TCPA Statute Of Limitations: How Long Do You Have To File A Robocall Claim?

TCPA Statute Of Limitations: How Long Do You Have To File A Robocall Claim? 2021-08-05T22:16:48-04:00
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You can secure over $1,000 in compensation for every illegal robocall you receive, but it's important to act quickly. The statute of limitations for a TCPA lawsuit is only 4 years, beginning on the date of the legal violation.

  • Between $500 to $1,500 per illegal call or text
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Think you might be able to file a robocall or text lawsuit under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act? Great! By pursuing a TCPA lawsuit, you could secure between $500 to $1,500 for every illegal phone call or text message that you got.

But you might need to act quickly. Like most laws that allow private citizens to file their own lawsuits, the Telephone Consumer Protection Act is governed by a "statute of limitations," which restricts the amount of time you have to file suit.

The Statute Of Limitations For Robocall & Robotext Lawsuits

Your robocall or robotext lawsuit must be filed within four years of the legal violation that you're suing over. That's four years from the date you received the illegal robocall or robotext.

Old Man On Phone

Four years is the general statute of limitations for civil lawsuits filed under federal law. There's no specific statute of limitations outlined in the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, so attorneys and courts usually fall back on the comprehensive federal statute of four years. That's not always the case, though.

State v. Federal Issues

The TCPA is an odd law. It's a federal law that grants private citizens the right to file suit when a company or telemarketer is harassing them. But instead of granting you the right to file your robocall case in a federal district court, the TCPA makes things a little more complicated. Here's how the law itself proposes a private lawsuit, at 47 U.S.C. Section 227(b)(3):

"[a] person or entity may, if otherwise permitted by the law or rules of court of a State, bring an action in an appropriate court of that State."

So it's a federal law, but it seems to want people to file their lawsuits in state courts. This clause confused courts for a long time, but it had one interesting side effect. In presiding over TCPA cases, many judges would apply a state-established statute of limitations, rather than the general federal statute of four years, even though the TCPA is a federal law. Thus, in the past, many plaintiffs would receive longer or shorter statutes of limitations to work with, depending on their home state's laws.

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TCPA Cases Are (Usually) Governed By A 4-Year Time Limit

Eventually, most of the confusion was hammered out. Judges began using the four-year federal statute of limitations more often, and state-based time limits were pushed to the side. Today, it's likely that the majority of lawsuits involving illegal telemarketing and intrusive text messages are filed in federal courts and governed by the four-year federal statute of limitations.

It's rather fluid, though. Along the lines of the 2012 US Supreme Court opinion in Mimms v. Arrow Financial Services, lawsuits filed under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act can be removed, or transferred, from a state court to a federal court. Both state and federal courts have jurisdiction over TCPA claims, the Court wrote.

That cleared up some of the confusion, but things on the ground are still complex. While the Supreme Court's decision didn't address the statute of limitations directly, the vast majority of federal judges have taken it to mean that the federal statute, a four-year time limit, is the appropriate rule to follow.

Courts That Use The Federal Statute Of Limitations As A Rule

In all likelihood, your own TCPA lawsuit will be governed by this law. That means you have no longer than four years after the last illegal phone call or text message to file suit. In some jurisdictions, the federal statute of limitations is the only game in town.

A 2016 judgment in the US Appeals Court for the Eleventh Circuit, which oversees courts in Florida, Georgia and Alabama, held unequivocally that all cases filed under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act should be controlled by a four-year statute of limitations. In 2013, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, governing federal cases in Connecticut, New York and Vermont, had adopted a similar rule, ruling that federal statutes, not state-based ones, should hold in TCPA cases.

Exceptions: When A TCPA Class Action Is Pending

Statutes of limitations aren't always rigid. While federal law provides only four years to file a TCPA lawsuit, there may be exceptions that apply to your case.

The most important of these exceptions is related to class action lawsuits, specifically, when a class action is filed (or has already been filed) and you file a separate, individual claim over similar allegations.

Tolling The Statute Of Limitations

Let's say you file suit against a company for breaking the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, but, in the same court, there's already a pending class action against that company for robocall-related violations. In all probability, you could be a member of that other case. So most courts will give you a break, pausing (or "tolling") the statute of limitations in your individual lawsuit while the class action is making its way through the legal process.

Under most circumstances, the statute of limitations can be paused until the class action is certified or denied certification. That gives you enough time to follow the class action's progress and, ultimately, decide whether or not you want to join it, instead of pursuing legal action on your own.

As a result, the statute of limitations might be much longer than four years in your own case. It's a good idea, if possible, to try to find out if a class action against the company you plan to sue has already been filed in your jurisdiction. The fact that the TCPA's statute of limitations can be paused, however, isn't a good reason to wait.

Why Waiting Isn't The Best Legal Strategy

Evidence is at the heart of every robocall lawsuit and, over time, evidence degrades. Memories fade. Telecommunications providers delete call records (some wireless providers keep call data for less than a year). And defendants, given enough time, can destroy sensitive information, change their internal policies or worse.

Statutes of limitation are designed to eliminate these problems, or at least reduce them substantially.

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As a plaintiff, it's your obligation to prove almost everything in the case. Most importantly, you'll have to prove that the defendant called you at a specific time, either after you placed your number on the National Do Not Call Registry, after you'd asked them to stop or both. In other cases, phone records become essential to proving that a company called your cell phone using an autodialer system, which is usually illegal.

In any event, you'll want to obtain those phone records, normally by getting a court order. And while you might think you have a minimum of four years to collect all that information, remember that most cell phone and landline companies don't keep call records that long. Acting quickly, then, is the best option for most plaintiffs.

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