PHILADELPHIA – A focus on finding Pennsylvania plaintiffs has helped a California-based firm earn a reputation for flooding the nation's courts with lawsuits over phone calls made by companies.
A recent report from the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform shows lawsuits brought under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act are on the rise nationwide, led by the “prolific” filing of The Law Offices of Todd M. Friedman, a Beverly Hills, Calif., firm that has maintained an office near Philadelphia since 2011.
The firm has six offices, but only three outside of California. Those three are in Cleveland, Chicago and King of Prussia.
The King of Prussia office appears to be headed by attorney Cynthia Z. Levin. An associate attorney in the Friedman firm’s California headquarters offered no comment to the Pennsylvania Record, and neither Friedman nor Levin returned emails or phone calls in connection with this story.
In the August report, Friedman's firm was noted for filing 263 TCPA lawsuits against hundreds of companies over a 17-month time frame, spanning August 2015 to December 2016.
About 80 percent of those cases, approximately 215, were filed as national class actions, according to the report. The ILR owns the Pennsylvania Record.
“TCPA actions, and it can vary from court-to-court and state-to-state, are either the No. 1-filed federal complaint or the No. 2-filed federal complaint. There’s just a tsunami of TCPA actions, no question,” attorney Martin C. Bryce Jr., of Ballard Spahr in Philadelphia, told the Pennsylvania Record.
An entry in the ILR report noted TCPA litigation was once a hallmark of federal courts in California, Illinois and Florida, but have since been brought into “expanded scope” nationwide - something that did not surprise Bryce.
“There’s definite truth in that, and I would point to the fact that those states are very litigious to begin with," Bryce said.
"They already had large, aggressive plaintiff bars bringing a lot of different lawsuits, they discovered the TCPA, started bringing TCPA lawsuits and when word spread, so to speak, other firms and other parts of the country started mimicking them and bringing TCPA lawsuits. I’m not at all surprised at that.
The report itself examined 3,121 TCPA lawsuits filed across 42 states, found 87 of them originated in Pennsylvania – and noted that 44 law firms were the primary filers of 1,826 actions contained in that same group of suits, or roughly 60 percent.
Of the group of 1,826 specific suits, the Friedman firm’s total tally of 263 made it the top filer.
Previous coverage of Friedman's firm by Legal Newsline and the Pennsylvania Record showed a defendant fighting a Friedman lawsuit by claiming he and his client created a scheme to manufacture TCPA claims.
BrandRep accused Jason Alan of making public more than 20 phone numbers he associated with various business entities to invite calls. The TCPA provides for statutory damages of $500 or $1,500 per call, depending on the caller's actions.
BrandRep says 22 of Alan’s phone numbers have been published as numbers for a group of plumbing businesses. He has filed more than 30 TCPA lawsuits.
BrandRep alleged Alan and Friedman created lawsuits like an automobile factory would manufacture its own cars, using boilerplate complaints so they could file a large number of complaints easily.
Friedman called the company’s claims “frivolous” and said they showed the company has no idea how to comply with the TCPA. The case was settled shortly after the first article was published.
Friedman's Pennsylvania office also represents clients with multiple lawsuits like Dawn Hartley-Culp, who filed eight lawsuits in the state in 2014-15. All have settled.
Since 2011, Friedman's Pennsylvania office has filed approximately 74 TCPA lawsuits. Most settled in less than a year, and only five remain open - including the four most-recently filed.
The fifth is being fought by Nationstar Mortgage. The lawsuit, filed in 2014 by Kameshia Paige Davis, alleges the company mistakenly believed Davis had missed a mortgage payment, It began robocalling her cell phone as often as three times per day (and over 300 times in total).
The case is currently stayed pending a decision in another case.
“Another trend worth noting is that many firms specializing in TCPA actions bring multiple lawsuits anchored to one plaintiff, likely because when a plaintiff turns over all phone records to his or her counsel, multiple targets can be identified. As just one example, a California-based plaintiff named Melissa Meyer filed 11 lawsuits through the Friedman firm asserting TCPA violations against various companies,” the ILR report stated.
Friedman mentions on his firm’s website that the majority of his own class action experience is in litigation involving the TCPA and other consumer protection acts, and was a part of the class action case Gehrich Et.Al v. Chase Bank Et.Al, which he states was “approved preliminarily as the one of the biggest TCPA class action settlements in U.S. jurisprudence history.”
“There’s certainly plenty of [TCPA lawsuits],” Bryce said. “A lot of plaintiffs’ law firms have gotten into bringing TCPA cases and they very vigorously market that, and market those suits.”
Bryce explained when once researching information on changing cell phone service providers online, he came across a number of plaintiffs’ law firms websites touting their filing of TCPA litigation.
“It just goes to show you how they’re out there trying to make hay, I guess you would say. They’ve succeeded, they’ve brought an awful lot of cases. Their view is that [the suits] are relatively straightforward: If you’ve been getting phone calls and you either never had a relationship with the caller or you previously told them to stop calling, you’ve got a cause of action and you can make money,” Bryce stated.
Bryce indicated the trend of TCPA litigation’s increased prevalence has been on the rise in recent years.
As to the evolving future of TCPA litigation, Bryce said a number of potential contributing factors at work could speak to that subject, both in Pennsylvania and nationwide.
“One, there’s what the FCC [Federal Communications Commission] will do, now that we’re in a Republican administration. You’ve also got pending down at the Circuit Court of the District of Columbia a number of consolidated appeals challenging some prior FCC rulings [from July 2015]," Bryce said.
"Depending on what happens in both those appeals and what happens before the FCC, you could see the basis for liability potentially narrowing. If you narrow the basis for liability, then obviously you end up narrowing the volume of litigation."
Bryce added another potential “choke point” was a recent decision in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in New York, which stated if a person had a contractual provision permitting them to be contacted by a creditor, they could not later revoke that provision and bring forth a TCPA action.
“That ruling hasn’t been made in Pennsylvania yet. I would expect it eventually will, and that may also further narrow [TCPA] litigation as well. A lot of creditors, a lot of callers, debt collectors, you name it, aren’t rolling over on these suits, they’re fighting them. So they may not turn out to be quite the easy payday the plaintiffs’ bar thinks they are,” Bryce said.
From the Pennsylvania Record: Reach Courts Reporter Nicholas Malfitano at firstname.lastname@example.org