October 21, 2020 Feature

Courts Answer Call to Interpret TCPA's Autodialer Provision: But a Circuit Split Leaves a Mixed Message

Seventh Circuit adds to split over "automatic telephone dialing system" meaning

By Onika K. Williams

Receiving unwanted automated text messages can constitute a concrete injury for standing to sue under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), but a violation does not occur unless the equipment that sends the text messages actually violates the statute, according to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. In Gadelhak v. AT&T Services, Inc., the Seventh Circuit is another appellate court to weigh in on (1) standing to sue under the TCPA and (2) what equipment qualifies as an “automatic telephone dialing system,” or autodialer, in violation of the TCPA. Gadelhak adds to existing circuit splits regarding standing and autodialer interpretation under the TCPA. ABA Section of Litigation leaders suggest that the TCPA standing and interpretation issues are now ripe for U.S. Supreme Court review.

What constitutes an "autodialer"?

What constitutes an "autodialer"?

Credit: Photo Illustration by Elmarie Jara | Getty Images

Five Unwanted Text Messages Lead to Class Action

The conflict in Gadelhak began when Ali Gadelhak received five text messages from AT&T asking him to complete survey questions in Spanish. AT&T uses a device called “Customer Rules Feedback Tool” to send surveys to customers who have interacted with its customer service representatives. Gadelhak was not an AT&T customer and did not speak Spanish. Annoyed by the text messages, Gadelhak filed a putative class action suit against AT&T for violating the TCPA, which Congress enacted in 1991 to restrict, with some exceptions, telemarketing calls, use of an “automatic telephone dialing system,” and artificial or prerecorded voice messages.

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