by Jeff Sovern
The next edition of our casebook will have a lot more about robocalls. According to a letter from the attorneys general of all 50 states dated yesterday, robocalls and telemarketing calls are the top source of consumer complaints at many AG's offices. The Telephone Consumer Protection Act, which outlaws some robocalls, also offers some interesting lessons about consumer lawmaking. The TCPA provides for statutory damages of $500 for each call, and even that can be tripled for willful and knowing violations. That brings us to Stoops v. Wells Fargo Bank, 197 F. Supp. 3d 782 (W.D. Pa. 2016). Stoops had purchased at least 35 cell phones. She carried the phones about with her, waiting for them to ring with illegal calls. She had filed at least 11 TCPA cases and sent at least twenty pre-litigation demand letters. Two of plaintiff’s numbers had previously been assigned to customers of Wells who had defaulted on loans and consented to receiving Wells auto-dialed and recorded calls. After Wells made numerous such calls to the numbers, plaintiff sued Wells under the TCPA. Plaintiff testified that she was bringing the lawsuits as a business. The court granted summary judgment for defendant on the ground that plaintiff had not suffered an actual injury and therefore lacked standing.
There is something quite distasteful about professional plaintiffs like Ms. Stoops. It's hard not to cheer at her getting her comeuppance. Stoops stooped to conquer (sorry). On the other hand, would the same conduct have been objectionable if the FCC or a state AG had engaged in it? Law enforcement agencies routinely engage in stings. Consumers are given the right to bring claims under consumer protection statutes like the TCPA because we need more enforcement of the law than the government can supply. Such plaintiffs are even said to serve as private attorneys general. So didn't she do exactly what the law contemplates? Did she lose because of her honesty in testifying that she was suing under the TCPA as a business? What else should we say in the casebook or the associated teacher's manual about this? Does her behavior leave a bad taste in your mouth?