A California district court issued a ruling in a debt collection-related Telephone Consumer Protection Act case that clarifies whether a debtor with multiple accounts revokes consent for all of those accounts when speaking to a creditor or collector about just one of the accounts.

The case, Henry Mendoza v. Allied Interstate LLC, et al., No. SACV 17-885 JVS, (C.D. Cal. Oct. 22, 2019), involves a plaintiff who racked up debt on multiple accounts with one bank. At issue in this case is two separate JC Penney credit card accounts. It was not disputed that Mendoza provided his phone number and consented to be called when the JC Penney accounts were opened.

But, the dispute in the case stems from two phone conversations Mendoza had with the bank regarding accounts with other retailers. Mendoza argued that he effectively revoked consent when he answered a collection call from the bank and told them that he no longer wanted to be called on his cell phone. According to his motion for summary judgment, the bank called back later that same day and he answered that call and revoked consent for a second time.

The bank later sent both of the JC Penney accounts to Allied Interstate for collections. When Allied called Mendoza regarding the JC Penney accounts, he sued, alleging that Allied did not have consent to call him. He argued that the revocation of consent during the calls regarding the other retail accounts also applied to the JC Penney accounts since the accounts were with the same bank.

In ruling on cross-motions for summary judgment, the Court relied on the recordings of the two telephone conversations where Mendoza allegedly revoked consent. Again, those phone calls were placed by Allied in pursuit of debt related to other retailers. The fact that JC Penney accounts were not mentioned at all during those phone calls led to the Court’s conclusion that Mendoza’s revocation was necessarily limited to the accounts discussed during those calls and that the revocation did not apply to the JC Penney accounts. The Court granted Allied’s motion in part, and denied Mendoza’s motion altogether.

Interestingly, the Court ruled in favor of the defendant collector even though the bank’s notes showed that a revocation took place and that the plaintiff should only be called manually under the bank’s policies and procedures. The Court considered the issue and found it irrelevant because the key evidence was the request not to be called and, as noted above, that request took place during calls that did not involve the JC Penney accounts. The Court cited Van Patten v. Vertical Fitness Grp., LLC when it reiterated that “the scope of a consumer’s consent depends on the transactional context in which it is given.”

In its ruling, the Court also distinguished an earlier ruling in a similar case, Jara v. GC Services Limited Partnership., No 2:17-cv-04598 (C.D. Cal. May 17, 2018). In that case, the Court found that the plaintiff’s directive to stop calls “about my debts” and “about my accounts” was specific enough to revoke consent for all of her accounts. The reference to “debts” and “accounts” (plural) was a significant determining factor in that decision, as was the absence of something similar in the Mendoza case.

The takeaway here is that the specific language used to revoke consent and the context in which it is given matters. Companies must take measures to record calls and must be meticulous with account notes to ensure that the nuances of its customers’ directives are accurately captured. A consumer’s mere mention of another account (or cell phone number for that matter) could be the difference between compliance and non-compliance, which could result in costly litigation.