TCPA violations.

Estrellita Reyes sued BCA Financial Services Inc., a debt collector for health care agencies. Reyes contends that she and a class of other plaintiffs received phone calls from BCA that violate the Telephone Consumer Protection Act by using an “automatic telephone dialing system” (ATDS) without prior consent or emergency. Reyes’ cellphone was called six times by BCA, but she was not the intended customer. BCA called using Noble system's predictive dialer. On the sixth call, Reyes answered to an automated voice prompting her to press 2 if the number was incorrect. After pressing 2 to indicate a wrong number, Reyes was not called again. Reyes’ complaint alleged eight violations of the TCPA and requested $1,500 for each violation.

BCA Financial filed a motion to dismiss Reyes’ case, arguing that the Noble system “cannot generate random or sequential phone numbers and is therefore not an ATDS.” Reyes countered their argument by pointing to FCC definitions of an ATDS and stating that whether the Noble system has or does not have the ability to call people at random is inconsequential.

BCA claimed that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit (D.C. Circuit) had not “conclusively determined whether a predictive dialer satisfied the TCPA’s definition of an ATDS” in ACA International v. Federal Communications Commission so summary judgement should be denied.

Goodman noted that although there is a “split authority on this issue” after the D.C. Circuit ruling in ACA International v. Federal Communications Commission set aside part of 2015 FCC orders on the TCPA, “The court finds that the prior FCC orders are still binding. Therefore, the ACA International case does not change the court’s conclusion on the ATDS issue.”

Goodman stated that the Noble dialer is an ATDS, noting that “BCA Financial admits that the Noble dialer, as defendant uses it, automatically dials telephone numbers without human intervention. … In this case, it is undisputed that the Noble dialing system is a predictive dialer.”

The order stated that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit has held that the FCC orders that define an ATDS under the TCPA as “any equipment that has the specified capacity to generate numbers and dial them without human intervention regardless of whether the numbers called are randomly or sequentially generated or come from calling lists” are binding.

The order granted summary judgement to Reyes on the ATDS issue but denied judgement on treble damages and BCA’s use of artificial or prerecorded voice issues, noting that “the evidence does not unequivocally show that BCA willfully or knowingly violated the TCPA as a matter of law.”

U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, Miami Division, Case Number 16-24077-CIV-GOODMAN

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