Supreme Court Answers the Call: Clarifies Meaning of “Automatic Telephone Dialing System” under the TCPA

 

By: Madeleine V. Findley and Emma J. O’Connor

Mobile in carOn April 1, 2021, the Supreme Court of the United States unanimously reversed the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision[1] in Facebook Inc. v. Duguid et al., No. 19-511, and held that in order for a device to be an “automatic telephone dialing system” (ATDS), a key term in the Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991 (TCPA), 47 U.S.C. § 227, it must have the capacity to use a random or sequential number generator to either store or produce phone numbers to be called.[2] This decision represents a significant victory for entities defending against TCPA claims.

The TCPA prohibits making calls or sending text messages to mobile telephones using an ATDS (often simply referred to as an “autodialer”) without the prior express consent of the recipient. What precisely that means has become a heated dispute in TCPA litigation because using an ATDS to place a call is an essential component of many TCPA claims. The statute defines an ATDS as “equipment which has the capacity—(A) to store or produce telephone numbers to be called using a random or sequential number generator; and (B) to dial such numbers.”[3] Lower courts had split on the provision’s meaning. The Third, Seventh, and Eleventh Circuits interpreted the provision narrowly, holding that an ATDS must have the capacity to generate random or sequential phone numbers, not merely to store and dial the numbers automatically.[4] The Second, Sixth, and Ninth Circuits had taken a broad approach, holding that an ATDS need only have the capacity to store numbers to be called and to dial those numbers automatically.[5]

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Does Novel “Greenwashing” Enforcement Action Portend a New Trend?

 

By: Todd C. Toral and PJ M. Novack

GreenLawsuits over alleged misleading environmental marketing claims, or “greenwashing,” are nothing new. It has been nearly 30 years since the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) released its first version of the “Green Guides,” which are intended to help marketers avoid the practice. Since then, there have been many greenwashing actions before the FTC. More broadly, the FTC has pursued a number of suits in federal court, such as false advertising claims over the terms “clean diesel” and “100% organic.” But last month, in a first, several environmental groups petitioned the FTC to use its Green Guides offensively against a fossil fuel company for “misleading consumers on the climate and environmental impact of its operations.”

On March 16, 2021, Earthworks, Global Witness, and Greenpeace USA filed a complaint against Chevron for misleading consumers through advertisements that exaggerate the company’s investment in renewable energy and its commitment to reducing fossil fuel pollution. The action comes on the heels of Chevron’s new “Climate Change Resilience” report, where Chevron outlined its contributions against climate change. The environmental groups argue that Chevron misrepresents its image to appear climate-friendly and racial-justice oriented, while actually doing more harm than good. In support of their claims, the environmental groups point out that Chevron is the second most polluting company in the world and had spent only 0.2% of its capital expenditures on low-carbon energy sources between 2010-2018.

Considering the recent change in administrations, this action may represent a new trend where consumer and environmental groups are willing to take on major oil companies by petitioning a potentially more consumer-friendly FTC. President Biden currently has an opportunity to fill the vacant FTC seat and tip the balance of power toward Democrats. Moreover, President Biden has signaled his personal support for environmental causes by halting oil and gas sales and canceling the Keystone XL crude pipeline. Given the shifting sands, companies should be prepared for new and perhaps more creative enforcement actions.

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Kang v. PF Chang’s, Inc.: Reasonable Consumer Deception, or Just a “Crabby” Plaintiff?

 

By: Alexander M. Smith

SushiOn February 9, 2021, the Ninth Circuit—in a split decision with a spirited dissent—reversed the dismissal of a consumer class action challenging P.F. Chang’s’s use of the phrase “krab mix” to describe sushi rolls that contain no real crab. Although Kang is an unpublished case and breaks little new legal ground, the two opinions offer a useful glimpse into how both defendants and plaintiffs frame their positions in false advertising lawsuits, and they highlight how easily judges can come to radically different conclusions in consumer class actions, even when faced with the same facts and law.

In Kang, the plaintiff alleged that P.F. Chang’s’s sushi rolls were deceptively labeled because they purported to contain “krab mix,” but did not include any crab at all. Judge Anderson of the Central District of California dismissed the plaintiff’s lawsuit, holding that no reasonable consumer would be deceived into believing that “krab mix” contained crab. The Ninth Circuit reversed. Judge Friedland and Judge Watford—writing for the panel majority—emphasized that “determining whether reasonable consumers are likely to be deceived will usually be a question of fact not appropriate on a motion to dismiss.” Applying this standard, the panel majority concluded that the plaintiff had plausibly alleged that the “inclusion of the term ‘krab mix’ in the ingredient list for certain of its sushi rolls is likely to deceive reasonable consumers into thinking that the sushi rolls contain at least some real crab meat when in fact they contain none.” Although P.F. Chang’s offered several reasons that this interpretation was implausible, the panel majority rejected them all:

