A Philadelphia business loan company must pay $33,000 to a man who received 22 unwanted telemarketing calls, a federal judge ruled this week.
Fast Advance Funding knowingly placed telemarketing calls to James Everett Shelton, a 23-year-old from King of Prussia, without maintaining a do-not-call policy or recording Everett’s requests to stop the calls, U.S. District Court Judge Chad Kenney of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania ruled Wednesday.
Shelton brought his lawsuit under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), a 1991 law that requires businesses to honor “do not call” lists and outlaws calls coming from autodialers or those with artificial or prerecorded voices, unless consumers give prior consent. Consumers can sue for up to $500 per violation and courts can award triple damages for willful conduct.
Judge Kenney awarded triple damages, so Fast Advance Funding must pay $1,500 for each of the 22 unwanted calls.
An attorney for the firm declined comment.
The ruling is the latest victory for Shelton, who regularly sues companies that he claims illegally call him. He has brought roughly 40 lawsuits under the TCPA, and has won or settled every case that isn’t pending, according to court filings from his lawyer, Bryan Reo, who said he is representing Shelton in at least seven pending cases.
Shelton said he is graduating from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, next week.
Fast Advance Funding failed to participate in discovery and never responded to Shelton’s requests for admission, so the firm was deemed to have admitted Shelton’s claims, according to Kenney’s written opinion. Reo, a Mentor, Ohio, based lawyer, said the business loan company’s lawyer didn’t take the case seriously.
“I would tell the telemarketers out there to underestimate me at your own peril. Violate the TCPA at your own peril, and if you attempt to lock heads with me or my client in court, we’re going to win,” Reo said Friday, adding that he’s been a lawyer for just over a year.
In court filings, Fast Advance Funding accused Shelton of being a “prolific self-litigator” who lacked standing to bring the case.
Shelton "is a serial litigant who has a business model based upon capitalizing on and encouraging his victims (Defendants in his cases) to contact him through a telephone he has allegedly placed on a Do Not Call List,” lawyer Norman Valz wrote in June. “If a company calls the business telephone number listed on his website, which is the same number that Shelton claims forms the basis of his present lawsuit, Shelton will 'play along’ with that company, so he can then sue it for a purported TCPA infraction.”
Shelton has a judgment-collection business called Final Verdict Solutions.
Judge Kenney wrote that Fast Advance Funding did not decisively establish that “the use of one’s phone for business purposes precluded standing."
Shelton’s phone number has been listed on the National Do Not Call Registry since 2015, and he neither did business with nor requested calls from the business loan company, according to court filings.
While vacationing in California in March 2018, Shelton said he was awakened by a telemarketing call, according to his complaint. He spoke to a Fast Advance Funding representative, and in order to identify the caller, Shelton “feigned interest” by asking the representative to email him. Shelton, though, never consented to receiving additional telemarketing calls, according to the complaint.
Shelton received 15 more calls from the company before asking Fast Advance Funding to put him on their do-not-call list. However, the firm called him several times after that, the complaint says.
Shelton said he is a friend of Andrew Perrong, a 22-year-old from Huntingdon Valley who has also fired off dozens of lawsuits against robocallers and telemarketers.
“At most there’s a similar objective in terms of consumer rights activism in holding an out-of-control industry accountable,” Reo said when asked about Shelton’s relationship to Perrong.
Along with a surge of robocalls has come a sharp increase in the number of TCPA lawsuits filed by consumers. In 2018, there were 3,803 federal cases filed under the TCPA, compared with 14 in 2007, according to Michigan-based WebRecon, which tracks consumer-litigation filings.
Companies and consumer advocates have clashed over the telephone consumer rights law. Some, including Federal Communications Commissioner Ajit Pai, now chairman, have called the TCPA “the poster child for lawsuit abuse.”
Reo, though, said “society owes a debt” to people like Perrong and Shelton “for pursuing claims against these telemarketers.”
“They’re just fleecing people,” he said of telemarketers.