CHICAGO (Legal Newsline) — An Illinois resident has filed a class action lawsuit against a Greater Chicago political candidate, claiming automated calls from the candidate’s campaign to the plaintiff’s and other’s cell phones caused actual damages in the form of invasion of privacy and cell phone charges.
Cary Wolovick filed the lawsuit earlier this month against Andrew Seo, a candidate for the office of Commissioner of Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago, as well as Seo’s campaign committee, Citizens for Seo, in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.
In the complaint, Wolovick claims to have received automated calls (commonly called “robocalls”) to his cell phone from Seo’s campaign. The calls allegedly delivered a prerecorded message stating: “Hi, I am Andrew Seo, a candidate for Water Reclamation District. I have a plan for government consolidation.”
Wolovick claims numerous other people in the Greater Chicago area received the same calls and messages on their cell phones. He also claims to have no connection to Seo or his campaign and that he never provided his cell phone number to Citizens for Seo.
The complaints in the class action rest on alleged violations of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA). Wolovick is seeking injunctive relief and award of statutory damages. He also asks the court of find Seo personally liable for direct participation in the alleged calls.
Per an advisory from the Federal Communications Commission, autodialed calls and prerecorded messages to landline telephone numbers are generally allowed, according to a recent blog post regarding the TCPA by attorneys from the Chicago law firm Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP.
In those cases, people or groups making the calls simply need to adhere to identification requirements.
However, there are broader prohibitions against making such calls to cell phones, as well as some landlines, such as lines for emergency or health care services.
The TCPA regulations should be clear and easy to follow for candidates and campaign organizers who are aware of them, said attorney Justin Kay, one of the post's authors.
"I don't think what is required in terms of the TCPA is a mystery," he said, adding that some might not be aware of the regulations.
"That's why the FCC puts out an occasional reminder," he said. "(But) people who aren't aware of the TCPA might not check the FCC website for reminders."
Lawsuits against political campaigns stemming from alleged TCPA violations are rare, which isn’t surprising, Kay said.
Typically, such lawsuits aren’t comparatively lucrative, he said.
"There isn’t a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow – even a theoretical pot of gold," Kay said.
How such lawsuits might affect campaigns or FCC policy is also unknown, Kay said.
“I think the FCC treats these (campaign) calls the same as any other calls,” he said.
Still, Wolovick’s case isn’t entirely without recent precedent.
A 2013 Florida case, Shamblin v. Obama, made similar allegations against the “Obama for America” campaign. Plaintiff Lori Shamblin claimed to have received two robocalls to her cell phone from that campaign. The Middle District of Florida denied class certification in that case.