The Sixth Circuit recently affirmed a summary judgment against two hospital patient plaintiffs, stating they consented to a collection agency’s automated calls by providing their cell phone numbers to the hospital. The appellate court thus upheld an Ohio federal court's decision to throw out the Telephone Consumer Protection Act suit.
The ruling pointed to an Eleventh Circuit decision from 2014, Mais v. Gulf Coast Collections Bureau, stating that the patients, Zachary Baisden and Brenda L. Sissoko, had provided prior express consent under the meaning of the law to debt collector Credit Adjustments Inc. by way of the hospital.
The plaintiffs were former patients at a hospital (Mount Carmel Hospital) who owed debts that were transferred from an affiliated anesthesiology practice (Consultant Anesthesiologists) to collection agency Credit Adjustments Inc. Both plaintiffs had signed admission forms that permitted the hospital to release their "health information" to third parties for purposes of billing, payment and collections, among other things. After the plaintiffs received calls from Credit Adjustments, they filed a putative class action against the agency, the anesthesiology practice and the hospital.
Credit Adjustments moved for summary judgment but didn't dispute that it had called the plaintiffs’ numbers and used an ATDS to do so. The agency argued it didn't violate the TCPA because the plaintiffs had provided their prior express consent to such calls by virtue of providing their numbers on their admission forms.
The plaintiffs responded by arguing that they had provided their numbers to the hospital, not to the anesthesiology practice or the collection agency, and the scope of consent didn't extend from the one to the others.
The Sixth Circuit ultimately agreed with the Federal Communications Commission and the Eleventh Circuit that “prior express consent” can be “obtained and conveyed via intermediaries,” in this case the hospital to which the plaintiffs had voluntarily given their numbers. The court summarized the FCC’s prior statements on the issue, which have consistently concluded that consent can be obtained and conveyed by intermediaries.