This article appeared on Law360.com on May 3, 2016
Law360, Washington (May 3, 2016, 4:37 PM ET) The First Circuit has backed a ruling against a woman who sued a call “spoofing” provider after someone allegedly used the service to harass her by phone while pretending to be someone else, saying the court correctly found the woman had not shown the company was responsible for the caller’s actions.
Affirming on Monday a ruling by a Massachusetts federal court, a unanimous panel called plaintiff Siobhan Walsh a “victim” in the situation but said she had not shown TelTech Systems Inc. should be held liable under a state consumer protection law.
“Walsh was the victim of something far worse than a prank, and she was victimized by use of a service that facilitated such awful conduct,” Circuit Judge David J. Barron wrote for the panel. “But the District Court properly ruled that, on this record, the provider of that service was entitled to summary judgment on her state law claim.”
Walsh sued TelTech in 2013, claiming a woman had used the company’s SpoofCard service to send her harassing phone calls while posing as a resident in Walsh’s apartment complex. The caller was angry at the resident, who was her former work supervisor, for terminating her from her job, according to court documents.
When Walsh reported the calls to the police and said she believed the nearby resident had placed them, the man was arrested and spent several days in jail, according to court records. The caller ultimately confessed to police that she had placed the calls and was charged, along with her husband, with harassment and other charges.
In her suit against TelTech, Walsh claimed the company violated a Massachusetts consumer protection statute by promoting the use of SpoofCard for illegal purposes.
The district court awarded summary judgment to TelTech, finding that “no reasonable jury could find that TelTech’s actions caused Walsh’s injuries,” according to a case summary in the First Circuit’s opinion.
In its review of the case, the First Circuit panel said Monday, it had not been persuaded by several theories of liability asserted by Walsh, including her argument that TelTech had promoted the use of SpoofCard “in the exact manner for which” it had been used against her.
In an interview Tuesday, an attorney for TelTech said the ruling was “a vindication that new technologies are subject to the same protections as older technologies.”
“They [the panel] had to recognize that the new technology was not was caused the behavior, and the behavior was what caused the damage,” attorney Mark C. Del Bianco said.
TelTech offers its customers the SpoofCard, which operates like a longdistance calling card and gives its holder the ability to manipulate the caller ID displayed to the recipient of the call.
Earlier this year, U.S. Senators Deb Fischer, RNeb., and Bill Nelson, DFla. proposed the Spoofing Prevention Act of 2016, which they said was is aimed at closing loopholes in current federal consumer protection and privacy laws by specifically prohibiting fake caller ID numbers to be conveyed through text messages, calls made through Internet Protocolenabled voice services or any calls made from overseas.
The bill, which remains pending, calls for amendments to the Communications Act of 1934, the Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991 and the Truth in Caller ID Act of 2009 which would extend caller ID regulations to IPinitiated voice calls and texts, as well as require the Federal Communications Commission to publish yearly reports on new caller ID scamming technologies.
Caller ID spoofing refers to the practice of deliberately falsifying telephone numbers or names relayed through caller ID technology, and major targets of the practice have been senior citizens, veterans and law enforcement, the senators said.
An attorney for Walsh did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday. Walsh is represented by Richard B. Reiling.
TelTech is represented by Mark C. Del Bianco of Law Office of Mark C. Del Bianco, and Sean T. Carnathan and Joseph P. Calandrelli of O’Connor Carnathan & Mack LLC.
The case is Walsh v. TelTech Systems Inc., case number 151987, in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit.