Patriotic Veterans, Inc. v. State of Indiana, No. 16-2059 (7th Cir. 2017)

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Justia Opinion Summary

A veterans’ group challenged an anti‑robocall statute, Ind. Code 24‑5‑14‑5, under the First Amendment. The law prohibits automated calls with recorded messages unless the recipient has previously consented or the message is immediately preceded by a live operator who obtains consent. The Seventh Circuit upheld the law, noting that the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, 47 U.S.C. 227, which contains similar restrictions, has been sustained by the Ninth and Eighth Circuits. The court rejected a claim of content-based discrimination. While the law exempts messages from school districts to students, parents, or employees; messages to recipients with whom the caller has a current business or personal relationship; messages advising employees of work schedules, nothing in the law, including those exceptions, disfavors political speech. The exceptions primarily concern who may be called, not what may be said. The court noted the legitimate purposes of the law.

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In the United States Court of Appeals For the Seventh Circuit ____________________ No. 16-­ 2059 PATRIOTIC VETERANS, INC., Plaintiff-­ Appellant, v. GREG ZOELLER, Attorney General of Indiana, Defendant-­ Appellee. ____________________ Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, Indianapolis Division. No. 1:10-­ cv-­ 723-­ WTL-­ MPB — William T. Lawrence, Judge. ____________________ ARGUED NOVEMBER 1, 2016 — DECIDED JANUARY 3, 2017 ____________________ Before EASTERBROOK, ROVNER, and SYKES, Circuit Judges. EASTERBROOK, Circuit Judge. Plaintiff, a veterans’ group, contends that an anti-­ robocall statute, Ind. Code §24-­ 5-­ 14-­ 5, violates the First Amendment to the Constitution, applied to the states by the Fourteenth Amendment. The Telephone Consumer Protection Act, 47 U.S.C. §227, which contains a similar limit, has been sustained by two circuits. See Gomez v. Campbell-­ Ewald Co., 768 F.3d 871 (9th Cir. 2014), affirmed on other grounds, 136 S. Ct. 663 (2016); Van Bergen v. Minne-­ 2 No. 16-­ 2059 sota, 59 F.3d 1541, 1549–56 (8th Cir. 1995); Moser v. FCC, 46 F.3d 970 (9th Cir. 1995). The same circuits have approved state laws as well. See Van Bergen (sustaining a Minnesota law in addition to §227); Bland v. Fessler, 88 F.3d 729 (9th Cir. 1996) (California law). But relying on Cahaly v. LaRosa, 796 F.3d 399 (4th Cir. 2015), which found South Carolina’s anti-­ robocall law to be unconstitutional, plaintiff maintains that Reed v. Gilbert, 135 S. Ct. 2218 (2015), made these decisions obsolete and dooms both state and federal anti-­ robocall stat-­ utes as instances of content discrimination. We disagree with that contention and conclude that Indiana’s law is valid. Indiana forbids recorded phone messages placed by au-­ tomated dialing machines unless “(1) the subscriber has knowingly or voluntarily requested, consented to, permit-­ ted, or authorized receipt of the message; or (2) the message is immediately preceded by a live operator who obtains the subscriber’s consent before the message is delivered.” Ind. Code §24-­ 5-­ 14-­ 5(b). Plaintiff maintains that the option given by subsection (b)(2) is prohibitively expensive, so that as a practical matter the statute forbids robocalls in the absence of advance consent by the recipient. We shall assume that this is so. Yet the requirement of consent is not content dis-­ crimination, so plaintiff focuses attention on three statutory exceptions: This section does not apply to any of the following messages: (1) Messages from school districts to students, parents, or employees. (2) Messages to subscribers with whom the caller has a cur-­ rent business or personal relationship. (3) Messages advising employees of work schedules. No. 16-­ 2059 3 Ind. Code §24-­ 5-­ 14-­ 5(a). The district court concluded that these exceptions do not constitute content discrimination and held that the law is constitutional. 177 F. Supp. 3d 1120 (S.D. Ind. 2016). The district court had earlier deemed the Indiana statute preempted, but we reversed, 736 F.3d 1041 (7th Cir. 2013), leaving only the constitutional challenge. Plaintiff tells us that the statute as a whole disfavors po-­ litical speech and therefore entails content discrimination, as Reed understood that phrase. We don’t get it. Nothing in the statute, including the three exceptions, disfavors political speech. The statute as a whole disfavors cold calls (that is, calls to strangers), but if a recipient has authorized robocalls then the nature of the message is irrelevant. The three excep-­ tions in §24-­ 5-­ 14-­ 5(a) likewise depend on the relation be-­ tween the caller and the recipient, not on what the caller proposes to say. Our first opinion described these exceptions as a form of implied consent, 736 F.3d at 1047, adding to the express consent exception in §24-­ 5-­ 14-­ 5(b)(1). The exceptions collectively concern who may be called, not what may be said, and therefore do not establish content discrimination. That’s not quite