“The Buffalo Bills have agreed to pay up to $3 million – largely in the form of debit cards redeemable only at the team store – to settle a class-action lawsuit that accused the team of sending too many alerts to fans who signed up for a text-messaging service.” Plaintiff Jerry Wojcik contended “that the team violated the terms of its text service by sending him 13 messages over two weeks when it promised to send no more than five per week. … He claimed in his suit that the extra texts violated the federal Telephone Consumer Protection Act, and he sought statutory damages of $500 per excessive message for negligent violations and up to $1,500 per message for willful violations.” His lawyers will pocket $562,500. [Buffalo News]
Following up on yesterday’s item, the WSJ reported the other week about some of the lengths lawyers will go to sue under the TCPA (Telephone Consumer Protection Act) of 1991:
Many firms are being sued for contacting their own customers via cell.
In 2001, Ms. Wahlquist [defense lawyer Becca Wahlquist of Manatt, Phelps] was involved in a class-action fax-telemarketing case against DirecTV that awarded a year of free service as part of the settlement. In 2004, when the court-appointed class administrator sent fax notices about the award to the class, DirecTV was sued again on the ground those notices violated the TCPA as well.
DirecTV won the case, but Ms. Wahlquist was shocked. “Everyone is sitting ducks,” she said.
I wrote about the related cottage industry of junk-fax litigation some years ago. More: U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform report on problem of near-limitless statutory damages under TCPA (PDF).
Douglas Walburg faces potential liability of $16-48 million. What heinous acts caused such astronomical damages? A violation of 47 C.F.R. § 16.1200(a)(3)(iv), an FCC regulation that enables lawsuits against senders of unsolicited faxes.
Walburg, however, never sent any unsolicited faxes; he was sued under the regulation by a class of plaintiffs for failing to include opt-out language in faxes sent to those who expressly authorized Walburg to send them the faxes.
The Federal Communications Commission has now taken the position that a federal enactment known as the Hobbs Act “prevents federal courts from considering challenges to the validity of FCC regulations when raised as a defense in a private lawsuit.” The Cato Institute has joined the National Federation of Independent Business in an amicus brief seeking Supreme Court certiorari, supporting Walburg’s position “that the Eighth Circuit was wrong to deny him the right to judicial review without having to initiate a separate (and impossible) administrative review.” [Ilya Shapiro, Cato]
“Prosecutors claim Qwest CEO Joseph Nacchio was guilty of insider trading, and that his prosecution had nothing to do with his refusal to allow spying on his customers without the permission of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. But to this day, Nacchio insists that his prosecution was retaliation for refusing to break the law on the NSA’s behalf.” [Andrea Peterson, WaPo; earlier here, here]
Also on surveillance: “One NSA analyst was recreationally surveilling women for 5 years, until a girlfriend realized he was wiretapping her.” [Kevin Poulsen, Wired] “To boldly snoop where no snoop has snooped before” [Lowering the Bar on NSA grandiosity] No, it’s not creepy at all for the British government to put up big peeping-eyes posters to remind taxpayers they’re being watched [Telegraph last November]
Yes, “copyright infringement”:
Agencies working to curb drug trafficking, cyberattacks, money laundering, counterfeiting and even copyright infringement complain that their attempts to exploit the [National Security Agency's] vast resources have often been turned down because their own investigations are not considered a high enough priority, current and former government officials say. …
“It’s a very common complaint about N.S.A.,” said Timothy H. Edgar, a former senior intelligence official at the White House and at the office of the director of national intelligence. “They collect all this information, but it’s difficult for the other agencies to get access to what they want.”
“The other agencies feel they should be bigger players,” said Mr. Edgar, who heard many of the disputes before leaving government this year to become a visiting fellow at Brown University. “They view the N.S.A. — incorrectly, I think — as this big pot of data that they could go get if they were just able to pry it out of them.”
Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) speaks out on NSA bulk surveillance in this new Cato video with Caleb Brown. Earlier on surveillance here, here, and here; earlier on panopticons here. For the use of “money laundering” laws to pursue financial flows having nothing to do with terrorism or drug smuggling, see our reports here, here, here, here, etc.
