A California federal court handed down a decision last Friday that may further influence how healthcare entities should approach the Telephone Consumer Protection Act’s (TCPA) “emergency purpose” exception as applied to calls or texts related to patient health and safety. In St. Clair v. CVS Pharmacy, Inc., No. 16-CV-04911-VC, 2016 WL 7489047, at *1 (N.D. Cal. Dec. 30, 2016), the plaintiff alleged that CVS Pharmacy called him multiple times about his prescriptions after he told a customer representative that he no longer wished to be called. CVS moved to dismiss the lawsuit by claiming that all of the calls at issues fell under the emergency purpose exception contained in the statute, and therefore were not subject to the TCPA.

The Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), which imposes a penalty of $500-$1,500 per violation for pre-recorded or auto-dialed calls to cell phones, contains two statutory exceptions to liability:

  • where the recipient of the call provided his or her prior express consent to be called, or
  • where the call was placed for an “emergency purpose.”

47 U.S.C. § 227 (b)(1). While much attention has been focused on “consent,” the FCC’s definition of “emergency purpose” has remained relatively untested in TCPA litigation.

That landscape may be beginning to change. The federal district court’s recent decision in the putative class action lawsuit Roberts v. Medco Health Solutions, et al., No. 4:15 CV 1368 CDP (E.D. Mo., July 26, 2016) recognized that consistent with the FCC’s promulgated definition, the emergency purpose exception must be interpreted broadly to cover any calls that may affect the health and safety of a consumer.