In response to the Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) recent letter to the FCC seeking clarity on whether the TCPA applies to texts it would like to make to alert Americans of certain medical benefits, the National Consumer Law Center (NCLC)–an organization that nominally represents consumers, but really seems to represent the interests of the plaintiff’s bar–has filed a comment.
Unsurprisingly, the NCLC takes the position that HHS needs no relief. Government contractors are covered by the TCPA–it says–but the texts at issue in HHS’ letter are consented to, so they’re fine. (Although it later clarifies that only “many” but not “all” of the enrollees whom HHS wishes to call have “probably” given their telephone numbers as part of written enrollment agreements–so perhaps not.)
Hmmmm. Feels like a trap. But we’ll ignore that for now.
The critical piece here though is what the NCLC–very powerful voice, for better or (often) worse–is telling the FCC about the effectiveness of the new Reassigned Number Database:
3. Callers can easily avoid making calls to telephone numbers that have been reassigned to someone other than the enrollee
A primary source of TCPA litigation risk has been calls inadvertently made to numbers that are no longer assigned to the person who provided consent. Courts have held the caller liable for making automated calls to a cell phone number that has been reassigned to someone other than the person who provided consent to be called.29
The Commission has implemented the Reassigned Number Database specifically to address that risk of liability, as well as to limit the number of unwanted robocalls:
The FCC’s Reassigned Numbers Database (RND) is designed to prevent a consumer from getting unwanted calls intended for someone who previously held their phone number. Callers can use the database to determine whether a telephone number may have been reassigned so they can avoid calling consumers who do not want to receive the calls. Callers that use the database can also reduce their potential Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) liability by avoiding inadvertent calls to consumers who have not given consent for the call.31
The database has been fully operational since November 1, 2021. It provides a means for callers to find out before making a call if the phone number has been reassigned. If the database wrongly indicates that the number has not been reassigned, so long as the caller has used the database correctly, no TCPA liability will apply for reaching the wrong party. 32 Thus, as long as HHS’s callers make use of this simple, readily available database, they can be confident that they will not be held liable for making calls to reassigned numbers.
While I steadfastly support both the creation and use of the RND, it also must be observed that there are myriad problems with the RND as it currently exists. Most importantly, the data sets in the RND are only comprehensive through October 1, 2021 and spotty back to February, 2021 (beyond which there are no records!)
So for folks like HHS–and servicers of mortgages, and retailers, and credit card companies–who want to reach customers who provided their contact information before 10/2021 or 2/2021 the RND is simply not helpful.
The NCLC’s over simplification of a critical issue is not surprising. They once told Congress that the TCPA is “Straightforward and Clear” after all.
Full comment here: NCLC Comments-c3
We’ll keep an eye on developments on HHS’ letter and all the FCC goings ons