Don’t just think vacuum cleaners, think J. Edgar Hoover. [Gene Healy, Washington Examiner] In fact there’s a long history of misuse of ostensibly secure law-enforcement files and databases [1993 GAO report; Robert F. Weir, ed., book on Stored Tissue Samples; unlawful private-investigator access to the National Crime Information Center (NCIC), the FBI's electronic criminal-records database] Once DNA databases are open to varied queries from multiple law enforcement agencies, can we presume them immune from abuse? Even the NSA, whose level of professionalism is presumedly far higher than that of local law enforcement agencies, is no stranger to stories about gratuitous and offensive abuse of privacy. And, writes Jim Harper, the evidence is that the NSA has gathered telecom metadata on a dragnet basis (as distinct from individualized suspicion) not merely for data mining, but to assist in investigations of persons who may happen to come under suspicion in the future, quite a different rationale.
More: “Was a Telecom CEO Sent to Prison Because He Resisted NSA?” [Alexander Cohen, Atlas, on Joseph Nacchio's prosecution on insider trading charges after QWest refused to participate in surveillance] For many other telecoms, at any rate, fear of regulatory muscle will turn them into eager cooperators [Ira Stoll on Verizon] Related: 2007.
It might be more accurate to identify the protagonist in this little tale as a class action law firm, rather than as a California “fan”:
Fred Weiss is the only plaintiff named in the class-action suit. In it, he claims he suffered “actual harm” because he was “subjected to the aggravation that necessarily accompanies the invasion of privacy caused by unsolicited text message calls, but also because consumers have to pay their cell phone service providers for the receipt of such wireless calls.” Weiss is bringing the suit under a federal law that prohibits unsolicited texts. …
The terms and conditions of the text program said the Pens would send no more than three messages per week for those who chose to subscribe. In his first week as a subscriber, Weiss claims the Pens sent him five texts. In the second week, Weiss says he got four.
The Edelson class-action firm of Chicago is one we have met before. [DeadSpin]
Attaching strings to its permission gives the Federal Communications Commission a way to fund social programs Congress would never, ever pass [Stoll, Future of Capitalism] More: Josh Wright, TotM, Mickey Kaus (“backdoor bilingualism”).
They’re invoking laws against wiretapping, which you might naively think were passed to protect the people from the authorities, not vice versa, [Boston Globe/Daniel Rowinski, New England Center for Investigative Reporting; Radley Balko, Reason "Hit and Run"] Now lawyer Simon Glik, who was arrested for recording an arrest, is suing three cops and the city [NLJ]
Julia Forte of North Carolina
operates a pair of web sites — 800notes.com and whocallsme.com — that provide an interesting consumer service. These web sites include message boards that permit consumers who receive calls from telemarketers to comment on their experiences; other consumers who receive a call from a given telemarketer can take a look and make a decision about whether they want to take a particular call.
U.S. law protects her in this mission, but telemarketers who don’t like the critiques made available on her sites have begun suing, or threatening to sue her, in other countries where protections for online speech are less robust. [Paul Alan Levy, CL&P Blog]
Marc Randazza (Dec. 12; source link he cites is NSFW):
A Rhode Island family filed a lawsuit in Kent Superior Court claiming that Verizon Communications caused “great pain, anxiety, nervousness and mental anguish,” by providing access to the Playboy Channel. Plaintiffs Robert Bourne, Denise Roy and daughters Elice Roy and Danielle Bourne are seeking compensation for “current and future medical bills.”
The state of Kentucky enacted a new sales tax on the services of telecommunications companies. It also forbade the companies from breaking the tax out as a line item on customer’s bills — that might get people mad at the legislators, after all. The Sixth Circuit, Sutton, J., ruled that under the intermediate level of First Amendment scrutiny applied to limitations on commercial speech, the “no-stating-the-tax” provision was unconstitutional. (BellSouth v. Farris, Sept. 9).