Supreme Court Dials Back Broad Definition of “Autodialer”

Published: Apr. 15, 2021

The Supreme Court’s April 2021 decision in Facebook, Inc. v. Duguid struck down a broad reading of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (“TCPA”) that had created a flood of litigation over the past several years. The Court ruled that to be an “autodialer” under the TCPA, and thus to require consent for use in initiating most kinds of calls and text messages, a communication system must have “the capacity to use a random or sequential number generator to either store or produce phone numbers to be called” (or texted). This is a significantly narrower reading than what had been embraced by some courts.

The central issue in Duguid was whether Facebook’s security text messages, which alert a Facebook user when someone tries to log in to their account, violated the TCPA if sent without sufficient consent. Facebook argued that the plaintiff failed to allege that Facebook used an autodialer to send these messages because the plaintiff did not claim that Facebook sent text messages to numbers that were randomly or sequentially generated. Instead, Facebook argued, the plaintiff alleged that Facebook sent targeted, individualized texts to numbers linked to specific accounts. The district court agreed and dismissed the case, but the Ninth Circuit disagreed. Applying its broad reading of the TCPA, the Ninth Circuit held that the plaintiff had sufficiently alleged that Facebook used an autodialer by alleging that Facebook’s system could store phone numbers and dial/text them automatically.

The Supreme Court unanimously overturned this interpretation. The Court relied primarily on the language and context of the TCPA, noting that the Ninth Circuit’s broad interpretation went well beyond the text of the statute and could encompass even routine cell phone usage. By reining in the definition of autodialer, Duguid gives businesses more clarity on whether the TCPA’s autodialer consent requirements apply to their telephone call or text message campaigns. It will also likely lessen the current onslaught of TCPA litigation.