In a hotly anticipated decision that should have significant impact on litigation under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991 (TCPA), the Supreme Court held, 9-0, that the TCPA’s definition of an “autodialer” does not include equipment that merely stores telephone numbers to be dialed automatically, unless the equipment does so using a random or sequential number generator. Facebook, Inc. v. Duguid, No. 19-511 (U.S., April 1, 2021).
Stopping unwanted or harmful telemarketing calls has long been a consumer-protection priority. Toward that end, the TCPA prohibits certain communications made with an “automatic telephone dialing system,” or “autodialer.” 47 U.S.C. § 227(b)(1). The TCPA defines “autodialers” as equipment with the capacity “to store and produce telephone numbers to be called, using a random or sequential number generator,” and to dial those numbers. 47 U.S.C. § 227(a)(1). There was no dispute that the last clause (“using a random or sequential number generator”) qualifies the last verb in the preceding clause (“produce”). The exam-worthy question before the Court, however, was whether that last clause also qualifies the first verb in the preceding clause, “store.” Put another way, does the TCPA’s definition of autodialer apply to all equipment that “store[s] … telephone numbers to be called,” even if the equipment does not do so “using a random or sequential number generator?” (The facts of the case play no real role here, but, for context, Facebook used equipment that stored numbers to be dialed automatically, but did not use a random or sequential number generator, so the question was whether Facebook’s equipment fell with the TCPA definition of autodialer).