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District Court Rules That Non-Commercial Advertising Robocalls to Landlines Do Not Violate TCPA

A woman consulting a doctor over videochat on a smartphone

Tue, 11/05/2019 - 12:09

A recent District Court ruling in a Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) case—Savett v. Anthem, Inc., CASE NO. 1:18-CV-274, 2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 190955 (N.D. Oh. Nov. 4, 2019)—threads a very specific needle and provides an interesting clarification regarding what constitutes a telemarketing robocall to a landline.

The case involved prerecorded calls that Anthem placed to the landline phones of some of its customers. The calls straddled the line between informational calls and advertising, involving flu shot reminders, email verification, and advertisements for the availability of Anthem’s telehealth services. These last calls were the only ones really at issue, as they could not be easily construed as straightforward informational calls like the first two.

It is not difficult to see how these calls advertising a service provided by Anthem could be interpreted as telemarketing, and thus potential TCPA violations if the healthcare provider did not have proper consent to place the calls. However, the court found that the calls were not marketing because they were not attempting to coerce the recipients into purchasing a new service but were, rather, informing them about a free service already available to them as a part of their existing status as Anthem members. Essentially, the calls were advertising services that the customers had already purchased.

The court granted summary judgment to the defendant. However, if these calls had been placed to cell phones rather than landline phones, the result would have likely been the opposite, due to the differing consent standards for calls to cell phones compared to landlines. This decision does ultimately provide some distinctions about the sorts of prerecorded calls that are allowed under the TCPA.