The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) recently denied a petition for rule-making filed by Solvable Frustrations, Inc., which sought amendments to the FCC’s rules to allow class actions to be brought before the FCC against common carriers for alleged violations of FCC rules and regulations. While the petition did not directly reference the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), the granting of the petition would have opened a new front for TCPA class action litigation.
The petitioner, Solvable Frustrations, Inc., is a social network that aggregates customer complaints and seeks to “use legal and media resources to convince or require wayward corporations or other entities to fix the damage they caused.” The petition argued that the FCC should supplement its rules to allow class actions because such actions “provide a number of benefits that reinforce the goals of the Commission,” including allowing class members to share litigation costs, making it possible for wronged individuals to seek relief for minor injuries, and conserving administrative resources.
No one filed comments in favor of the petition, and four entities filed comments opposing it. One commentator called the petition “a self-serving vehicle for advancing [Solvable Frustrations, Inc.’s] private interests” and warned, correctly, that granting the petition would create “an inherently complex and time-consuming process with which the [FCC] has no experience or expertise” and would “strain the [FCC’s] already limited resources. Another commentator warned that it “would create an ineffective, inefficient substitute for the public and private remedies that already exist, and would require a staggering diversion of the [FCC’s] resources.”
The FCC agreed. In denying the petition, the FCC explained that “[t]here is no need for the Commission to entertain class actions [because] “such suits may be brought in federal court” and there is “no basis for concluding that the public would benefit from an additional redundant process before the [FCC]. … [F]ederal courts have decades of experience handling class actions” and can invoke the primary jurisdiction doctrine if they would be “aided by the Commission’s expertise or guidance with respect to a particular issue.”
The FCC made the right call here and thereby prevented a further expansion of the already burgeoning class action litigation involving the TCPA. The FCC has also recently issued several clarifying rulings/orders regarding the TCPA. There are a multitude of additional FCC petitions pending. As the FCC rules on them good actors and innovators will benefit from further clarification and the peace of mind that comes from not having to be needlessly subjected to enforcement actions or lawsuits, which could discourage them from offering new consumer-friendly communications services.