You may have heard about the Illinois Action registered by the federal government and some states ending in a $280 million dollar civil penalty against Dish Network last June. The amount was decreased from the original $2.1 billion petitioned by Plaintiffs as the court commented, "this is a minuscule fraction of maximum possible penalties and damages." Fast forward to this month in North Carolina Court, and Dish may be on a path to finally pay up.
It seems like courts have had enough of Dish.
A frustrated NC Court this month flat out said they wanted to detour Dish from committing future TCPA actions, "and to give appropriate weight to the scope of the violations." The court goes on to express years of consumer frustrations with Dish:
“The treble damages here reflect the reprehensibility of a telemarketer’s conduct in repeatedly invading the privacy of thousands of consumers on the Registry when that telemarketer has a long history of ignoring its responsibilities under federal law, repeatedly broke its promise to numerous state Attorney Generals that it would monitor and enforce compliance with the telemarketing laws, and willfully violated the TCPA thousands of times. See Doc. 338 at 10-12, 14-15, 17-20. The treble damages are not ‘grossly excessive,’ but necessary for deterrence in light of Dish’s actions.”
The previous Illinois case did not exclude current prosecution in North Carolina.
The NC Court rejected the possibility of duplicate case prosecutions. "Different statute, different issues and different plaintiffs," they said. And continued to come down hard on distrusting Dish to repeat the same TCPA violations stating, "It is not, 'grossly excessive' to require Dish to pay treble damages for the more than 50,000 willful violations it committed given the nature of Dish's repeated invasion of privacy and disregard for those interests."
Willful and Knowing TCPA violations are difficult to prove.
Whether Dish knew if a number was assigned to a cellular telephone or not - the difference between a $400 fine per violation or willful $1200 violation - is difficult to prove. So the NC Court, to deter this bad actor from future outrageous behavior against its citizens, went after "knowing" conduct. Like continuing to call even after a customer filed a lawsuit alleging the calls violated the TCPA. Like Dish "knowing" it was calling the wrong person, but continuing to call anyway. And continuing to call a mobile number for collection, even if the caller said Dish had the wrong number.
Will "Knowing" violations now lead to more significant TCPA awards?
The NC Court reasoning is eye-opening in the sense that they went with the full written and lawful TCPA fine, not a reduced one like Illinois. And with "willing and knowing" left up to the court's discretion, it's pretty clear the average call solicitation company better keep up with call compliance chores. Maybe even not call previous professional consumer litigants at all with a Litigant Scrub before each campaign.
This article is based on the October 30'th, 2017 Dish Network update: "Willful or Knowing Violation of the TCPA: Treble Damages and What Businesses Should Know." by InfoLawGroup, LLP.