SCOTUS Opinion: Court Requires More Information Before Resolving “Junk Faxes” Case

The Telephone Consumer Protection Act prohibits “unsolicited advertisements.” The Federal Communications Commission issued an order in 2006 interpreting that term to “include any offer of a free good or service.” However, under the Hobbs Act, the federal courts of appeals have the exclusive jurisdiction to enjoin, set a side, suspend . . ., or to determine the validity of” certain FCC orders. In PDR Network, LLC v. Carlton & Harris Chiropractic, Inc., PDR sent a fax to health care providers, stating they could reserve  free copy of the new Physicians’ Desk Reference that PDR publishes. One health care provider filed a class action, claiming the fax was a “junk fax” that violated the TCPA. The district court dismissed the case, but the Fourth Circuit vacated that judgment, holding that the FCC’s interpretation clearly encompassed PDR’s fax. The Court, in an opinion by Justice Breyer, vacated and remanded, stating that further proceedings were necessary to determine whether the FCC’s Order was a “legislative rule” (with the full force of law), or an “interpretive rule,” which would not be binding on any court. The majority also wanted to know whether PDR had a “prior” and “adequate” opportunity to seek judicial review of the Order—if the Hobbs Act did not do so, then PDR may be able to bring its challenge under the Administrative Procedure Act. Justice Thomas, joined by Justice Gorsuch, concurred in the judgment, arguing that it was wrong for the Fourth Circuit to deem the Hobbs Act a mandate to give the FCC’s Order the presumption of the force of law, which would deprive the judicial branch of the authority to say what the law is. Justice Kavanaugh, joined by Justices Thomas, Alito, and Gorsuch, further concurred in the judgment, arguing that there was no need to remand, and that the Court should have held that the Hobbs Act does not bar a defendant in an enforcement action from challenging the FCC’s interpretations of its authorizing statutes. A link to the opinion is here.