April 02, 2021

SCOTUS agrees with narrow autodialer definition

lawThe U.S. Supreme Court Thursday upheld a narrow interpretation of the definition of an "autodialer," which NAFCU has consistently supported. The association filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court last year arguing against a broad interpretation of an autodialer.

"The Supreme Court's unanimous decision to narrowly interpret autodialers is a win for the credit union industry," said NAFCU President and CEO Dan Berger. "We have long fought for this clarity to ensure credit unions can contact their members with important, time-sensitive financial information without fear of violating the TCPA and facing frivolous lawsuits."

The decision is for a class action lawsuit brought against Facebook that claimed the company's texts to consumers with security notifications violated the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA). The issue the court specifically considered is whether an automatic telephone dialing system (ATDS, or autodialer) "encompasses any device that can store and automatically dial telephone numbers – even if that device cannot store or produce them 'using a random or sequential number generator.'"

"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," the court stated in its unanimous decision. "[The plaintiff'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.' …The TCPA’s liability provisions, then, could affect ordinary cell phone owners in the course of commonplace usage, such as speed dialing or sending automated text message responses."

Lower courts had been split on their interpretation of the definition. In addition, lower courts could wrestle with other autodialer-related issues in the future, including those related to an equipment's present or future capacity to store and automatically dial numbers randomly and sequentially. NAFCU will monitor the legal landscape for cases that could impact credit unions.

NAFCU will continue to support other TCPA reforms to ensure credit unions can effectively communicate with their members. The association is currently engaged with the Federal Communications Commission on call labeling and blocking issues resulting from the implementation of the TRACED Act and STIR/SHAKEN caller identification framework meant to target illegal robocalls.