`

Justices issue robo-call decision

December 23, 2008

The Indiana Supreme Court says the state's two-decade old law on pre-recorded, autodialed calls isn't limited to those placed to consumers with commercial messages. But justices stopped short of deciding how the law applies to political messages, leaving that question for another day.

In a unanimous decision today in State of Indiana v. American Family Voices, et al., No. 31S00-0803-CV-139, justices reversed a Harrison Circuit Court decision dismissing the state's case based on Trial Rule 12(B)(6) in that no claim was cited for which relief was available. The case involves the state Attorney General's attempted enforcement of the Indiana Autodialer Law that limits automated phone calls and mandates that a live operator first disclose the source and purpose of the call.

Though the law was passed in 1988, the Attorney General's Office didn't start applying it to political calls and enforcing it until 2006. Several suits were filed, including this one against American Family Voices - a political non-profit group in Washington, D.C., making calls in that year's congressional election.

Lawyers for both sides focused on what they described as ambiguities in Indiana Code § 24-5-14-5(b), such as not defining specifically what "messages" means and whether that applies to commercial calls only.

"We hold that a complaint filed under this statute is not required to allege that consumer transaction calls are at issue because the law applies to all autodialer calls, not just consumer transaction calls with commercial messages," Justice Frank Sullivan wrote for the court.

Some remedies in the statute clearly require consumer or commercial transactions and are targeted at those types of calls, but others do not and that makes it impossible for the court to infer that the statutory scheme excludes non-consumer or non-commercial transactions, Justice Sullivan wrote. But he also included a point that the legislature provides an exemption for messages from school districts to inform parents, showing that lawmakers could have excluded other groups but chose not to.

However, the ruling tiptoes around political messages.

"As can be easily inferred from the presence of the Democratic and Republican State Central Committees as amici in this case, this litigation raises questions as to the extent to which the Autodialer Law limits and may constitutionally limit the use of autodialers to convey political messages," Justice Sullivan wrote. "However, all parties agree that no such questions are before this Court at this stage of the litigation and we express no opinion with respect thereto."

ADVERTISEMENT

Recent Articles by Michael Hoskins