The U.S. Supreme Court has granted a petition by a healthcare company to consider whether courts must give deference to the FCC’s legal interpretation of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act.
The dispute in this case arises from an unsolicited fax transmission received by Carlton & Harris Chiropractic, which offered a free e-book. The company filed a complaint against the sender of the fax, PDR Network, LLC, alleging violation of the TCPA, which generally prohibits the use of a fax machine to send “unsolicited advertisements.” 47 U.S.C. § 277(b)(1)(C). The appeal seeks to resolve a circuit split regarding the interplay between the Hobbs Act, also known as the Administrative Orders Review Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2342, and the Supreme Court’s seminal decision in Chevron USA, Inc. v. Nat. Res. Def. Council, Inc., 467 U.S. 837 (1984).
The Federal Communications Commission, which has been tasked by Congress to implement the TCPA, issued a Final Rule determining that faxes that “promote goods and services even at no cost” are considered to be “unsolicited advertisements.” The Hobbs Act bars challenges to the validity of certain agency orders, while allowing for judicial review of the applicability of such orders to the facts and circumstances of a particular case. On the other hand, under the Chevron doctrine, courts owe no deference to an agency’s interpretation of the law unless, after utilizing the tools of statutory construction, they are unable to discern Congress’s meaning.
The Fourth Circuit ruled that the Hobbs Act required the district court to follow the FCC’s interpretation of the TCPA, pursuant to which the fax offering a free product was deemed an advertisement. In its petition, counsel for PDR wrote that “the Fourth Circuit’s jurisdiction-stripping ruling would elevate those agencies identified in the Hobbs Act above even the judiciary[,] empowering agency orders to trump the courts’ fundamental ‘province and duty’ to interpret the law.” This appeal is significant because it seeks to resolve the respective powers of the courts and administrative agencies in interpreting the law.