Do Robocalls Cause “Concrete Harm” Within The Meaning Of Consumer Federal Protections?

Man upset looking at his cell phone

Following the United States Supreme Court case of Spokeo Inc., v. Robins,many thought the bell had tolled for the majority of consumer lawsuits against debt collectors. In that case, the Court held that claimants needed to show that a company caused a concrete injury with particularized harm before they could seek damages for federal statutes prohibiting predatory lending practices.

For example, suppose that a bank mishandled its customers’ financial data and personal information. A breach in the way that this information is handled could be a cause for liability under multiple different federal laws. However, the Spokeo case suggests that unless someone can show that their information was misused as a result of that breach and that they suffered actual damage or harm as a result, the law would not allow a remedy.

The concrete harm requirement is bad news for many plaintiffs. For instance, text message marketing is illegal without a telephone owner’s consent to receive messages. However, most people send and receive thousands of text messages every month, and it is difficult to argue that one or two messages caused any actual, discernible harm—especially when many people pay a flat rate to send and receive unlimited text messages.

While some plaintiffs have had difficulty with standing to file a lawsuit, some judges have been willing to stretch the definition of “concrete” and allow plaintiffs to maintain standing with relatively minor injuries.

For instance, a federal judge recently allowed a robocall lawsuit to proceed after finding that the plaintiff had alleged a sufficient amount of harm. In that case, the court wrote that a judge must weigh the plaintiff’s tangible and intangible harm while also taking into consideration the type of harm that a particular statute was designed to prevent.

In that case, a woman with a pre-paid cell phone filed a consider whether the plaintiff’s type of intangible harm was contemplated by the legislature. In that case, the plaintiff had filed a lawsuit alleging violations of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) by a company which had autodialed or robocalled her pre-paid cell phone number.

The judge concluded that for consumers with prepaid or limited cell phone plans, unwanted, autodialed calls do cause a concrete, particularized injury by depleting a person’s minutes or talk time. Additionally, the court found that consumers suffered damages in the amount of phone battery wasted and the costs of the electricity needed to recharge the phone.

While these costs may be minor or even inconsequential for most consumers, the TCPA was also enacted to prevent the annoyance, frustration, and wasted time that unwanted solicitations cause. By invading someone’s privacy without permission, the federal judge reasoned that the company had intruded upon the plaintiff’s property rights and caused harm.

As courts around the country deal with the impact of the ­Spokeo decision, the law regarding what types of actions cause concrete harm to consumers are likely to change. When they do, the attorneys at Fitzgerald will be sure to stay up-to-date on changes in the law that could affect consumers.

Man upset looking at cell phone

If you are being harassed by a debt collector or have any other issue with creditors and third-party debt buyers, you need the help of an experienced debtor rights attorney—like those at Fitzgerald & Campbell, APLC—to review your case and discuss your options with you. Our attorneys have decades of experience representing clients in all types of consumer defense cases and we are here to help you!

Call us today for a free consultation at (844) 431-3851, or email us at info@debtorprotectors.com

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