Judge certifies class-action lawsuit against Papa John's for alleged text spam

The pizza company is accused of sending 500,000 unwanted text messages to customers

A U.S. district judge has approved a request for class action in a lawsuit against pizza maker Papa John's International for allegedly sending hundreds of thousands of text spam messages.

Seattle law firm Heyrich Kalish McGuigan, representing three Papa John's customers, alleged that the pizza delivery service has sent 500,000 unwanted text messages to customers. If the court finds that Papa John's violated the U.S. Telephone Consumer Protection Act, the pizza maker could have to pay damages of $500 per text message, or US$250 million, one of the largest damage awards under the 1991 law, the law firm said.

"Many customers complained to Papa John's that they wanted the text messages to stop, and yet thousands of spam text messages were sent week after week," Donald Heyrich, attorney for the plaintiffs said in a statement. "This should be a wake-up call to advertisers. Consumers do not want spam on their cell phones."

Judge John Coughenour of U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington certified the lawsuit as a class-action case last Friday. Customer Maria Agne originally filed the lawsuit in Seattle in May 2010.

A representative of Papa John's didn't immediately return an email seeking comment on the lawsuit. However, in an August 2010 motion to dismiss the case, Papa John's International denied sending unsolicited text messages. Agne's lawsuit also targeted Papa John's franchise owners.

The lawsuit is "virtually devoid of facts about the conduct that is supposedly at issue," wrote James Howard of the Dorsey and Whitney law firm, representing Papa John's. "The sum total of Plaintiff's allegations appear to be that she received one or more unspecified text messages about pizza or related products on her cellular phone."

Marketing firm OnTime4U sent text messages on behalf of some Papa John's franchisees, Coughenour wrote in his class-action decision. There is "no evidence" Papa John's customers gave consent to receive text messages from Papa John's, the judge wrote.

In April 2010, Papa John's corporate office sent a memo to franchisees asking them to stop using the OnTime4U text campaign, Coughenour wrote. Unsolicited text messages are "most likely illegal," the memo said.

Many Papa John's customers received the text messages, and there is some suggestion that the corporate parent was involved in the marketing campaign, Coughenour wrote in approving the class-action status.

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's e-mail address is grant_gross@idg.com.

Tags Dorsey and WhitneyantispamtelecommunicationMaria AgneJohn CoughenourCivil lawsuitsU.S. District Court for the Western District of WashingtonDonald HeyrichmobilePapa John's InternationalOnTime4UHeyrich Kalish McGuigan3g4gsecuritylegalJames Howard

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