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SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES
FACEBOOK, INC., PETITIONER v. NOAH DUGUID, et al.
on writ of certiorari to the united states courtroom of appeals for the 9th circuit
[April 1, 2021]
Justice Sotomayor delivered the opinion of the Court.
The Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991 (TCPA) proscribes abusive telemarketing practices through, among different matters, imposing regulations on making calls with an “computerized telephone dialing system.” As described via the TCPA, an “automatic smartphone dialing device” is a piece of device with the capability each “to store or produce telephone numbers to be referred to as, the use of a random or sequential wide variety generator,” and to dial the ones numbers.
47 U. S. C. §227(a)(1). The query before the Court is whether that definition encompasses device that could “store” and dial cellphone numbers, despite the fact that the device does no longer “us[e] a random or sequential range generator.” It does now not. To qualify as an “automatic cellphone dialing machine,” a tool need to have the capacity either to keep a cellphone number the usage of a random or sequential generator or to produce a phone quantity the usage of a random or sequential quantity generator.
In 1991, Congress handed the TCPA to deal with “the proliferation of intrusive, nuisance calls” to consumers and corporations from telemarketers. §2, ¶¶1, 6,
2394, be aware following
forty seven U. S. C. §227. Advances in automatic era made it possible for corporations to execute big-scale telemarketing campaigns at a fraction of the earlier value, dramatically increasing purchaser contacts. Infamously, the development of “robocall” technology allowed organizations to make calls the usage of artificial or prerecorded voices, obviating the want for stay human callers altogether.
This case worries “computerized smartphone dialing structures” (hereinafter autodialers), which revolutionized telemarketing via permitting businesses to dial random or sequential blocks of cellphone numbers routinely. Congress found autodialer era to be uniquely harmful. It threatened public protection by means of “seizing the phone traces of public emergency services, dangerously stopping those strains from being utilized to get hold of calls from those needing emergency services.” H. R. Rep. No. 102–317, p. 24 (1991). Indeed, due to the sequential manner in which they could generate numbers, autodialers may want to simultaneously tie up all the lines of any enterprise with sequentially numbered cellphone traces. Nor were man or woman customers spared: Autodialers should reach cell telephones, pagers, and unlisted numbers, inconveniencing consumers and implementing undesirable prices. Ibid.
Against this technological backdrop, Congress made it unlawful to make certain calls “the use of any automated cellphone dialing machine” to “emergency smartphone line[s],” to “guest room[s] or patient room[s] of a clinic,” or “to any telephone number assigned to a paging carrier [or] cellular cellphone carrier” without the “earlier specific consent of the known as birthday party.”
forty seven U. S. C. §227(b)(1)(A). The TCPA creates a personal right of motion for folks to sue to enjoin illegal makes use of of autodialers and to recover as much as $1,500 according to violation or 3 instances the plaintiffs’ actual financial losses. §227(b)(three).
Petitioner Facebook, Inc., keeps a social media platform with an elective security function that sends users “login notification” textual content messages while an strive is made to get right of entry to their Facebook account from an unknown device or browser. If vital, the consumer can then log into Facebook and take motion to steady the account. To choose in to this service, the person ought to offer and verify a cell smartphone range to which Facebook can ship messages.
In 2014, respondent Noah Duguid acquired numerous login-notification textual content messages from Facebook, alerting him that someone had attempted to get entry to the Facebook account related to his telephone quantity from an unknown browser. But Duguid has in no way had a Facebook account and in no way gave Facebook his smartphone wide variety. Unable to prevent the notifications, Duguid brought a putative elegance motion in opposition to Facebook. He alleged that Facebook violated the TCPA via preserving a database that stored cellphone numbers and programming its gadget to send automatic text messages to those numbers on every occasion the related account was accessed by means of an unrecognized tool or net browser.
Facebook moved to dismiss the fit, arguing more often than not that Duguid failed to allege that Facebook used an autodialer because he did now not claim Facebook despatched text messages to numbers that have been randomly or sequentially generated. Rather, Facebook argued, Duguid alleged that Facebook despatched targeted, individualized texts to numbers linked to unique debts. The U. S. District Court for the Northern District of California agreed and disregarded Duguid’s amended criticism with prejudice. 2017 WL 635117, *4–*5 (Feb. sixteen, 2017).
