Class Action TCPA Case Dismissed Because Calls Were Made Solely To Collect a Debt Owed To Or Guaranteed By The United States

11 April 2016 Consumer Class Defense Counsel Blog

The Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency autodialed student debtor, Neil Silver, in January 2014 in an effort to collect on student debt. Silver claimed that these calls were made without his consent, and therefore violated the Telephone Consumer Protection Act.  In February 2014, Silver filed a class action lawsuit against the Education Assistance Agency seeking to represent all those called via an automatic telephone dialing system over the preceding four years.

Over a year after Silver filed his lawsuit, the United States Congress passed the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 2016. That statute amended the TCPA to provide an exemption for calls made solely to collect a debt owed to or guaranteed by the United States.

After Congress amended the TCPA, the Education Assistance Agency filed a motion for summary judgment stating that the new law barred Silver’s claim. Silver objected, arguing that would be an unfair retroactive application of a statute.  The Court in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California rejected Silver’s argument.

To decide whether Silver’s claim was barred, the Court needed to determine whether the statute would impair rights that Silver had when “he acted,” increase Silver’s or the Education Assistance Agency’s liability for past conduct, or impose new duties with respect to transactions already completed. The Court found that none of these conditions was met.

Specifically, the TCPA amendment did not increase anyone’s liability for past conduct, it decreased it. Similarly, rather than imposing new duties on completed transactions, it eliminated certain duties.  Silver claimed that the statutory amendment impaired his right to bring the lawsuit.  However, the Court said that that is not a sufficient basis to bar retroactive application of the statute.  The Court ruled that Silver’s claim was barred and granted the Education Assistance Agency’s motion for summary judgment.

The Silver case is important for a couple of reasons. First, it can be used as persuasive authority in any TCPA case filed against a United States-backed, student loan collector, even if the calls at issue were made before the statute passed.  Second, even though Congress directed the Federal Communications Commission to issue regulations regarding the new statute, it is clear from this case that the statute applies now even though the FCC regulations have not yet issued.

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