In Eggleston v. Reward Zone USA LLC, No. 2:20-cv-01027-SVW-KS (C.D. Cal. Jan. 28, 2022), the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California rejected the argument that text messages are “artificial or prerecorded voice messages” under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (the TCPA).
The plaintiff, Lucine Trim, alleged that Reward Zone USA LLC (Reward Zone), sent spam advertisements and promotional offers to her cellphone via text message in violation of TCPA § 227(b). This provision makes it unlawful to “make any call (other than a call made for emergency purposes or made with the prior express consent of the called party) using any automatic telephone dialing system or an artificial or prerecorded voice” to any telephone number assigned to a cellular telephone service.
In granting a motion to dismiss the § 227(b) claims, the District Court first held that the system at issue does not qualify as an automatic telephone dialing system (ATDS) as defined by the statute. Under the TCPA, an ATDS consists of “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 interpreting this definition, the District Court held that calling equipment only qualifies as an ATDS “if it uses a number generator to generate the phone numbers themselves — not if the number generator is used merely to index the phone numbers or select phone numbers from that index.” Reward Zone only used a number generator to index and select telephone numbers from a database, therefore its dialing system does not qualify as an ATDS, and thus, calls made with it do not violate the prohibition against the use of ATDS in § 227(b).
The District Court also held that a violation had not occurred because text messages are not artificial or prerecorded voice messages. The plaintiff argued that text messages meet the statutory definition because “‘artificial’ means ‘humanly contrived, often on a natural model’; ‘prerecorded’ means ‘to set down in writing in advance of presentation or use’; and ‘voice’ means ‘an instrument or medium of expression.'” The District Court rejected this argument as being “beyond the bounds of common sense,” stating:
"Plaintiff’s interpretation conflicts with a primary principle of statutory interpretation — that words in a statute should generally be given their most natural understanding unless circumstances suggest otherwise. See Duguid, 141 S.Ct. at 1169. The most natural, commonplace understanding of “voice” is the sound produced by one’s vocal system. Indeed, it is not plausible that Congress intended the word “voice” in the TCPA to carry the tertiary, metaphorical meaning that plaintiff suggests over this primary, natural meaning — especially since if Congress had intended to adopt plaintiff’s broad meaning, it could have easily chosen clearer, more literal terms to do so, such as “medium of expression” or “communication.” [emphasis supplied by the District Court]."
This case shows that for purposes of the TCPA, a text message is simply that: a message consisting of written text. And such messages do not qualify as artificial or prerecorded voice messages that can give rise to liability under § 227(b).