Court Finds that Revocation of TCPA Consent Is Debt Specific, Sanity Follows
It is a scenario that our clients commonly face: when calling a customer to discuss a specific delinquency on a specific account, the customer says “stop calling me.” But what if the customer has multiple accounts or even debts related to multiple product lines with the caller? Is the caller to cease all effort to contact the customer on all accounts, no matter how diverse and for any reason whatsoever? Or is the caller only required to stop calling regarding this specific delinquency and on this specific account? Or is it something in-between?
The TCPA raises innumerable compliance challenges, but grappling with the contours of customer consent—and revocation thereof—is undoubtedly the most difficult from an operational standpoint. Customers rarely hang on the line long enough to give a point-by-point rundown of the scope of their intended revocation and, even if they did, expecting a call center agent to properly execute those instructions—potentially across various product lines and systems—is really asking a bit much.
Last week, Judge Robert M. Dow, Jr. of the Northern District of Illinois issued an opinion that promises to add an ounce of sanity to the otherwise lunatic world of TCPA litigation. Specifically, in Michel v. Credit Prot. Ass’n L.P., Case No. 14-cv-8452, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 134767 (N.D Ill. Aug. 23, 2017), the Court held that a plaintiff’s request to a third-party collector to “stop calling” was only sufficient to revoke consent for the debt about which the collector was calling. Thus, when the collection agency called the same consumer regarding a different account for a different creditor, it could not be liable for the call. The Court reasoned that each creditor had obtained separate consent from the consumer authorizing calls regarding different debts. Hence, revocation as to one of the two accounts could not, and did not, operate to revoke consent on the other.
Importantly, the plaintiff in Michel argued that he was unaware as to which of the two accounts he was being called and did not intend to limit his revocation to a single account when he asked not to be called. No matter, said the Court. The fact that consent had been obtained for the two accounts separately was dispositive of the issue—revocation on a call pertaining to one debt did not operate to revoke consent to call on the other.
It should be noted that the case was decided in the context of a third-party collector that was servicing different accounts for two distinct entities. Thus, the ruling is not quite on all fours with the situation where a single creditor places calls to a consumer on multiple accounts. Conceivably, a court might use that fact to distinguish Michel where calls pertaining to multiple accounts derive from a single creditor. But there’s really no good reason for that to be so. The dispositive fact in Michel—that the customer has provided clear consent with respect to multiple and separate debts—ought to prevail even where the consumer gave such consent to a single creditor. Barring a more specific instruction from the consumer, the presumption following Michel should be that a vague “stop calling” instruction is limited to the account about which the call was placed and nothing more.