To say that robocalls are annoying is an understatement. They can be like the drip, drip, drip of torture. That’s exactly what Peterson Manuel experienced when the debt collection agency NRA Group robocalled him, and robocalled him, and robocalled him. It got so bad that he sued the debt collection agency in U.S. District Court for violations of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act.
According to court documents, NRA was trying to collect a Florida parking ticket fine from Mr. Manuel. The collection agency uses a skip tracing service (something that’s very common in the debt collection universe) to find a phone number for Mr. Manuel. The service gave them a residential landline phone number for him, but it turned out to be his cell phone number. It was three years before NRA’s specialized software figured out that it was a cell phone number.
In the meantime, over the course of a little more than two years, NRA called Mr. Manuel’s cell phone 149 times. The voicemails he received were a period of silence, and then a clicking sound when the call ended. None of the voicemails were live messages from NRA debt collectors. When Mr. Manuel did answer, he said that there was a significant delay before he was connected with a debt collector. At one point, he told NRA to stop calling his cell phone. That did not seem to stop the calls, so the consumer decided to sue.
The lawsuit, filed by Lemberg Law, alleged that NRA violated the TCPA’s prohibition against making cell phone robocalls without the consumer’s consent. Both Mr. Manuel and NRA filed motions with the court for summary judgment, which is another way of saying that each side wanted the judge to rule in their favor without having to go to trial.
The judge ruled against NRA and in favor of Mr. Manuel. NRA argued that it wasn’t making robocalls because a human had to hit a key on a keyboard in order for the call to be initiated. Mr. Manuel argued that NRA’s system was a predictive dialer under the TCPA because it had the capacity to dial numbers without human intervention. In response, NRA argued that he could not plausibly state that argument without expert testimony. The judge disagreed, saying that information given in a deposition was evidence that the system could make calls without human involvement.
The judge ruled that Mr. Manuel was entitled to judgment under the TCPA. In other words, the consumer won his case.
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