A massive class action accusing several cruise marketing companies of violating the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) by robocalling millions of Americans with offers for free trips has been settled. Under the terms of the settlement the companies could pay up to $76 million. The settlement will cost Caribbean Cruise Line Inc., The Berkley Group Inc. and Vacation Ownership Marketing Tours Inc. between $56 million and $76 million to settle claims that they used robocalling machines to call millions of people. The settlement was agreed to just two days before the trial was set to begin. The parties told U.S. District Judge Matthew Kennelly the case had been resolved shortly before a scheduled pretrial hearing.
The Plaintiffs, which include 1 million people who received calls from Caribbean Cruise Line and its subsidiary marketing companies between August 2011 and August 2012, will receive about $500 for each call they received. They are divided into two classes – one for cellphones and one for landlines.
The money will be paid out in four increasing installments, with the first coming after preliminary approval and the last a year later. The amount class members will receive will shift depending on how many people make claims. The minimum amount the companies will pay will be $56 million, while the maximum will be $76 million. People who make a claim and appear on a class list of nearly 1 million people will be cleared to receive their award, while people who aren’t on the list will have to prove they received the calls. Judge Kennelly made it clear that he was eager to hold the settlement approval hearings. That is because of the age of the suit and the millions of class members involved, some of whom may have objections.
Lead Plaintiff Grant Birchmeier brought the suit in 2012, claiming members of the class had received calls on their cellphones offering them a free cruise in exchange for taking a survey. The cruise companies said the calls’ purpose was to conduct public opinion surveys, but the class argued they were a scam actually meant to sell vacation products. The settlement comes after several rulings in favor of the classes, which were certified in 2014.
In April, Judge Kennelly granted the cellphone class partial summary judgment against Economic Strategy Group, a nonprofit who administered the survey, finding that the calls broke the law, regardless of whether they offered something for sale or were taking a public opinion poll. However, the judge declined to find the cruise companies liable for using the nonprofit to drum up business, saying that was matter a jury needed to resolve. Economic Strategy Group has since been held in default for failing to respond to the class’ most recent complaint. At the end of August, the judge blocked the cruise companies’ efforts to get the classes decertified in light of the Supreme Court’s decision in Spokeo Inc. v. Robins, which requires Plaintiffs to show actual injury to sue. He said the TCPA provides the substantive, not procedural, right to be free from unwanted calls. Judge Kennelly wrote in his 16-page opinion denying the cruise companies’ motion:
Both history and the judgment of Congress suggest that violation of this substantive right is sufficient to constitute a concrete, de facto injury. As other courts have observed, American and English courts have long heard cases in which plaintiffs alleged that defendants affirmatively directed their conduct at plaintiffs to invade their privacy and disturb their solitude.
The class is represented by Jay Edelson, Rafey S. Balabanian and Eve-Lynn J. Rapp of Edelson PC and Jonathan I. Loevy, Scott R. Rauscher and Michael I. Kanovitz of Loevy & Loevy. The case is Birchmeier et al. v. Caribbean Cruise Line Inc. et al. in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.
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