Consumers frustrated by robo-calls and customer service calls to their cellphones have a potential way out.
A federal appeals court in Philadelphia ruled this week that people can opt out of unsolicited cellphone calls if companies are using auto-dialers to make them, regardless of any prior consent or business relationship between the parties.
The decision came from a case involving Ashley Gager, a Pennsylvania woman who had financed a Dell Inc. computer purchase through Dell Financial Services. Gager had listed her cellphone number as her home number on the application, and the company started hounding her after she defaulted.
She wrote the firm a letter to stop calling her, but she still received 40 auto-dialed, pre-recorded calls in three weeks. That led her to sue under a federal law that restricts automated calls to mobile devices.
Dell argued that limiting a creditor's ability to use an automated dialing system to collect might make it "difficult, if not impossible, [for the creditor] to ever contact the borrower with regard to the credit it extends."
However, the court said, "This argument overlooks the fact that creditors are permitted to attempt live, person-to-person calls in order to collect a debt. Consequently, Dell will still be able to telephone Gager about her delinquent account; the only limitation imposed by the Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991 is that Dell will not be able to use an automated dialing system to do so."
Dell and other organizations are also free to call people who have given them permission and not revoked it. They may also reach people on landlines by any method if a business relationship or debt exists.
[Updated 12:45 p.m. Aug. 23: David Frink, a Dell spokesman, said the company was "evaluating the options for further judicial review" and "reviewing" the business practices of Dell and Dell Financial Services "for consistency with the ruling."]
Gager's attorney Cary Flitter said in a statement that the ruling was a victory for people bothered by unwanted calls and texts to their cellphones.
"Everyone should have the right to control incoming cell calls and texts," he said.