Judge Recuses Himself from TCPA Lawsuit Against Tampa Bay Rays

After consulting with an ethics opinion, Florida U.S. Magistrate Judge Anthony E. Porcelli recused himself from a proposed class action lawsuit, which accuses the MLB’s Tampa Bay Rays of violating the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) by sending spam text messages.

According to the order, Judge Porcelli stated that he “. . . find[s] it appropriate to recuse myself from these proceedings, as my impartiality might be reasonably questioned.” Specifically, Judge Porcelli admittedly communicated with several members of the Rays organization when he was “. . . designated as the lead contact person for planning and coordinating with Rays for observance of Constitution Day and Citizenship Day . . .” which the Rays are hosting a naturalization ceremony for at an upcoming home game. In finding that recusal because of this conflict of interest, the case will be reassigned randomly to another magistrate judge.

This is one of many similar lawsuits involving allegedly unsolicited text messages promoting professional sports teams to potential consumers. Co-lead plaintiff James Thomas filed suit in May alleging that the Rays sent him multiple unsolicited text messages “promoting ticket sales and team events in violation of the TCPA,” according to Law360.

The Rays have moved to dismiss the complaint claiming that Thomas received the message after he subscribed to the Rays’ text message service and that “each text contained instructions on how to end the subscription and stop future texts.” They also argued that the cross of people comprising the opposing party have not shown evidence that shows that they received text messages without consent.

The NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning are fighting a similar lawsuit claiming that  they sent plaintiffs unsolicited “illegal spam text [messages].” Additionally, the Buffalo Bills, Los Angeles Clippers, Los Angeles Lakers, and [the former] San Diego Chargers have all been sued in nearly identical lawsuits since 2012.

The confliction between promotional sports text messaging and the TCPA is a common legal issue that is still yet to be resolved holistically in courts. Perhaps this is because it is a new and unique conflict which originates from 21st century technological innovations. Congress passed the Television Consumer Protection Act of 1991 to protect consumers from excessive telemarketing. Although the first SMS text message was sent 1992, the TCPA has been modified to also govern texting practices.

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