The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed. As applicable right here, the Ninth Circuit held that Duguid had said a claim underneath the TCPA through alleging that Facebook’s notification gadget mechanically dialed saved numbers. An autodialer, the Court of Appeals held, want no longer be able to use a random or sequential generator to keep numbers; it need simplest have the potential to “ ‘keep numbers to be known as’ ” and “ ‘to dial such numbers mechanically.’ ” 926 F.3d 1146, 1151 (2019) (quoting Marks v. Crunch San Diego, LLC, 904 F.3d 1041, 1053 (CA9 2018)).
We granted certiorari to remedy a war a few of the Courts of Appeals concerning whether an autodialer ought to have the capability to generate random or sequential telephone numbers. 591 U. S. ___ (2020). We now opposite the Ninth Circuit’s judgment.
Section 227(a)(1) defines an autodialer as:
“system which has the ability—
“(A) to store or produce phone numbers to be referred to as, the usage of a random or sequential quantity generator; and
“(B) to dial such numbers.”
Facebook argues the clause “using a random or sequential range generator” modifies both verbs that precede it (“save” and “produce”), at the same time as Duguid contends it modifies best the closest one (“produce”). We finish that the clause modifies each, specifying how the gadget must both “keep” or “produce” telephone numbers. Because Facebook’s notification system neither stores nor produces numbers “the usage of a random or sequential variety generator,” it isn't always an autodialer.
We start with the text. Congress described an autodialer in terms of what it have to do (“shop or produce smartphone numbers to be called”) and the way it need to do it (“the use of a random or sequential quantity generator”). The definition makes use of a acquainted structure: a listing of verbs followed via a editing clause. Under conventional rules of grammar, “[w]bird there is a trustworthy, parallel production that entails all nouns or verbs in a series,” a modifier at the stop of the list “usually applies to the entire collection.” A. Scalia & B. Garner, Reading Law: The Interpretation of Legal Texts 147 (2012) (Scalia & Garner) (quotation modified). The Court frequently applies this interpretative rule, typically referred to as the “series-qualifier canon.” See Paroline v. United States,
572 U.S. 434, 447 (2014) (citing Porto Rico Railway, Light & Power Co. v. Mor,
253 U.S. 345, 348 (1920)); see also United States v. Bass,
404 U.S. 336, 339–340 (1971). This canon generally displays the most natural studying of a sentence. Imagine if a instructor announced that “college students have to not complete or test any homework to be grew to become in for a grade, the use of on line homework-assist web sites.” It would be ordinary to study that rule as prohibiting college students from finishing homework altogether, with or without on-line help.
Here, the series-qualifier canon recommends qualifying each antecedent verbs, “shop” and “produce,” with the phrase “the use of a random or sequential wide variety generator.” That advice produces the maximum herbal production, as showed by different components of §227(a)(1)(A)’s textual content.
To begin, the modifier at problem right now follows a concise, incorporated clause: “store or produce cellphone numbers to be called.” See Cyan, Inc. v. Beaver County Employees Retirement Fund, 583 U. S. ___, ___–___ (2018) (slip op., at 21–22). The clause “hangs collectively as a unified entire,” identification., at ___ (slip op., at 21), the use of the word “or” to attach two verbs that percentage a commonplace direct item, “cellphone numbers to be called.” It could be ordinary to use the modifier (“the usage of a random or sequential variety generator”) to most effective a part of this cohesive preceding clause.
This interpretation of §227(a)(1)(A) additionally “heed[s] the instructions of its punctuation.” United States Nat. Bank of Ore. v. Independent Ins. Agents of America, Inc.,
508 U.S. 439, 454 (1993). Recall that the word “using a random or sequential wide variety generator” follows a comma placed after the phrase “store or produce telephone numbers to be known as.” As numerous main treatises explain, “ ‘[a] qualifying word separated from antecedents with the aid of a comma is proof that the qualifier is supposed to use to all of the antecedents in preference to only to the right away previous one.’ ” W. Eskridge, Interpreting Law: A Primer on How To Read Statutes and the Constitution sixty seven–sixty eight (2016); see also 2A N. Singer & S. Singer, Sutherland Statutes and Statutory Construction §forty seven:33, pp. 499–500 (rev. seventh ed. 2014); Scalia & Garner 161–162. The comma in §227(a)(1)(A) for that reason further shows that Congress intended the phrase “the use of a random or sequential range generator” to apply similarly to both previous elements.
