Supreme Court Resolves Circuit Split On TCPA Autodialer Definition

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On April 1, 2021, the United States Supreme Court issued a long-awaited landmark decision that finally resolves a deep split of authority in the Circuit Courts of Appeal regarding the definition of an "autodialer" under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA). In a unanimous opinion, the justices overturned a Ninth Circuit ruling that broadly defined the type of automatic telephone dialing system (ATDS) prohibited by the TCPA. See Facebook, Inc. v. Duguid, Case No. 19-511 (2021).

While the TCPA defines an ATDS as equipment that "has the capacity to store or produce telephone numbers to be called, using a random or sequential number generator, and to dial such numbers," the Ninth Circuit broadly construed that definition and held that it is enough for a phone to be able to dial stored numbers automatically to qualify as an ATDS under the TCPA -- which definition would encompass the capabilities of most smartphones. Giving rise to a deep split of authority between the Circuit Courts, the Second Circuit and Sixth Circuit agreed with the Ninth Circuit's broad definition while, on the other hand, the Third, Seventh, Eleventh and DC Circuits held that a device is not an ATDS unless it generates and dials random or sequential phone numbers.

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