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  • Writer's pictureThe Consumer Protection Firm

'STOP': Yarborough bill could curb lawsuits over unsolicited telemarketer phone calls

Steve Patterson Florida Times-Union

Publishedhed at 9:39 p.m. ET May 1, 2023 | Updated 6:08 a.m. ET May 2, 2023

Hand holding flip cell phone
Unsolicited messages to phones like one in this file photo could trigger class-action lawsuits under changes to state law Florida's Legislature approved in 2021. Bills files in the Legislature this year revisited those changes to scale back some companies' legal exposure. Charles Rex Arbogast/AP

Florida’s Legislature is headed toward approval of a bill to scale back 2021 restrictions on unsolicited phone and text messages to consumers.

Law firms reported a wave of class-action lawsuits filed against companies after the Florida Telephone Solicitation Act let people receiving unwanted calls to take callers to court and demand $500 each, plus lawyers’ fees.

Legislation sponsored by Sen. Clay Yarborough, R-Jacksonville, would limit suits like that to cases where a company keeps texting 15 days after a consumer has texted “STOP.”

“Unfortunately, the prior legislation captured some calls that are actually solicited by consumers,” Yarborough told lawmakers last week, so that “well-meaning businesses are being sued for things that we did not intend to be within the scope of the law.”

State Senator Clay Yarborough
State Sen. Clay Yarborough, shown here during the 2021 legislative session, filed legislation to narrow the focus of Florida law restricting calls and texts from businesses to consumer. Provided By Florida Legislature

A series of large business organizations have endorsed Yarborough’s efforts and an attorney from a prominent business law firm told a Senate committee that the current law “is being used by a cottage industry of plaintiff’s [law] firms and professional plaintiffs who seek to end-run the businesses.”

But consumer protection advocates have argued the current law is working for ordinary Floridians and doesn’t need to be changed.

Revisions proposed this year are “going to blow up what has been one of Florida’s most successful laws,” said Billy Howard, a Tampa attorney who named his practice The Consumer Protection Firm.

He pointed to Federal Trade Commission reports about violations of Do Not Call registries, noting the number of complaints in Florida dropped 45 percent — from 388,227 in 2021 to 211,635 last year.

Although telemarketing complaints remain unusually common in Florida, the state’s ranking in the FTC’s annual books dropped from ninth in the country to 14th.

Florida State Capitol Buildings in Tallahassee
The old (foreground) and new (background) Florida State Capitol Buildings in Tallahassee are shown in this photo from the 2005 start of Florida's Legislature's annual session. Jon M. Fletcher/Florida Times-Union

“We all get them,” Howard said of robocalls, “and to think that any Floridian wants to open up a hurricane of robocalls is simply insane.”

Florida’s House of Representatives approved the bill last week. It’s scheduled to be included Tuesday in the Senate’s special order calendar, clearing it for a final vote.

The legislation would apply to any lawsuits that haven’t been certified by courts as class-action cases by the time the bill becomes law.

Before the Senate Committee on Rules approved an updated version of the bill last week, Yarborough called the measure “a balance product” that addresses problems with the 2021 law while preventing “many, many more unsolicited calls to Floridians.”

By contrast, a California attorney who blogs about telemarketing law, Eric J. Troutman, opined last week that the measure “is likely to gut the FTSA.”

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