On September 10, Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers entered a $267 million judgment against a debt collection agency that made more than 534,000 telephone calls in violation of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act. The judgment ended three years of class action litigation after plaintiff Ignacio Perez and two others alleged that defendant Rash Curtis & Associates called their cellular telephones using automatic telephone dialing systems and without the plaintiffs’ prior consent.
In September 2017, Judge Rogers granted the plaintiffs’ motion to certify four separate classes. Two of the classes included individuals who received a call or a prerecorded message from Rash Curtis after the debt collector used “skip tracing” to obtain their phone numbers – a method that scours public and private databases to find contact information for debtors. Two other classes included “wrong number” calls, where Rash Curtis called individuals who did not have an account with the company.
The matter proceeded to trial after the Court granted in part and denied in part the parties’ respective motions for summary judgment, finding that the defendant’s telephony constituted an ATDS as defined by the TCPA. The jury returned a unanimous verdict for the plaintiffs in May of 2019, finding that Rash Curtis violated the TCPA by placing 534,000 calls to the class plaintiffs. Judge Rogers confirmed the verdict on September 9 and awarded each member of the class the statutory penalty of $500 per call received. The Court’s award of statutory damages arguably conflicts with a recent decision from the Eighth Circuit, where the Court of Appeals affirmed a district court’s reduction of statutory damages under the TCPA to $10 per call.
The news is not all bad for Rash Curtis, however, as the plaintiffs notified the Court that they do not intend to seek treble damages. At $1,500 per call, the debt collector could have been on the hook for more than $800 million.
As we have previously reported, a number of decisions at the district court level are limiting the reach of the statute, but juries continue to pile up significant TCPA verdicts without any clarity from the Federal Communications Commission in sight. The TCPA remains in chaos while the industry waits for the FCC to step into the void.