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Gadelhak v. AT&T Servs.

United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

September 27, 2019, Argued; February 19, 2020, Decided

No. 19-1738

Opinion

 [*460]  Barrett, Circuit Judge. The wording of the provision that we interpret today is enough to make a grammarian throw down her pen. ] The Telephone Consumer Protection Act bars certain uses of an "automatic [**2]  telephone dialing system," which it defines as equipment with the capacity "to store or produce telephone numbers to be called, using a random or sequential number generator," as well as the capacity to dial those numbers. We must decide an issue that has split the circuits: what the phrase "using a random or sequential number generator" modifies.

We'll save the intense grammatical parsing for the body of the opinion—here, we'll just give the punchline. We hold that "using a random or sequential number generator" modifies both "store" and "produce." The system at issue in this case, AT&T's "Customer Rules Feedback Tool," neither stores nor produces numbers using a random or sequential number generator; instead, it exclusively dials numbers stored in a customer database. Thus, it is not an "automatic telephone dialing system" as defined by the Act—which means that AT&T did not violate the Act when it sent unwanted automated text messages to Ali Gadelhak.

This dispute stems from AT&T's "Customer Rules Feedback Tool," a device that sends surveys to customers who have interacted with AT&T's customer service department. Using this tool, AT&T sent Chicago resident Ali Gadelhak five text [**3]  messages asking survey questions in Spanish. But Gadelhak is neither an AT&T customer nor a Spanish speaker, and his number is on the national "Do Not Call Registry." Annoyed by the texts, Gadelhak brought a putative class action against AT&T for violating the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, which Congress enacted in 1991 to address the problem of intrusive telemarketing.

] With some exceptions not relevant here, the Act prohibits the use of an "automatic telephone dialing system" to call or text any cellular phone without the prior consent of the recipient, as well as to call certain hospital numbers. 47 U.S.C. § 227(b)(1). An "automatic telephone dialing system" is defined as:

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950 F.3d 458 *; 2020 U.S. App. LEXIS 5026 **; 2020 WL 808270

ALI GADELHAK, on behalf of himself and all others similarly situated, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. AT&T SERVICES, INC., Defendant-Appellee.

Subsequent History: Rehearing denied by, En banc Gadelhak v. AT&T Servs., 2020 U.S. App. LEXIS 8774 (7th Cir. Ill., Mar. 19, 2020)

Prior History:  [**1] Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. 1:17-cv-1559 — Edmond E. Chang, Judge.

Gadelhak v. AT&T Servs., 2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 55200 (N.D. Ill., Mar. 29, 2019)

CORE TERMS

random, generator, dialing, sequential, numbers, telephone number, modifies, automatic telephone, FCC, customer, text message, comma, intrusion, qualify, words, statutory definition, district court, telemarketing, concrete, randomly, sentence, verbs, Circuits, captures, unwanted, courts, texts, common law, adverbial, preceding

Antitrust & Trade Law, Consumer Protection, Telemarketing, Business & Corporate Compliance, Communications Law, Federal Acts, Telephone Consumer Protection Act, Constitutional Law, Case or Controversy, Standing, Elements, Jurisdiction, Subject Matter Jurisdiction, Jurisdiction Over Actions, Particular Parties, Governments, Legislation, Interpretation