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Appeals Court Rules Lower Courts Must Follow FCC’s Interpretation of TCPA

The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals has reversed a lower court ruling and said that District Courts must follow how the Federal Communications Commission interprets the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, and that they do not have the jurisdiction to determine whether to follow the FCC’s interpretation or not.

The case involved a medical organization which filed a class action suit against a company for sending it a solicitation for a free e-book via fax. The organization viewed the fax as a violation of the TCPA and filed suit.

A District Court judge ruled that the Hobbs Act “did not compel the district court to defer to the FCC’s interpretation of the TCPA,” and dismissed the suit, after the defendant argued that the fax was not a violation of the TCPA because it should not be considered an unsolicited advertisement because the offer was for a free e-book and was not trying to sell anything.

The Fourth Circuit, in a split decision, ruled that the Hobbs Act requires lower courts to defer to how federal agencies apply federal laws, including the TCPA.

From Christine Reilly and Olivia Hardinge of Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, LLP:

Here, the Fourth Circuit reasserted, in accordance with all other circuits that had considered the issue to date, that courts “must follow the guideposts that Congress has set out.” The Hobbs Act dictates that courts must apply the 2006 FCC rule in interpreting the TCPA, and that rule, in turn, tells courts what constitutes an “advertisement” within the meaning of the statute. In short, the district court is “without jurisdiction” to consider whether or not to apply the FCC’s interpretation of the TCPA.

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