Restaurants Can Send You Automated Texts, Supreme Court Rules

In a unanimous ruling, the Court clarified the line between solicited and unsolicited text messages after class-action lawsuits targeted restaurants and other businesses.

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Back before spam cluttered our inbox, robocalls were clogging up our phone lines—and now, thanks to smartphones, one delightful device is able to receive all of this unwanted communication, along with others like unsolicited text messages. Back in 1991, Congress tried to address autodialed phone calls with the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA)—but a lot has changed in 30 years. So what about the rest?

In the past, some courts have ruled that TCPA could be broadly applied to SMS text messages just like phone calls, but last week, the Supreme Court ruled that, no, TCPA only applies in certain, specific instances of texting. And if you're happy to get alerts from restaurants about things like when your order or table is ready, the ruling may affect you, too.

In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court ruled that any TCPA-violating texts had to be sent to a phone number based solely on "a random or sequential generator." Texting numbers collected through other means, like storing the number of a previous customer or from someone who has opted-in to text communication—even if these texts are sent to what has now become a wrong number—is acceptable.

"Expanding the definition of an autodialer to encompass any equipment that merely stores and dials telephone numbers would take a chainsaw to these nuanced problems when Congress meant to use a scalpel," Justice Sotomayor wrote in the ruling, according to The National Law Review.

The decision affects all businesses that send automated text messages, but as Nation's Restaurant News points out, the dining industry can also breathe a sigh of relief since some of the establishments that had faced lawsuits for sending unwanted messages were restaurants. "Previously, if the number was stored, and it was automatically dialed, and the person didn't want to receive it, that was all that was needed [to be in violation of the TCPA]," Angelo Amador, executive director of the National Restaurant Association's Restaurant Law Center—which had filed an amici curiae brief to the Supreme Court encouraging this decision—told the site.

Amador continued, saying that restaurants could now send texts "in good faith, provided they got the number from a source other than a randomly generated number." He then concluded, "This ruling reinforces the distinction between legitimate restaurant communications and unwanted robocalls—reestablishing the proper scope of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act and encouraging legitimate communications with guests while putting the brakes on frivolous suits against restaurants."

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