  • The panel majority rejected P.F. Chang’s’s argument that the “fanciful” term “krab mix” suggested the absence of real crab. Although the panel majority agreed that “reasonable consumers confronted with the fanciful spelling of ‘krab’ on the menu would not assume they were purchasing a sushi roll with 100% real crab meat,” it nonetheless concluded that the plaintiff had plausibly alleged that the term “krab mix” suggests that the product contains “a mixture of imitation and real crab.” In contrast to cases where the challenged term has a specific, widely-understood meaning (such as “diet” soft drinks), the panel majority held that “there is no prevailing understanding that listing ‘krab mix’ as an ingredient in a sushi roll signifies that the item contains no real crab meat.” And in contrast to a case where the “fanciful” term appears in the name of the product (such as “Froot Loops”), the panel majority concluded that the term was at least plausibly misleading because it appeared in the ingredient list.

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What to Expect from Director Rohit Chopra’s CFPB

 

By: Kali Bracey and Erica S. Turret

 

New-Update-IconPresident Biden has nominated Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Commissioner Rohit Chopra to serve as Director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). Commissioner Chopra served as the agency’s Assistant Director and first Student Loan Ombudsman prior to his appointment to the FTC in 2018. The CFPB under his leadership will shift to the more aggressive posture of the Obama administration and return the agency to its consumer watchdog mission.[1] His vision is aligned with that of Senator Elizabeth Warren whom he helped to set up the agency after the passage of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act in 2010.[2]  

Because of the Supreme Court’s decision in Seila Law holding that the President has the power to fire the CFPB Director, the CFPB more closely carries out the current administration’s agenda than was intended in the Dodd-Frank Act which had sought to structure the bureau as an independent agency.[3] Thus, Commissioner Chopra, once in office, will be able to quickly chart the agency on a new, more muscular course.

Regulated entities can expect enforcement to ramp up as the agency reverses efforts by the Trump administration to reduce the agency’s impact. CFPB enforcement activity decreased by 54 percent under the leadership of Trump appointees.[4] Focus areas for a reinvigorated CFPB are likely to include:

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Consumer Finance Observer – Winter 2021 Edition

CFO WinterJenner & Block has published its sixth issue of The Consumer Finance Observer or CFO, a newsletter providing analysis of key consumer finance issues and updates on important developments to watch. As thought leaders, our lawyers write about the consumer finance sector on topics ranging from biometric data, compliance, data security, FinTech, lending, and securities litigation.

In the Winter 2021 issue of the CFO, our consumer finance lawyers discuss: California's passing of Proposition 24; CCPA's Private Right of Action; California's new Consumer Financial Protection Law; betting on an athlete's biometric data; Colorado's right to enforce its consumer loan interest rates; LendIt 2020, the largest FinTech conference of the year; a recent enforcement action by the SEC and the CFTC in the FinTech space; and European Data Protection Board's guidance on personal data transfers following Schrems II. Contributors are Partners Kelly HagedornCharles D. RielyMichael W. RossDavid P. SaundersKate T. Spelman, and Wade A. Thomson; Special Counsel David W. Sussman; Associates Vivian L. BickfordEffiong K. DamphaMichael F. LindenE.K. McWilliamsMadeline Skitzki, and Matthew Worby; and Staff Attorney Alexander N. Ghantous.

To read the full newsletter, please click here


EDPB Provides Guidance on Personal Data Transfers Following Schrems II

   

By: Kelly HagedornDavid P. Saunders, and Matthew Worby

New-Development-IconEarlier this year, in Schrems II, the Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU) invalidated the EU-US Privacy Shield.[1] That judgment also cast doubt over the validity of standard contractual clauses (SCCs) as a means by which to transfer personal data outside of the EU, in particular to the United States. Unsurprisingly, this has caused concern within organisations who rely on such transfers as part of their business model.

Data protection requirements, imposed by the GDPR, travel with any personal data whenever it is transmitted outside of the EU. Problems arise when an organisation needs to transfer personal data to a jurisdiction where local laws might undermine these protections. Without some way to manage this potential conflict, it was unclear if organisations’ personal data transfers outside of the EU would be able to continue.

Unfortunately, the CJEU provided no practical guidance for organisations as to how to make international personal data transfers compliant with its ruling and did not provide any safe harbour period before its ruling took effect. In recent days, however, two key efforts have been made to assist organisations meet their post-Schrems II GDPR requirements:

  1. recommendations have been issued by the European Data Protection Board (EDPB);[2] and
  2. a revised set of SCCs has been published by the European Commission for consultation.

Recommendations Issued by the EDPB

The EDPB has published a practical roadmap for organisations seeking to transfer personal data internationally in a compliant manner in the wake of Schrems II. This roadmap sets out six recommended steps:

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California Passes Proposition 24: California Privacy Rights Act to Become Law

   

By: David P. Saunders, Kate T. Spelman, and Effiong K. Dampha

New-Update-IconPrivacy was on the ballot this November, at least in California. And it appears that enough people voted in favor of Proposition 24, the California Privacy Rights Act (CPRA), for it to become law. Although the CPRA technically becomes effective five days after the California Secretary of State certifies the voting results, the bulk of the law – which is an overhaul of the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) – will not come into force until January 1, 2023. Businesses have some time to prepare for the most significant changes, which we have written about previously. Those changes include handling a new category of “sensitive personal information,” the expansion of the existing CCPA private right of action, and mandatory changes to company privacy policies. So what happens to the CCPA, and what do businesses have to prepare for? The answer is not much in the short term.

