Twitter Loses Bid To Dismiss Robo-Texting Case

Twitter may have violated a robo-texting law by allegedly sending text messages to recycled phone numbers, a judge has ruled.

In a decision issued late last week, U.S. District Court Judge Vince Chhabria in the Northern District of California rejected Twitter's argument that it's not responsible for text messages that alert people to new tweets by other users.

The ruling granted partial summary judgment to Beverly Nunes, a Taunton, Massachusetts resident who sued Twitter for allegedly violating the Telephone Consumer Protection Act. That law prohibits companies from using automated dialing systems to send SMS ads to people without their consent. Companies that violate the measure face damages of up to $1,500 per message.

This lawsuit, a potential class-action, is one of several pending battles over text messages sent to recycled phone numbers. In another pending dispute, Philadelphia resident Bill Dominguez sued Yahoo for allegedly sending him 27,000 unwanted text alerts after he purchased a used phone.

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Last year, the FCC ruled that companies can send one and only one autodialed text (or make one robocall) to a reassigned number. Companies that send more than one SMS potentially violate the law.

Nunes alleged that she began receiving text messages from Twitter in November of 2013, immediately after purchasing a cell phone. At one point, Nunes allegedly received up to six messages a day, all from Twitter's short code. Many of those texts appeared to promote an online coupon site. For example, one message allegedly included the phrase “There’s a new Swagcode out,” and directed her to click on a link.

The microblogging company argued that it didn't make the phone calls. Instead, according to Twitter, the "maker" was either the user who posted the tweet, or alternatively, the user who signed up to be notified about tweets via text.

Chhabria rejected the company's stance, writing "either interpretation is too far removed from the ordinary meaning of the phrase 'make any call.'"

"The author of a tweet can't possibly be the maker of the call," Chhabria elaborated, adding that users don't automatically control who receives tweets.

He also said the former owner of the recycled owner didn't make the call by agreeing to receive texts.

"When someone signs up to receive a call from someone else in the future, he is not 'making' that call when it comes in," Chhabria wrote.

In an unusual stylistic flourish, Chhabria refers in the opinion to the Twitter account of former colleague U.S. Magistrate Judge Paul Grewal -- who recently resigned from the bench to take a job at Facebook.

"Apparently 964 people are interested in what Judge Grewal has to say, because that's how many Twitter followers he has," Chhabria wrote. "In early June 2016, during his last two days on the bench, Judge Grewal posted nine tweets. For example, he said: 'Anyone looking for a screaming deal on a slightly-worn judicial robe? I've got one ready to move.'"

Chhabria added: "He will be sorely missed. However, some people out there may be less appreciative of Judge Grewal: the ones who inherited the recycled cell phone numbers of his Twitter followers. Those people may find themselves wishing Judge Grewal would just shut down his Twitter account, so they can stop being subjected to his tongue-in-cheek offers to sell robes."

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