The Supreme Court today issued its ruling in Facebook v. Duguid, reversing and remanding the case back to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. The Court, in an unanimous opinion, held that an automated telephone dialing service as defined in the Telephone Consumer Protection Act must be that has “the capacity either to store a telephone number using a random or sequential generator or to produce a telephone number using a random or sequential number generator.”
A copy of the ruling can be accessed by clicking here.
The case centered on whether the phrase “using a random or sequential number generator” modified both “store” and “produce” in the way it was written in the TCPA. Section 227(a)(1) of the TCPA defines an ATDS as “equipment which has the capacity—
(A) to store or produce telephone numbers to be called, using a random or sequential number generator; and
(B) to dial such numbers.”
In the opinion, written by Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the Supreme Court found that clause modifies both verbs, and that because Facebook’s system neither stored nor produced numbers using a random or sequential number generator, it did not meet the definition of an autodialer.
“In sum, Congress’ definition of an 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,” Justice Sotomayor wrote.
Duguid sued Facebook after he received text messages regarding suspicious attempts to access his account with the social media giant. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against Facebook, largely using the definition of an ATDS that it set in Marks v. Crunch San Diego. Under that definition, an ATDS is any device that has the capacity to store numbers to be called, which the groups argue “significantly alters congressional language” of the TCPA.
The Ninth Circuit — followed later by the Second Circuit — ruled that an ATDS is defined as technology that has “the “capacity . . . to store or produce telephone numbers to be called, using a random or sequential number generator.”
But other Appeals Courts — the Third, Seventh, and Eleventh — have issued opposite rulings, determining that technology that does not have the capacity to generate random or sequential numbers does not meet the definition of an automated telephone dialing system under the TCPA, which set up the Supreme Court hearing arguments on the matter.
The Supreme Court identified that Duguid’s interpretation of the ATDS definition, along with that of the Ninth and Sixth Circuits could turn any ordinary cell phone into an autodialer.
“Expanding the definition of an autodialer to encompass any equipment that merely stores and dials telephone numbers would take a chainsaw to these nuanced problems when Congress meant to use a scalpel,” Justice Sotomayor wrote. “Duguid’s interpretation of an autodialer would capture virtually all modern cell phones, which have the capacity to ‘store . . . telephone numbers to be called’ and ‘dial such numbers.’ “