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Two Courts Reject Excel Sheet ATDS Argument

A laptop displaying the Microsoft Excel logo

Wed, 03/25/2020 - 15:57

On consecutive days last week, two different district courts in two different circuits handed down rulings in two different Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) cases that rejected a common argument that would have essentially rendered any computer-based dialer as an Automatic Telephone Dialing System (ATDS). One case—Decapua v. Metro. Prop. & Cas. Ins. Co., C.A. No. 18-590 WES, 2020 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 47695 (D. R.I. March 18, 2020)—is a class action, while the other—Hagood v. Portfolio Recovery Assocs., Case No. 3:18-CV-1510-NJR, 2020 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 47507 (S.D. Ill. March 19, 2020)—is an individual action.

In both cases, the plaintiffs put forth arguments revolving around the notion that the random number generation functionality of spreadsheet programs such as Microsoft Excel should qualify any dialer that works from a computer as an ATDS, whether or not that random number generation was used by the dialer. The court in the Illinois case, Hagood, rejected testimony from an expert, Randall Snyder, who is one of the main proponents of this school of thought. The court in the Rhode Island case, Decapua, specifically pointed out that because a computer’s operating system may include both a dialer and a spreadsheet program, it does not follow that the spreadsheet is an “integral and necessary part” of the dialer.

These cases also show the continuing influence of recent decisions—in Gadelhak v. AT&T Services, No. 19-1738 (7th Cir. Feb. 19, 2020) and Glasser v. Hilton Grand Vacations, Case No. 18-14499 (Jan. 27, 2020 Decided)—that advanced a statutory definition of an ATDS as a device that has the capacity to both generate and dial numbers either randomly or sequentially. The Hagood case was decided by a court within the Seventh Circuit, and thus followed the Gadelhak precedent. The Decapua court, however, is in the First Circuit, which has not had any recent, precedent-setting ATDS decisions at the Circuit level. In fact, a different district court within the First Circuit has previously followed the much broader Marks v. Crunch San Diego ATDS definition. Therefore, the fact that the Rhode Island District Court in Decapua followed the Gadelhak and Glasser ATDS definition precedents is potentially significant.