Gallup has settled a class action Telephone Consumer Protection Act lawsuit concerning an alleged violation of the law through use of an autodialer to reportedly call consumers about social and political issues. Gallup has agreed to provide a $12 million settlement fund.
The Federal Communications Commission believes the ruling reaffirms "the TCPAs protections against unwanted robocalls, encouraging pro-consumer uses of robocall technology and responding to a number of requests for clarity from businesses and other callers. ACA International reported about the FCCs ruling when it was released on July 10.
Plaintiff Kurt Soto filed the lawsuit on behalf of himself and a class consisting of anyone in the U.S. called by Gallup on a cell phone using an automatic telephone dialing system during the four years before the filing of the complaint.
The complaint alleged that over the past four years, Gallup placed millions of automated "market research" calls in violation of the TCPA. Gallup allegedly caused consumers actual harm: by consumers having to deal with the annoyance that comes with unsolicited phone calls, and because consumers often have to pay for minutes used.
Soto reported he began receiving calls on his cell phone in July 2013. According to a report from the Marketing Research Association, the plaintiff alleged in the complaint that Gallup made millions of automated calls for market research that violated the TCPA.
"He claimed that, when returning the call, an automated voice announced that the call had been made by Gallup for the purposes of polling him on political and social issues; the calls were made using an automated telephone dialing system; and he never had any previous contact with Gallup," according to the report. The Marketing Research Association notes that the increasing rate of TCPA lawsuits is starting to apply to research companies.The FCC's Declaratory Ruling and Order on the TCPA, released last month, could lead to more lawsuits. The ruling reiterates and simplifies key sections of the TCPA. If a caller uses an autodialer or prerecorded message to make a non-emergency call to a wireless phone, the caller must have gotten the consumers prior express consent or face liability for violating the TCPA.
Prior express consent must be in writing if the message is a telemarketing call, but can be either oral or written if the call is informational.
The rules carve out an exemption for the first wrong-number phone call but not for any subsequent calls to that number. An FCC staffer said that the new rules will provide an incentive for companies to take proactive steps, such as confirming the phone number by email, to ensure they are robo-calling the right person.
"The new user of a reassigned phone number shouldn't have to put up with being abused by callers for the old user of the phone number," said FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, a Democrat.
FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai, a Republican, complained that companies will be liable even if they have no reason to know they are calling a wrong number.
"This will certainly help trial lawyers update their business model for the digital age," he said.