April 25, 2022 - Appellate & Supreme Court, TCPA

The Praxis of Faxes: Circuits Split on the Meaning of “Advertisement” Under the TCPA

A circuit split has emerged over faxes offering “free” goods, money, or services and whether they constitute an “unsolicited advertisement” under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (the TCPA).

In a February decision, the Second Circuit held that under the plain text of the TCPA, an unsolicited fax to doctors and nurses inviting participation in a market research survey in exchange for money did not constitute an “unsolicited advertisement” under the TCPA. Bruce Katz, M.D., P.C. v. Focus Forward LLC, 22 F.4th 368, 374 (2d Cir. 2022). The court determined that the fax was not an “unsolicited advertisement” because it did not promote the commercial availability or quality of any property, goods, or services, as prohibited by the TCPA. Id. at 372.

The Second Circuit’s ruling explicitly rejected the Third Circuit’s conclusion in Fischbein v. Olson Research Group, Inc., 959 F.3d 559 (3d Cir. 2020). In that case, the Third Circuit considered a fax soliciting participation by the recipients in market research surveys in exchange for monetary payments. The court held that the fax was an “unsolicited advertisement,” reasoning that healthcare professionals have a particular need for protection from unsolicited faxes, and that “these firms are not offering compensation out of the goodness of their hearts—they do so for a commercial purpose, to increase the response rate of their surveys, i.e. they can buy more of what they desire.” Id. at 564. The Katz court explicitly disagreed with that argument, opining that “[t]he notion that such faxes might advertise the availability of a ‘service’—i.e., of the recipient’s participation in a survey—contorts the ordinary meaning of the statute too far.” Katz, 22 F.4th 368 at 373.

While no other circuit court has weighed in on this split, two Fourth Circuit district courts quickly followed the Second Circuit’s lead. The District of Maryland held that a faxed invitation to a “Monthly Webinar Series,” which also provided a link to win an Amazon gift card by completing a webinar survey, “d[id] not advertise the availability of a good or service, but merely the opportunity to exchange goods or services.” Family Health Physical Medicine, LLC v. Pulse8, LLC, No. SAG-21-2095, 2022 WL 596475, *6 (D.Md. Feb. 28, 2022). And in Carlton & Harris Chiropractic, Inc. v. PDR Network, LLC, the Southern District of West Virginia found that a fax offering a “free” eBook did not constitute an advertisement. No. 3:15-14887, 2022 WL 386097, *5 (S.D.W.Va. Feb. 8, 2022), appeal filed, No. 22-1279 (4th Cir. Mar 15, 2022). With the Carlton decision on appeal in the Fourth Circuit, we may soon see another federal appellate court weigh in on this circuit split.

We will update this post as more circuits weigh in on this issue.