Contrary to Duguid’s view, this interpretation does no longer conflict with the so-referred to as “rule of the last antecedent.” Under that rule, “a proscribing clause or phrase . . . must mostly be read as enhancing only the noun or word that it without delay follows.” Barnhart v. Thomas,
540 U.S. 20, 26 (2003); see additionally Lockhart v. United States,
577 U.S. 347, 351 (2016). The rule of the closing antecedent is context dependent. This Court has declined to apply the rule in which, like right here, the modifying clause appears after an incorporated listing. See Jama v. Immigration and Customs Enforcement,
543 U.S. 335, 344, n. 4 (2005) (amassing cases). Moreover, despite the fact that the rule of the last antecedent have been relevant right here, it'd provide no assist to Duguid. The ultimate antecedent before “the usage of a random or sequential variety generator” is not “produce,” as Duguid wishes it to be, however instead “smartphone numbers to be known as.” There is “no grammatical basis,” Cyan, 583 U. S., at ___ (slip op., at 22), for arbitrarily stretching the modifier back to include “produce,” but now not to this point returned as to encompass “keep.”
In sum, Congress’ definition of an autodialer calls for that during all cases, whether storing or generating numbers to be referred to as, the device in query ought to use a random or sequential range generator. This definition excludes system like Facebook’s login notification device, which does no longer use such generation.[five]
The statutory context confirms that the autodialer definition excludes system that does not “us[e] a random or sequential quantity generator.”
forty seven U. S. C. §227(a)(1)(A). Consider the TCPA’s restrictions on the use of autodialers. As formerly stated, §227(b)(1) makes it unlawful to apply an autodialer to name positive “emergency telephone line[s]” and contours “for which the called birthday party is charged for the decision.” §227(b)(1)(A). It also makes it illegal to use an autodialer “in this sort of manner that two or extra telephone strains of a multiline commercial enterprise are engaged concurrently.” §227(b)(1)(D). These prohibitions goal a unique kind of telemarketing device that dangers dialing emergency traces randomly or tying up all the sequentially numbered traces at a unmarried entity.
Expanding the definition of an autodialer to encompass any equipment that simply stores and dials telephone numbers would take a chainsaw to those nuanced troubles while Congress intended to use a scalpel. Duguid’s interpretation of an autodialer would seize truly all present day mobile phones, which have the potential to “keep . . . telephone numbers to be called” and “dial such numbers.” §227(a)(1). The TCPA’s legal responsibility provisions, then, should have an effect on everyday cellular telephone proprietors within the route of not unusual usage, which includes speed dialing or sending automatic text message responses. See §227(b)(three) (authorizing a $500 best in keeping with violation, improved to $1,500 if the sender acted “willfully” or “knowingly”).
Duguid’s counterarguments can not triumph over the clean instructions of §227(a)(1)(A)’s textual content and the statutory context. The crux of Duguid’s argument is that the autodialer definition requires a production that accords with the “experience” of the textual content. Brief for Respondents 11, and n. 3. It makes the most “experience,” Duguid insists, to use the word “the usage of a random or sequential number generator” to modify handiest “produce,” which, unlike the verb “shop,” is closely linked to the noun “generator.” Dictionary definitions of “generator,” as an example, regularly include the phrase “produce,” which includes a very different meaning than “save.” Duguid also claims that, on the time of the TCPA’s enactment, the technical which means of a “random number generator” invoked methods of manufacturing numbers, now not way of storing them.
