TCPA Ruling: Fax Inviting Recipient to Take a Survey for Money Is Not An “Unsolicited Advertisement”

The Second Circuit ruled that an unsolicited faxed invitation to participate in a market research survey in exchange for money does not constitute an “unsolicited advertisement” under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, 47 U.S.C. § 227 (“TCPA”).  Bruce Katz, M.D., P.C. v. Focus Forward, LLC, No. 21-1224 (2nd Cir. Jan. 6, 2022).

Plaintiff is a professional corporation that provides medical services.  Defendant is a market research company.  In 2019, Defendant sent Plaintiff two unsolicited faxes, addressed to the “Nurses” and “Practitioners,” seeking participants in “market research surveys” and offering $150 to participate in a “telephone interview.”

Plaintiff filed a putative class action alleging violations of the TCPA.  The TCPA prohibits the use of “any telephone facsimile machine, computer, or other device to send, to a telephone facsimile machine, an unsolicited advertisement.”  An “unsolicited advertisement” is defined by the statute as “any material advertising the commercial availability or quality of any property, goods, or services which is transmitted to any person without that person’s prior express invitation or permission.”

The regulations of the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”), implementing the TCPA, contain an identical definition of “unsolicited advertisement.”  In 2006, the FCC promulgated a rule that construes the TCPA as specifically proscribing any faxed surveys that “serve as a pretext to an advertisement.”

In Katz, the Second Circuit reasoned that: (1) the two faxes “plainly do not advertise the availability of any property, goods, or services” and therefore “cannot reasonably be construed” as unlawful advertisements and (2) the word “property” does not appear to include money, as the word is used in the TCPA.

The Second Circuit noted that its holding may not necessarily extend to all communications, including faxed surveys, offering the recipient both money and services because such communications could incur liability under the TCPA depending on the specific content of the communication.

The Second Circuit declined to adopt the reasoning of the Third Circuit in Fischbein v. Olson Research Group, 959 F.3d 559 (3d Cir. 2020), which ruled that such faxes are advertisements because the “offer of payment in exchange for participation in a market survey is a commercial transaction, so a fax highlighting the availability of that transaction is an advertisement under the TCPA.”  Thus, the Second Circuit held that – based on the statutory text, legislative history, and FCC implementation of the TCPA – an invitation to participate in a survey, without more, is not an unsolicited advertisement under the TCPA.

Lesson:  An invitation to participate in a survey should be drafted to avoid offering “property, goods, or services” which may fall within the meaning of a “unsolicited advertisement” under the TCPA.

© 2009- Duane Morris LLP. Duane Morris is a registered service mark of Duane Morris LLP.

The opinions expressed on this blog are those of the author and are not to be construed as legal advice.

Proudly powered by WordPress