US top court agrees to weigh US Navy text message lawsuit

WASHINGTON - The US Supreme Court on Monday agreed to consider advertising agency Campbell-Ewald Co's attempt to fend off a class action lawsuit over claims the company violated a federal consumer law by sending unsolicited text messages on behalf of the US Navy.

Campbell-Ewald, a subsidiary of the Interpublic Group of Companies Inc, says the court has no grounds to hear the case brought by plaintiff Jose Gomez on behalf of himself and others who received the messages because the advertising firm offered to pay him the maximum amount available under the law to settle the claims.

The US Navy messages were part of a recruitment drive. The brief text message, sent to around 100,000 people, included the phrase: "Destined for something big? Do it in the Navy."

The company is seeking to reverse a September 2014 ruling by the San Francisco-based 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals that the case could move forward despite the offer.

Gomez turned down the US$1,500 (S$1,981) offer for each violation, which Campbell-Ewald said would fully resolve his case.

Under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, it is illegal to make a call or send a message using an automated system without consent.

There is a US$500 penalty for each violation, which can be trebled if it is a knowing and willful violation.

The Navy was not sued and is not involved in the case.

In court papers, Campbell-Ewald said that although the dollar amounts are small for each complaint, the consumer law has become "an extortionist weapon in the hands of class action lawyers seeking to extract lucrative attorneys' fees for class-wide settlements."

Defendants like Campbell-Ewald have sought to offer plaintiffs full damages before the class action lawsuit can go forward in order to avoid the lengthy litigation, the lawyers said.

Gomez's lawyers say an offer to the lead plaintiff in a case should not prevent him from representing the class.

Oral arguments and a decision are due in the court's next term, which begins in October and ends in June 2016.

The case is Campbell-Ewald v. Gomez, US Supreme Court, No. 14-857.