Wells Fargo hit with lawsuit over robocalls to wrong numbers


(Reuters) - A proposed class action lawsuit in San Francisco federal court accuses Wells Fargo of making tens of thousands of automatically dialed, or "robo," calls to cell phones without consumers' consent.

Filed on Thursday on behalf of a nationwide class, the lawsuit accuses Wells Fargo of calling wrong numbers with auto-dialing equipment and failing to honor requests to stop. The complaint seeks triple damages under the U.S. Telephone Consumer Protection Act, or up to $1,500 for each call.

A spokesman for Wells Fargo could not immediately be reached for comment.

The lawsuit makes use of a recent 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling in Marks v Crunch San Diego, a consumer class action against a gym operator. That decision broadened the definition of automatically dialed calls, which are barred by the TCPA if made to cell phones.

Previously, autodialers were defined as devices that randomly generate phone numbers and call them. But the 9th Circuit on Sept. 20 ruled that the definition also includes equipment that automatically dials numbers stored on a list.

The 9th Circuit's ruling sparked an outcry from business groups, which have been urging the Federal Communications Commissions to issue an interpretative rule restoring a narrower definition of an auto dialer.

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In a comment letter to the FCC on Oct. 24, the American Bankers Association said the 9th Circuit's ruling ignores Congress' intent in restricting auto-dialing when it passed the TCPA in 1991. Congress meant to ban mass calls to random numbers, not calls to lists of a company's customers or similar stored numbers, the ABA said.

Citing the 9th Circuit's decision, Thursday's lawsuit said Wells Fargo's equipment meets the definition of an automatic dialing system because it automatically dials numbers from stored lists. Wells Fargo often leaves prerecorded messages on cell phones, which is also barred by the TCPA, the lawsuit alleged.

The lawsuit was filed by Michigan resident Lisa Barnes, who alleged that Wells Fargo began calling her cell phone in 2016 asking to speak to a Richard Loutman, a man Barnes did not know.

Barnes was never a Wells Fargo customer and did not consent to be called, the complaint said. Barnes asked Wells to stop calling, but the calls continued, her lawsuit said.

The Federal Communications Commission has been reconsidering its rules on auto dialers since May, when it issued a notice seeking comments.

The case is Barnes v Wells Fargo Bank, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California, No 18-6520

(Reporting by Dena Aubin; Editing by Dan Grebler)