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Supreme Court Grants Request from Federal Gov’t to Participate in TCPA Case Arguments

The Supreme Court has granted a request from the Solicitor General’s office to participate in oral arguments later this month when it hears a Telephone Consumer Protection Act case that seeks to answer whether courts have a requirement to accept how a regulator interprets a statute.

Arguments in the case of PDR Network v. Carlton & Harris Chiropractic are scheduled to be heard before the Supreme Court on March 25.

The case involves an unsolicited fax that was sent to the plaintiff by the defendant offering a free reference guide. The issue is whether something that is being given away still counts as a solicitation under the TCPA, based on a 2006 ruling from the Federal Communications Commission.

A District Court sided with the sender of the fax and dismissed the case, but the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the decision, which was appealed to the Supreme Court.

A federal law — the Hobbs Act — provides a mechanism for judicial review of certain orders from federal regulators. In agreeing to hear arguments on the case, the Supreme Court is seeking to answer one question: Whether the Hobbs Act required the District Court to accept the FCC’s legal interpretation of the TCPA.

The Solicitor General’s office sought — and was granted — 15 minutes of the time allocated to the respondent to make its case why challenging the Hobbs Act “undermines the interest of the United States.”

“In the TCPA context, the Hobbs Act ensures that businesses engaged in telemarketing can avoid liability in private TCPA suits by relying on safe harbors de- fined by the FCC,” the government wrote in its amicus brief. “Under petitioners’ narrow conception of the Hobbs Act’s exclusive-jurisdiction provision, however, a plaintiff in private TCPA litigation could likewise collaterally attack a prior FCC order that found the defendant’s conduct to be lawful, urging the court to find the order invalid and to impose liability on the defendant. The Hobbs Act framework, and the reliance interests it serves, would be severely undermined if private parties could challenge the validity of covered orders in myriad courts, after the period for Hobbs Act challenge had passed.”

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