Whether the Telephone Consumer Protection Act’s autodialer restriction only covers dialers that generate random or sequential telephone numbers.
One of the main provisions of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) protects Americans from unwanted calls delivered through an “automatic telephone dialing system,” or autodialer. An autodialer is defined in the TCPA as “equipment which has the capacity to store or produce telephone numbers to be called, using a random or sequential number generator and to dial such numbers.”
In April 2021, the Supreme Court ruled in Facebook v. Duguid that the TCPA’s restriction on autodialers only covered equipment that had the capacity to use a “random or sequential number generator.” Since Duguid, the question of what “random or sequential number generator” means—is it something that generates any number or is it limited to telephone numbers?—has become hotly contested in TCPA cases. EPIC has filed amicus briefs in several such cases.
Mark Guthrie received multiple debt collection calls from PHH, and its predecessor Ocwen Loan Servicing, between 2013 and 2019, even after his debt was discharged in May 2016. Mr. Guthrie brought suit in Onslow County Superior Court in North Carolina under multiple state and federal consumer protection claims, including the TCPA. The case was removed to a North Carolina federal court. The District Court granted PHH’s motion for summary judgment on the TCPA issue, reasoning that the calls were targeted, not the result of a random or sequential number generator, by virtue of Mr. Guthrie’s existing relationship with the defendant. Mr. Guthrie appealed to the Fourth Circuit.
EPIC, along with our partner the National Consumer Law Center, filed an amicus brief arguing that mass dialing systems that use random or sequential number generators to generate any type of number—not just telephone numbers—qualify as autodialers under the TCPA. EPIC explained that the scope of the Supreme Court’s holding in Duguid was limited and that the Court did not decide what the phrase “random or sequential number generator” meant. EPIC argued that the phrase should not be limited to telephone number generation because the plain language of the statute is broad. EPIC also described, from a technical perspective, what random and sequential number generators are and how they work in automated mass dialers. EPIC explained how number generator technology differentiates an autodialer from common dialing systems, like cellphones, eliminating overbreadth concerns.