Relentless Robocalls: Can a Cable Company Be Sued For Calling the Wrong Number 163 Times?

Araceli King felt harassed by the relentless automated calls from Time Warner Cable. Can she sue for damages? You be the judge.

march 2016 ybtj robot callsNoma Bar for Reader's Digest

The calls to Araceli King’s cell phone started on July 3, 2013. Every time, a prerecorded message from Time Warner Cable (TWC) asked to speak to “Luiz Perez.” If King didn’t answer the call, the company left a computerized message for Perez.

King didn’t know anyone named Luiz Perez, but there were no interactive options given in the messages to opt out of the calls. So they kept coming. From July to October, King received ten calls from TWC, all using the company’s interactive voice response (IVR) system.

King, a resident of El Paso, Texas, had given TWC her cell number in connection with her account and had consented to its terms of service, which included using “automated dialing systems or artificial or recorded voices to call you.” However, TWC did not, in fact, intend to call her.

Finally, on October 3, 2013, King contacted TWC. She explained to a representative that she wasn’t Luiz Perez and asked that calls to her cell about his account stop. As it turned out, Perez had opened an account with TWC 20 months earlier, in February 2012, using a phone number that Sprint later assigned to King.

The calls, however, still did not stop. King made additional requests to TWC to put an end to them, but TWC proceeded to call her 79 more times. So on March 20, 2014, she filed a complaint in the United States District Court of the Southern District of New York. She claimed that TWC was violating the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), a law that prohibits companies from dialing any phone number or leaving a voice mail without prior consent.

Yet even after TWC had been served the summons, it still called King an additional 74 times. In all, she alleged receiving 163 calls from TWC for “Luiz Perez,” according to court papers.

“She felt harassed,” says her attorney, Jenny DeFrancisco at Lemberg Law, noting that each call that violated the TCPA was subject to a $500 award in statutory damages.

[pullquote] Even after TWC had been served the summons, it still called King an additional 74 times. [/pullquote]

Among other points, TWC argued that it did not know that Perez’s cell phone number had been reassigned to King and, therefore, the company’s liability was unclear, since that situation—intending to call one party and accidentally calling another because the number had been reassigned—wasn’t expressly addressed by the TCPA.

Did TWC violate King’s rights by calling her number to reach another customer? You be the judge.

Next: The Verdict

The Verdict

On June 18, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) clarified its position on the case at hand in a press release: “If a phone number has been reassigned, companies must stop calling the number after one call.”

In the following weeks, both King and TWC moved for summary judgment in the case. On July 7, District Judge Alvin Hellerstein ruled that TWC was not liable for the ten calls prior to King’s October 3 call to the cable company. However, he ruled that TWC was liable for the remaining 153 calls, and not just at $500 per call, but at $1,500 per call—a total of $229,500. The judge explained that King “clearly experienced the very sort of inconvenience against which Congress sought to protect her.” But TWC is not giving up. The cable giant has since filed an appeal.

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Up next: These lawsuits against fast-food restaurants are just as funny as they are absurd.

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