Perhaps Duguid’s interpretive approach would have some appeal if applying the conventional tools of interpretation brought about a “linguistically not possible” or contextually fantastic outcome. Encino Motorcars, LLC v. Navarro, 584 U. S. ___, ___ (2018) (slip op., at eight); see also Advocate Health Care Network v. Stapleton, 581 U. S. ___, ___ (2017) (slip op., at eleven) (noting that a “feel of inconceivability” may “urg[e] readers to discard typical policies of decoding textual content”). Duguid makes a valiant attempt to show as a great deal, however in the end comes up brief. It is authentic that, as a remember of regular parlance, it is unusual to mention that a bit of gadget “stores” numbers the use of a random wide variety “generator.” But it is less ordinary as a technical count. Indeed, as early as 1988, the U. S. Patent and Trademark Office issued patents for gadgets that used a random number generator to shop numbers to be referred to as later (instead of using a range of generator for fast dialing). Brief for Professional Association for Customer Engagement et al. as Amici Curiae 15–21. At any fee, Duguid’s interpretation is opposite to the regular studying of the text and, with the aid of classifying nearly all cutting-edge cell telephones as autodialers, could produce an final results that makes even less feel.
Duguid’s reliance at the distributive canon fails for similar reasons. That canon affords that “[w]here a sentence includes several antecedents and numerous consequents,” courts ought to “examine them distributively and follow the phrases to the topics which, through context, they seem most well to narrate.” 2A Singer, Sutherland Statutes and Statutory Construction §forty seven:26, at 448. Set aside for a moment that the canon’s relevance is incredibly questionable given there are two antecedents (store and bring) but most effective one consequent modifier (the usage of a random or sequential variety generator). See Encino Motorcars, 584 U. S., at ___ (slip op., at eight) (“[T]he distributive canon has the maximum force whilst the statute lets in for one-to-one matching”). As simply explained, the consequent “the use of a random or sequential variety generator” properly relates to both antecedents.
Duguid next turns to legislative reason, but he simply gestures at Congress’ “wide privateness-safety dreams.” Brief for Respondents 28 (emphasizing that Congress prohibited calls made using an autodialer with out “ ‘earlier explicit consent of the known as celebration’ ” (quoting
forty seven U. S. C. §227(b)(1)(A))). That Congress turned into extensively worried about intrusive telemarketing practices, however, does no longer mean it adopted a broad autodialer definition. Congress expressly located that using random or sequential number generator era precipitated specific problems for commercial enterprise, emergency, and mobile lines. See supra, at 2. Unsurprisingly, then, the autodialer definition Congress employed consists of best devices that use such generation, and the autodialer prohibitions target calls made to such traces. See §227(b)(1)(A).[eight] The narrow statutory layout, therefore, does not help Duguid’s vast interpretation.
Duguid remaining warns that accepting Facebook’s interpretation will “unharness” a “torrent of robocalls.” Brief for Respondents 38 (quotation changed). As Duguid sees it, the thrust of congressional movement for the reason that TCPA’s enactment has been to restriction nuisance calls. Because era “adapt[s] to exchange,” Duguid argues, the TCPA should be handled as an “ ‘agile tool.’ ” Id., at 38, forty one. To this quit, Duguid asks this Court to focus now not on whether or not a device has the “senescent technology,” identity., at forty one, of random or sequential variety technology however alternatively on whether or not it has the “capability to dial numbers without human intervention,” identification., at 39 (internal citation marks overlooked).
To start with, Duguid greatly overstates the effects of accepting Facebook’s interpretation. The statute one by one prohibits calls using “an artificial or prerecorded voice” to diverse kinds of cellphone lines, which include domestic telephones and mobile phones, until an exception applies. See forty seven U. S. C. §§227(b)(1)(A) and (B). Our selection does not have an effect on that prohibition. In any occasion, Duguid’s quarrel is with Congress, which did now not define an autodialer as malleably as he might have appreciated. “Senescent” as more than a few generator (and perhaps the TCPA itself ) can be, this is no justification for eschewing the high-quality reading of §227(a)(1)(A). This Court must interpret what Congress wrote, which is that “using a random or sequential wide variety generator” modifies both “store” and “produce.”
* * *
We hold that a vital feature of an autodialer underneath §227(a)(1)(A) is the potential to apply a random or sequential quantity generator to either keep or produce cellphone numbers to be called. The judgment of the Court of Appeals is reversed, and the case is remanded for further complaints constant with this opinion.
It is so ordered.