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Is there a reassigned number safe harbor?

The Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) 2015 Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) Omnibus Declaratory Ruling and Order established a one-call safe harbor for reassigned phone numbers. This safe harbor applied to situations in which callers mistakenly called a phone number for which they had previously received consent but had since been reassigned to another person. Because consent is tied to the called party and not the phone number, the phone call in this situation would be considered a violation. In order to provide some protection to good faith telemarketers who encountered these circumstances, the FCC adopted a rule whereby callers were allowed to make one phone call to a phone number that had been reassigned without being held liable for a violation—whether or not the call resulted in the caller being informed of the number’s reassignment.

In 2018, the D.C. Circuit court’s ruling in ACA International v. FCC struck down this safe harbor. Finding it “arbitrary and capricious,” the court did away with the rule because the FCC did not offer any argument for why a caller should be held liable if it has no reason for being aware of the number’s reassignment. Indeed, the rule worked such that the safe harbor was exhausted after one call even if the call was not answered. Unfortunately, the court did not offer any remedy for how this situation should be handled. So, rather than a flawed TCPA safe harbor for reassigned numbers, there is no safe harbor at all.

In December 2018, the FCC announced a plan to create a reassigned number database. Callers would be able to scrub their number lists against this database in order to remove any numbers that have been reassigned to new users, thus decreasing the possibility of incurring TCPA violations by calling these new users.

Included in this plan is a new safe harbor rule for dealing with reassigned numbers, replacing the old one-call rule that had been vacated by the ACA Int’l ruling. With documentation requirements similar to what is required for the national Do Not Call (DNC) safe harbor, callers are able to claim safe harbor for any reassigned numbers that they have dialed as long as they have scrubbed their numbers lists against the FCC database within 30 days.

This Safe Harbor became valid with the implementation of the FCC Reassigned Number Database in November 2021.