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Law Crushes and Phone Numbers Change, Robo-Dialing Fines Remain

By Robyn Hagan Cain | Last updated on

You might consent to a business calling you on your cell phone, but that doesn't mean that the successor to your phone number will do the same.

Unwanted phone calls to cell phones can be costly for both the recipient, (through air time fees), and the caller, (under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act). Last week, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a caller that repeatedly calls a cell phone number for which the "called party" did not consent to being called can be held liable at the rate of $500 per call under the TCPA.

What's interesting about this case is that previous occupiers of the called numbers did consent to the call, so the callers in question -- both debt collectors -- claimed that they should be exempt from TCPA liability for calls made after the numbers were transferred to new people.

Judge Frank Easterbrook, writing for the three-judge panel, disagreed, holding that there can't be any long-term consent to call a given cell number, because no one has a property right in a phone number. Instead, Judge Easterbrook said that a cell phone customer's consent to receive calls remains effective until it is revoked by a subsequent subscriber to the same phone number.

(Sidebar: You've probably guessed from the number of Easterbrook opinions we've covered lately that we've developed a law crush on the Seventh Circuit Chief Judge. In the past, we made no secret of the fact that Judge Richard Posner was our long-time law crush. Alas, the heart is fickle, and times -- like phone numbers -- change. Judge Easterbrook is our new law-blogging squeeze.)

If you represent a debt collector -- or any other business that relies on telephone solicitations -- you should develop an action plan to insulate your client from phone-number-changing liability under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act.

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