Yost wants robocall decision reversed

Staff report

Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost has joined 33 other attorneys general in asking the U.S. Court of Appeals to reverse a decision that prevents states from combating robocallers.

The bipartisan coalition filed an amicus brief Tuesday arguing that the Telephone Consumer Protection Act’s robocall ban was enforceable from 2015 to 2020.

“My office received more than 38,500 complaints of unwanted robocalls from Ohioans last year,” Yost said. “Stripping away tools to fight them now – when scammers are exploiting the pandemic every day – is putting people at risk.”

In 2015, President Barack Obama signed into law a government debt exception to the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA). The exception allows for calls and texts to collect on debts owed or guaranteed to the federal government. In 2020, the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated that exception and severed it from rest of the TCPA. Later, a district court ruled in Lindenbaum v. Realgy that because part of the law was struck down, the TCPA is invalid and cannot be used to hold robocallers accountable for their actions between 2015 and 2020.

The brief, filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, asks the court to reverse the lower court’s ruling. The brief argues that the Supreme Court’s 2020 decision made clear that the invalid government-debt exception did not affect the TCPA’s primary robocall ban. It further argues that the district court’s decision was inconsistent with basic principles on severability.

In January 2020, people received more than 4.7 billion robocalls nationwide. The attorneys general have several ongoing enforcement actions under the TCPA, and invalidating the law on a technicality would let robocallers off the hook.

Last March, Yost launched an anti-robocall initiative and created a new Robocall Enforcement Unit. Behind the slogan “Just Don’t Answer!” the Unit encourages Ohioans to not answer or reply to phone numbers they do not recognize.

The bipartisan coalition has arguesd that, aside from the government debt exception, the rest of the TCPA can and must be upheld so it can be enforced.

Yost is joined in filing this brief by the attorneys general of 15 other states including Michigan, Indiana, and Virginia.

Staff report