ST. LOUIS — After finding in favor of plaintiffs in a trial last month over violations of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), a federal court judge has awarded $32.4 million in damages, or $10 per violation.
In a case against FreeEats.com and AIC Communications, U.S. District Judge E. Richard Webber of the Eastern District of Missouri found that the TCPA statutory damages clause of $500 per violation is constitutional, "but a specific damages award may be unconstitutional if it is 'so severe and oppressive as to be wholly disproportioned to the offense and obviously unreasonable.'"
The case involved a six-day telemarketing campaign that placed 3.2 million telephone calls.
A jury trial had been held in the Eastern District of Missouri from Aug. 7-16, after which the court granted the plaintiffs' motion for judgment as a matter of law. The lead plaintiff was Ron Golan.
The defendants in post-trial motions had asked for a reduction of damages to 10 cents per call, for a total award of $324,249, according to Webber’s ruling issued Sept. 7. They argued that excessive-damage awards violate the Constitution.
Had the $500 per violation been awarded, the total judgment against defendants would have amounted to $1.6 billion.
Webber wrote that courts are "hesitant" to declare a statutory damage provision unconstitutional.
He wrote that in relation to the TCPA, "the $500 per violation damages provision is meant to address harms that are otherwise unquantifiable such as invasions of privacy, unwanted disruptions, tied-up phone lines, and wasted time spent answering unwanted phone calls."
Webber ruled that a $1.6 billion award would be "unreasonable and wholly disproportionate to the offense."
He wrote that $10 fine per call reflects the "severity" in the case against FreeEats.com and AIC Communications "as well as respecting the purposes of the TCPA to have a deterrent effect and to account for unquantifiable losses including the invasions of privacy, unwanted interruptions and disruptions at home, and the wasted time spent answering unwanted solicitation calls or unwanted voice messages."
He further wrote that the amount also takes into account the "significant" time and expense necessary to notify the class and distribute awards.