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TCPA ruling by appeals court blocks some debt calls

Will this make it harder to contact borrowers?

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco issued a ruling last week making it harder for lenders to contact borrowers in arrears. It also made life a bit easier for people who have new cell numbers previously held by someone with overdue loan payments.

The Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991 prohibits non-emergency auto-dialed calls to cell phones unless made “with the prior express consent of the called party,” the court said in a June 3 ruling. That means someone with a new cell number can’t be bothered by robocalls intended for the prior holder of that number.

Credit One Bank had argued the “called party” cited in the TCPA should be interpreted to mean the person who the bank intended to reach rather than the person it actually called. The plaintiff brought the suit after receiving collection calls from the bank on his mother’s cell phone with a number previously held by someone who owed money to the bank.

The jury had returned a verdict for the plaintiff on his TCPA claim, resulting in $500 in statutory damages for each of 189 collection calls, totaling $94,500. It also found for the plaintiff on his Rosenthal Act claim, a California law that regulates debt collection calls.

The bank’s argument “starts off in the backseat, for there is no obvious statutory text on which to ground an ‘intended recipient’ interpretation,” the ruling said.

The court looked at other times the TCPA used the term “called party” and said they revealed the bank’s interpretation of the phrase “intended recipient” was “not the best one,” the decision said.

The TCPA’s consent provision is based upon the “prior express consent of the called party,” and it would be “odd if ‘called party’ referred to some person external to the potentially actionable communication,” the ruling said.

The jury decided in the bank’s favor for the suit’s invasion of privacy claim.

The case is N. L. v. Credit One Bank.

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