But if that sounds like a lot of money for a fairly minor inconvenience — the message from Huckabee was a recorded robocall that, in the case of the lead plaintiffs, went straight to voicemail — consider this. Evidence in the trial showed that the Huckabee message was blasted out to 3.2 million households. By law, with each call triggering damages of at least $500, that one recording could have been as much as $1.6 billion.
The 2014 lawsuit triggering the multi-million award was first reported on by the Riverfront Times in January. Filed by the small Chesterfield law firm Schultz & Associates LLP, it sought to hold accountable a group of producers who used a pre-recorded call from Huckabee to tout their film Last Ounce of Courage.
The film flopped. But the producers found themselves in bigger trouble when Schultz & Associates took the case on behalf of a St. Louis County couple who'd received the calls. Under federal law, each and every landline affected by the call means a fine of $500 to $1,500.
The lawsuit survived various attempts to quash it, and was certified as a class action in January. It went to trial in August, bringing Huckabee to St. Louis to testify, as the Post-Dispatch reported.
The jury found in favor of the man on trial, a Texas physician who'd invested in the film, finding he should not be held liable. But during the course of the trial, court records show, U.S. District Judge E. Richard Webber ruled against two other defendants, AIC Communications LLC and Freeeats.com Inc., who'd marketed the film.
The judge wrote that he believed smacking the marketers with even the minimum fine per call outlined under the line would be unconstitutional, as the Post-Dispatch first reported this morning.
Instead of $500 per call, he wrote, the marketers should pay $10 per call:
There were 3,242,493 calls placed in violation of the TCPA in this case. At $500 per violation, the TCPA would require a damages award of $1,621,246,500. This is obviously unreasonable and wholly disproportionate to the offense. The Court will award $32,424,930. This amounts to $10.00 per call.The defense had asked the judge to reduce their liability to just 10 cents per call, a judgment of $324,000. But clearly, Judge Webber wasn't reducing the damages that low — have these lawyers never been forced to sit through an episode of Huckabee?
This reflects the severity of the offense, a six-day telemarketing campaign which placed 3.2 million telephone calls, as well as respecting the purposes of the TCPA to have a deterrent effect and to account for unquantifiable losses including the invasions of privacy, unwanted interruptions and disruptions at home, and the wasted time spent answering unwanted solicitation calls or unwanted voice messages. This amount also takes into account the significant time and expense needed to notify the class and distribute the damages to the class.
We welcome tips and feedback. Email the author at [email protected]