Second Circuit Holds that TCPA Contractual Consent Cannot be Revoked

In Reyes v. Lincoln Auto. Fin. Servs., No.162104-cv, 2017 U.S. App. LEXIS 11057 (2d Cir. June 22, 2017), the Second Circuit affirmed the trial court decision and held that the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (“TCPA”) does not permit a consumer to unilaterally revoke consent to be called when that consent is given as part of a bargained-for exchange.

The facts of the case are brief.  In 2012 Reyes leased a new Lincoln MKZ luxury sedan, which was financed by Lincoln Automotive Financial Services (“Lincoln”). Reyes provided his cell phone number in the lease application and the lease itself contained a number of provisions to which Reyes assented when finalizing the agreement. Specifically, Reyes consented to receive manual or automated telephone calls from Lincoln. When Reyes defaulted on his payments, Lincoln called Reyes on several occasions in an attempt to cure his default. Reyes claimed that he mailed a letter to Lincoln, revoking his consent to be contacted by Lincoln. Nonetheless, Lincoln continued to call Reyes. Reyes subsequently filed a lawsuit in the Eastern District of New York alleging TCPA violations, seeking $720,000 in damages for Lincoln’s 530 calls to him. The trial court granted summary judgment to Lincoln, holding that (1) Reyes failed to produce sufficient evidence from which a reasonable jury could conclude that he had ever revoked his consent to be contacted by Lincoln and (2) that, in any event, the TCPA does not permit a party to a legally binding contract to unilaterally revoke a bargained-for consent to be contacted by telephone.

On appeal, the Second Circuit first addressed whether Reyes introduced sufficient evidence to create a triable issue of fact regarding Lincoln’s alleged notice of Reyes’s revocation of consent. The Court stated that summary judgment on this issue was improper. Reyes submitted his sworn deposition testimony; a copy of the letter revoking his consent; and an affidavit stating that he had revoked consent. Based on these documents, the Court found that the lower court erred in concluding that no reasonable jury could find that Reyes revoked his consent.

Next, the Court addressed the issue of whether the TCPA permits a party to revoke consent, even if that consent was given as part of a contractual agreement. The Court explained that “consent” is not always revocable, and distinguished the instant case from other cases, which held otherwise. In Gage v. Dell Fin. Servs. and Osorio v. State Farm Bank F.S.B., the Third and Eleventh Circuit Courts, respectively, found, as confirmed by a 2015 FCC ruling, that consumers can revoke consent when it is given gratuitously, and is not incorporated into a binding legal agreement. The Second Circuit agreed with that proposition. But in the present case, when consent is provided as consideration to a bargained-for bilateral contract, consent is not revocable. Indeed, the Second Circuit observed that black-letter law dictates that a party cannot alter a bilateral contract by revoking a term without the consent of the counterparty.

Reyes also argued that the TCPA permits a party to revoke consent because “consent” was not an “essential” term of the contract. The Court dismissed Reyes’s claim on the ground that a contractual term does not need to be “essential” in order for it to be enforced. Instead, the Court explained that a fundamental rule of contract law is that parties may bind themselves to terms so long as the principles of contract formation are met. And a party who has agreed to a particular contractual term in a valid contract cannot unilaterally renege at a later time.

Lastly, Reyes contended that because the TCPA is a remedial statute, enacted to protect consumers from unwanted telephone calls, any ambiguities should be construed to further its purpose. Although the Court agreed that a liberal reading of an ambiguous term in the statute might favor a right to revoke consent, the Court ultimately rejected Reyes’s contention because the statute is not ambiguous in the first place.

The Court concluded by noting it was sensitive to the argument that businesses may undermine the effectiveness of the TCPA by inserting “consent” clauses into contracts, thereby making revocation impossible in many instances. The Court properly acknowledged that this hypothetical concern, if valid, is grounded in public policy considerations; an issue for Congress, not the courts, to resolve.

Reyes is a significant decision because it addresses an emerging issue of whether consent can be unilaterally revoked by a consumer under the TCPA. The Second Circuit’s decision is a big win for financial institutions and other defendants that have consent provisions within their binding agreements. Going forward, financial institutions litigating in the Second Circuit will be shielded, or at least have a powerful defense, from TCPA claimants who claim that they revoked consent. In addition, while Reyes is only binding in Connecticut, Vermont and New York, this decision may lend itself as the hallmark to other circuit courts that have yet to address this issue. In the meantime, businesses who are faced with TCPA lawsuits should consider adding a consent provision within their contracts to limit exposure to future TCPA liability and current TCPA defendants should consider dispositive motions if the plaintiff consented to be called.