On September 29, the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois preliminarily approved a $76 million Telephone Consumer Protection Act class action against several cruise marketing companies in Birchmeier v. Caribbean Cruise Line, Inc. 

According to the class action complaint that was filed more than four years ago, a telemarketing company, ESG and its related entities, placed prerecorded voice calls to class members’ cellular and landline telephones to seek business for defendants Caribbean Cruise Line, Inc.; Vacation Ownership Marketing Tours, Inc.; and Berkley Group, Inc.  After certifying two classes, the Court granted partial summary judgment to the plaintiffs, holding that the calls made by ESG to consumers’ cell phones violated the TCPA.  One of the only issues left for trial was whether the defendants would be held vicariously liable for the calls placed on their behalf.  As the parties were preparing for trial, the defendants moved for summary judgment and to decertify the class based on the Supreme Court’s decision in Spokeo.  The Court denied both motions and the parties subsequently settled. 

The settlement agreement provides for two classes – one for individuals that received cellular phone calls and another for those who received landline calls – who received calls made by or on behalf of the defendants from August 2011 to August 2012.  Each class member who submits a valid claim will be entitled to $500 per call unless the $76 million ceiling is reached.  If it is, then class members will receive a pro rata share of the fund based on the number of calls they received.  Such relief, commented the parties, is almost unprecedented. 

The Birchmeier settlement is one of the largest settlements in TCPA history, and it illustrates the importance of not only ensuring your company’s compliance with TCPA requirements, but also keeping a close eye on any third party vendors who are acting on your behalf.