On Jan. 20, 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court decided Campbell-Ewald v. Gomez, a case that addresses issues of
unaccepted settlement offers, class actions, motives for litigation
and appropriate remedies.
The case began when Jose Gomez received an unsolicited
text message from the Campbell-Ewald Co., which had
contracted with the U.S. Navy to conduct a multimedia
recruiting campaign. Gomez filed suit against Campbell-Ewald
under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act ( TCPA), which
makes it illegal to make calls or send texts via an “automatic
telephone dialing system” unless the recipient has expressly
consented. Gomez sought to recover on his own behalf and also
sought to represent a potential class of
other people who had received the text
message without their consent.
The TCPA provides for damages
of $500 per violation; those damages
can be tripled if the violation is found
to have been “willful and knowing.”
After the suit was filed, but before a class had been certified,
Campbell-Ewald offered Gomez $1,503, his court costs and a
promise to stop sending him unwanted messages to settle his
suit. Gomez did not accept this offer. Campbell-Ewald then
asked the court to dismiss Gomez’s claim, arguing that they had
offered him everything that he was entitled to under the statute
and that, therefore, his case, and the broader potential class
action, was moot.
The trial court dismissed Gomez’s case. The 9th Circuit
Court of Appeals, however, reversed this decision, finding that
the unaccepted offer did not make the claims — either Gomez’s
claim or any class claims — moot. Campbell-Ewald appealed to
the U.S. Supreme Court.
At oral argument before the Supreme Court, part of the
discussion explored whether Gomez had indeed been offered
everything that he wanted or could have achieved in the case.
As Chief Justice John Roberts put it to Gomez’s counsel, “You’re
being given everything you want. You won’t take yes for an
answer.” But the advocates and justices also discussed a variety
of interests that the plaintiff might have in the case beyond the
statutory damages authorized by the TCPA, including attorneys’
fees, an injunction, an order of judgment by the court, the
certification of a class or the right to litigate class status, cost
sharing of attorneys’ fees by the potential class and any potential
incentive awards that might be available to the lead plaintiff in
a class action. Ultimately, the court held that because Gomez
rejected the settlement offer and Campbell-Ewald continued to
deny liability, Gomez’s claim was not moot.
Campbell-Ewald v. Gomez raises a variety of interesting legal
questions about remedies, standing, mootness and the use of
judicial resources. But the case also raises questions about the
relief available to plaintiffs through court proceedings, the
interests that plaintiffs might have in pursuing litigation in
court, and how well available and desired relief match up with
each other. Social scientists have studied the goals and motives
that plaintiffs have when they make legal claims. Plaintiffs sue to
obtain financial remedies. But many plaintiffs also have broader
interests in obtaining information, explanations or apologies;
in securing a court’s declaration of liability that confirms the
rule violation at issue; in having their voice and story heard;
in generating behavioral change or prompting institutional
reforms; or in obtaining other outcomes that they think
contribute to a just and fair resolution of their case.
Many of the interests claimed by Gomez in this case
resonate with these findings. For example, obtaining a legal
judgment rather than accepting a settlement might serve an
interest in having an authority — the judge or the court —
declare a particular behavior as having violated the law. Or
the plaintiff might see the putative class action as central to
his goal of changing the defendant’s behavior going forward.
Understanding the complex mix of interests that motivate
litigation provides an interesting perspective on the question of
whether Gomez was offered all that he really wanted. n
“Judicial Notebook” is a project of APA Div. 9 (Society for the
Psychological Study of Social Issues).
Not taking ‘Yes’ for an answer?
Campbell-Ewald v. Gomez raises interesting legal questions about the relief sought by plaintiffs.
By Jennifer K. Robbennolt, JD, PhD, University of Illinois
Plaintiffs sue to obtain financial remedies.
But many plaintiffs also have broader interests in
obtaining information, explanations or apologies.