A few weeks ago, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to take up a major fax-related case that could have wide-reaching implications on the telecom and fax industries. The case, PDR Network v. Carlton & Harris Chiropractic, will settle a dispute concerning faxes that offer free information and whether or not they violate the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), which expressly forbids commercial solicitation via fax unless the recipient has given prior consent to receiving these types of faxes.
The Basics of the Case
The plaintiff in the case is a West Virginia chiropractor (Carlton & Harris, Inc.) who alleges that the defendant (PDR Network) sent them an unsolicited fax that violated the TCPA of 1991 because the company did not consent to receiving sales advertisements via fax. PDR Network claims the fax did not violate the TCPA because it offered something for free — it contained a free copy of an eBook titled the Physicians’ Desk Reference — and did not solicit any payment nor ask for the purchase of a product or service.
The plaintiff disagreed, asserting that a 2006 FCC rule interpreted the term “unsolicited advertisements” to mean “facsimile messages that promote goods or services even at no cost.″ The district court found that the 2006 FCC ruling wasn’t applicable to this case and dismissed it, but the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit reversed the ruling, stating that the Hobbs Act, which allows courts to apply judicial review to these types of cases and clears a path for them to determine the constitutional validity of legislation, was applicable. If the Hobbs Act does indeed apply to this case, it means that the local district court should have interpreted the term “unsolicited advertisements” using the definitions applied by 2006 FCC ruling.
The case is now on its way to the Supreme Court.
What it Means for the Fax and Telecom Industries
Those who misuse fax technology risk hefty fines for violating federal and state regulations. This case gives the Supreme Court the chance to provide clarity in their ruling as to whether faxes that do not solicit sales and simply contain free information violate the TCPA. More importantly, if they decide the Hobbs Act does indeed apply to cases like this, it will grant local district courts more power to interpret the TCPA when judging cases that involve TCPA violations.
While we are not lawyers and don’t offer official legal advice, we advise against using fax software to send any unsolicited faxes. In light of this case, no matter how the SCOTUS rules, it’s strongly advised that organizations review the TCPA and all regulations that specifically apply to their industry.