Back in Facebook Inc. v. Duguid, 592 U. S. ____ (2021), the U.S. Supreme Court held it to qualify as the”automatic telephone dialing system” under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991 (TCPA), a device should have the capability to shop to create, a phone number with a random or sequential number generator. Under the Court’s narrow interpretation of the robocall prohibit, Facebook did not violate the TCPA when it delivered unsolicited text messages to people without their consent.
Facts of the Case
The Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991 (TCPA) proscribes abusive telemarketing practices by, among other things, limiting certain communications made using an”automatic phone dialing system.” The TCPA defines these”autodialers” as gear with the capacity both”to keep or produce telephone numbers to be called, using a random or sequential number generator,” and also to dial these numbers.
Petitioner Facebook, Inc., keeps a social networking platform that, as a safety feature, enables users to choose to get text messages when someone attempts to log into the consumer’s account in a new browser or device. Facebook sent these texts to Noah Duguid, alerting him to login action on a Facebook account connected to his phone number, but Duguid never created the account (or any account on Facebook). Duguid tried without success to block the unwanted messages, and finally brought a putative class action against Facebook. He alleged that Facebook violated the TCPA by keeping a database that stored telephone numbers and programming its gear to send automated text messages. Facebook cautioned that the TCPA does not apply since the technology it was used to text Duguid did not utilize a”random or sequential number generator.”
It held the §227(a)(1) applies to a notification system like Facebook’s that has the ability to dial automatically saved amounts.
Supreme Court’s Conclusion
Justice Sonia Sotomayor composed on behalf of the Court.
“The issue before the Court is whether that definition encompasses equipment that may’save’ and dial phone numbers, even if the device does not’us[e] a random or sequential number generator.’ It does not,” Justice Sotomayor wrote. “To qualify as an’automatic phone dialing system,’ a device must have the capability to keep a phone number with a random or sequential generator or to create a phone number with a random or sequential number generator.”
In reaching its conclusion, the Court agreed with Facebook that the TCPA clause”with a random or sequential number generator” contrasts both verbs,”store” and”produce.” In service, the Court cited the conventional rules of grammar, especially the”series-qualifier canon,” which instructs that a modifier at the end of a succession of nouns or verbs applies to the entire series. As Justice Sotomayor explained, the canon indicates that the changing phrase”with a random or sequential number generator” qualifies both antecedent verbs,”store” and”produce.” She noted that since the changing term immediately follows a succinct, incorporated clause (“store or produce telephone numbers to be called”), that utilizes the phrase”or” to connect two different verbs that share a common direct object (“phone numbers to be termed”), it could be”odd” to apply the modifier to just one part of the paychecks.
The Court also found that the statutory context supported its interpretation. As Justice Sotomayor explained, Congress found autodialer technology harmful because autodialers could dial emergency lines randomly or join all of the sequentially numbered telephone lines at one entity. Duguid’s interpretation, on the flip side, would encircle any gear that stores and dials phone numbers.
In the end, the Court rejected Duguid’s counterarguments, for example that the TCPA ought to be treated as an”Loaded” instrument which accepting Facebook’s interpretation will unleash a”torrent of robocalls.” Justice Sotomayor wrote:
Duguid greatly overstates the ramifications of accepting Facebook’s interpretation. The statute individually prohibits calls with”an artificial or prerecorded voice” to different types of telephone lines, including home phones and cell phones, unless an exception applies. See 47 U. S. C. §§227(b)(1)(A) and (B ) ). Our decision does not affect that prohibition. In any case, Duguid’s quarrel is with Congress, that did not specify an autodialer as malleably as he would have liked. “Senescent” as a few generator (and possibly the TCPA itself ) might be, that is no justification for eschewing the very best reading of §227(a)(1)(A). This Court must interpret what Congress composed, and that’s that”with a random or sequential number generator” modifies both”store” and”produce.”
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