What’s in a Name? How the Definition of “Automatic Telephone Dialing System” and Ever-Changing Technology Required Supreme Court Intervention

Authored by: Kristen P. Watson & Katherine E. West


          Since its enactment in 1991, the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) has generated voluminous litigation and debate regarding the exact parameters of the TCPA’s regulatory scope.  Among other things, courts and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) struggled to define precisely what technology constitutes an automatic telephone dialing system (ATDS) within the meaning of the TCPA.  The drastic advancement in technology over the last thirty years has made defining an ATDS much more difficult.  However, the FCC’s attempt to keep pace with changing technology by broadening its definition of an ATDS has given rise to a circuit split on the issue.  In 2021, the Supreme Court weighed in when it decided Facebook, Inc. v. Duguid.  In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court drastically narrowed the scope of an ATDS, although it remains to be seen how Congress and the plaintiff’s bar will respond.

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