Until the CPRA becomes fully effective in 2023, the CCPA remains in full effect. That means businesses should keep up with their CCPA compliance, including being attentive to new California Attorney General regulations. The following CPRA provisions – which largely do not impact businesses directly – will become effective once the California Secretary of State certifies the voting results:

  • An extension of the carve out for business contact and employee personal information that is collected by businesses covered by the CCPA. In the existing CCPA, these carve outs were set to expire on January 1, 2021. The carve outs will now be extended to January 1, 2023.
  • A Consumer Privacy Fund will be created – with appropriations to be made by the legislature – with the purpose of “offsetting the costs” of state courts and the California Attorney General enforcing the CCPA (and later the CPRA). The fund will also be used “to promote and protect consumer privacy, educate children in the area of online privacy, and fund cooperative programs with international law enforcement organizations” in connection with addressing consumer data breaches.
  • The California Attorney General will be charged with developing a laundry list of new regulations, which will put meat on the bones of many of the new CPRA rules.
  • A new state agency, the California Privacy Protection Agency, will be created, funded, and begin operations.

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Authors Explore Cases that Test Limits of the California Consumer Privacy Act

CaliforniaIn a recent article published by The Recorder, Jenner & Block Partner Kate T. Spelman and Associates Vivian L. Bickford and Effiong G. Dampha examine class action cases that test the limits of the California Consumer Privacy Act, which took effect January 1. “These suits shed light on the various ways plaintiffs are testing the boundaries of the CCPA and its private right of action,” the authors observe. They then highlight several categories of these boundary-testing lawsuits.

To read the full article, titled "Class Actions Seek to Test the Limits of the CCPA's Private Right of Action," please click here


Three Takeaways from Lendit 2020

 

By: Michael W. Ross 

FintechI recently attended LendIt’s 2020 conference, the largest Fintech conference of the year.  Kudos to everyone at LendIt for successfully transitioning the conference to a remote platform – it was a great few days of speakers and topics including really slick tools for engagement and networking. In this post, I’m sharing rough notes on my top three takeaways from the sessions I attended. This is by no means a comprehensive recap, and, if you attended, I’d love to hear from you about what you thought.

Artificial Intelligence. First, artificial intelligence and machine learning are on everyone’s mind these days. From regulators to service providers to financial institutions, speakers honed in on the use of AI for everything from underwriting, to risk analysis, to loan servicing, to many other things. Everyone is talking about the risks and rewards of using these new tools, including how to hone their models and how much to involve a human touch. As I listened, the relevance of our prior writing and talks on the potential for enforcement activity in the area of AI was top of mind – it has stayed quite relevant.  Check it out!

Serving the Underserved.  Relatedly, almost everyone seems to be talking about how technology is helping improve access to credit and banking services to those previously cut out – not only the use of AI, but also the overall digitization of banking, payments, and credit. Thought leaders are focused on looking beyond the ordinary credit file; on the use of mobile services to reach new consumers; and on the growth of non-traditional payment platforms. Stay tuned for developments in this area, including the broadening of the “payments” world to include non-financial institutions.

Partnerships.  Last, partnerships are all the rage. Financial institutions are buying startups, in addition to investing in technology themselves; smaller banks, community banks, and others are partnering to keep up with the latest tech trends; and regulators are focused on the third-party risk issues that partnerships raise, and also on allowing third parties to keep smaller banks competitive through partnerships. This area is not limited to true lender issues – especially keep an eye on the FDIC’s recent request for information on standard-setting for third-party service providers.

Again, these are just some blog thoughts from one attendee – please get in touch with your reactions and thoughts!


Colorado Consumers Receive Additional Protections after Attorney General Settles Lawsuits

By: Alexander N. Ghantous

loanIn August of 2020, the Colorado Attorney General’s Office settled two lawsuits concerning Colorado’s right to enforce its consumer loan interest rate limits.[1] The lawsuits involved Avant of Colorado, LLC (“Avant”) and Marlette Funding, LLC (“Marlette”), both of which are not banks.[2] However, partnerships with banks located outside of Colorado were established by the companies: Avant with WebBank, and Marlette with Cross River Bank.[3]

According to the Colorado Attorney General’s website, federal law permits “certain out-of-state banks” to offer loans at higher interest rates in Colorado than what is generally permitted in the state.[4] The Colorado Attorney General alleged that the partnerships in these matters were established to illegally offer loans at higher interest rates than what was allowed in Colorado.[5] While the lawsuits did result in a settlement, there was no admission of fault, liability, or wrongdoing.[6]  

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