true of §24-­ 5-­ 14-­ 5(a)(3), which deals with messages “advising employees of work schedules.” If plain-­ tiff proposed to make automated calls to its own employees, it could contend that the restriction—the calls must concern work schedules—blocked it from including political speech. But, when asked at argument, counsel for plaintiff stated that the organization does not feel inhibited in communi-­ cating with its own employees—who, after all, may have given express consent under §24-­ 5-­ 14-­ 5(b)(1). So if we were to hold that employers may say anything they like in auto-­ mated calls to employees, this would do plaintiff no good. 4 No. 16-­ 2059 Nor would an injunction striking subsection (a)(3) from the statute. Such an injunction would make plaintiff worse off by making it harder to get in touch with its staff, and plain-­ tiff understandably has not asked for that relief. What it wants is an order preventing Indiana from enforcing §24-­ 5-­ 14-­ 5(b). Potential problems with how subsection (a)(3) af-­ fects other persons do not give plaintiff standing to complain about subsection (b), its target in this suit. Plaintiff’s other line of argument is that the statute is ex-­ cessive in relation to its goal of protecting phone subscribers’ peace and quiet, and that the First Amendment thus requires Indiana to make an exception for political speech. That ex-­ ception, if created, would be real content discrimination, and Reed then would prohibit the state from forbidding robocall advertising and other non-­ political speech. That’s the con-­ clusion of Cahaly. South Carolina’s anti-­ robocall statute “ap-­ plies to calls with a consumer or political message but does not reach calls made for any other purpose.” Cahaly, 796 F.3d at 405. The Fourth Circuit concluded that drawing lines on the basis of the message presented, rather than (as Indiana’s law does) consent by the person to be called, is content dis-­ crimination prohibited by the First Amendment. Plaintiff wants us to take a content-­ neutral law and make it invalid by creating message-­ based distinctions. That’s out of the question. Indiana’s law must stand or fall as written. Thus the remaining question is not whether Indiana must allow automated politicking by phone, but whether it is entitled to make advance consent (express or implied) a condition of any automated phone call, regardless of subject. No one can deny the legitimacy of the state’s goal: Pre-­ venting the phone (at home or in one’s pocket) from fre-­ No. 16-­ 2059 5 quently ringing with unwanted calls. Every call uses some of the phone owner’s time and mental energy, both of which are precious. Most members of the public want to limit calls, especially cell-­ phone calls, to family and acquaintances, and to get their political information (not to mention their adver-­ tisements) in other ways. Federal law severely limits unsolic-­ ited calls to cell phones, 47 U.S.C. §227(b)(1)(A)(iii), and the FTC maintains a do-­ not-­ call registry for landline phones, just as the Postal Service maintains a no-­ junk-­ mail list. These de-­ vices have been sustained against constitutional challenge. See, e.g., Rowan v. Post Office, 397 U.S. 728 (1970) (junk-­ mail list); Mainstream Marketing Services, Inc. v. FTC, 358 F.3d 1228 (10th Cir. 2004) (do-­ not-­ call registry). Limits on unsolicited faxes have been sustained on similar reasoning. See, e.g., Missouri ex rel. Nixon v. American Blast Fax, Inc., 323 F.3d 649 (8th Cir. 2003). But number porting has made it increasingly hard to dis-­ tinguish cell numbers from landline numbers, and many callers disregard (or are exempt from) the do-­ not-­ call regis-­ try because it is expensive to check the FTC’s list against lists of potential call recipients. That’s why the national govern-­ ment and states such as Indiana have adopted limits on a particular calling technology, the robocall, that many recipi-­ ents find obnoxious because there’s no live person at the other end of the line. The lack of a live person makes the call frustrating for the recipient but cheap for the caller, which multiplies the number of these aggravating calls in the ab-­ sence of legal controls. Anyone proposing to queue up a ro-­ bocall knows its own technology, even if it does not know whether the potential recipient is a cell phone or landline phone, or is on or off the do-­ not-­ call list. 6 No. 16-­ 2059 Everyone has plenty of ways to spread messages: TV, newspapers and magazines (including ads), websites, social media (Facebook, Twitter, and the like), calls from live per-­ sons, and even recorded spiels if a live operator first secures consent. Plaintiff can ask its donors and potential donors to agree to receive robocalls. Preventing automated messages to persons who don’t want their peace and quiet disturbed is a valid time, place, and manner restriction. Other circuits’ decisions, which we have cited, spell out the reasoning; repetition would be otiose. Because Indiana does not dis-­ criminate by content—the statute determines who may be called, not what message may be conveyed—these decisions have not been called into question by Reed. AFFIRMED