The call center company behind the SchoolMessenger service,
which specializes in helping schools across the country instantly communicate
with parents, students and their communities, is in federal court in Chicago,
attempting to fend off a massive class action lawsuit they warn could disrupt
the ability of the schools who rely on the vendor to send text and voice
messages requested by parents to spread the word about school events, including
school closings and other emergencies.
In January, a group of four plaintiffs introduced a class
action lawsuit in Cook County Circuit Court in Chicago against West Interactive
Services Corporation, a Nebraska-based company which has done business as
The plaintiffs, identified in the complaint as Jason Nesbit
and Linda Hobbs, each of Illinois, Stephanie Stordahl, of Michigan, and Shannon
Charles, of California, are being represented by attorneys Myles McGuire, Evan
M. Meyers and Eugene Y. Turin, of the McGuire Law firm, of Chicago.
The complaint alleged the company had violated the federal
Telephone Consumer Protection Act by sending automated voice and text messages
instantly to perhaps millions of mobile and wired phones on behalf of tens of
thousands of schools and other educational organizations in Illinois and
throughout the U.S.
While conceding the federal law carves out broad exceptions
for schools to send such messages for emergencies and other necessary topics to
parents and others who consent to receive the messages, the lawsuit asserted
West Interactive had “expanded the types of automated calls it places to
include calls for purposes that have not been exempted … including fundraising
events, political campaigns, community activities, civic matters and social
occasions,” all “in an effort to increase sales and to attract additional
customers to its automated calling services.”
The complaint asserts the plaintiffs and others never
consented to receive messages from the schools, yet “had their privacy invaded …
on numerous occasions over the past several years” by receiving messages that
were “purely informational and did not relate to any emergency situation or a
The complaint, however, does not specify the schools or
districts from which they received the messages, how many messages any of them
received, or what the messages addressed.
The plaintiffs asked the court to expand their lawsuit to
include many thousands of others across the country who may have received
allegedly similar non-emergency messages sent by West Interactive on behalf of
Under the TCPA, each violation – which can be defined as
each allegedly improper text or phone call – could result in damage awards of
West Interactive can send thousands or even more than 1
million such messages each day.
In February, West Interactive took the case to federal court
And this month, the company has asked the court to limit the
scope of the McGuire Law attorneys’ efforts, requesting the case and potential
classes of additional plaintiffs be limited only to the schools or school
districts that purportedly asked West Interactive to send the allegedly
improper messages to the four plaintiffs.
Further, the company asked the court to force the McGuire
firm to share the cost of preserving the activity records needed to
substantiate the case. West Interactive asserted in a motion filed Feb. 16 that
the demands placed by the plaintiffs and their lawyers would require it and
potentially 48,000 schools across the country to spend millions of dollars to
keep and produce the records of messages sent, most of which, West said, would
have no bearing on the actual facts of the case.
Should the court not force the McGuire firm to share these
costs and limit the scope of the case, West argued the court would be forcing
West to “defend the case with one hand tied behind its back, and consider
settlement solely based upon the costs of litigation rather than the merits of
“Plaintiffs’ lawsuit jeopardizes the current relationship
each school has with its parents, and the continuation of communications
between those schools and parents regarding their students – communications that
are not only consented to, but wanted,” West Interactive wrote in its motion to
In response, the plaintiffs argued their evidence preservation
requests are not asking anything extra of West Interactive beyond its normal
storage and archiving. They noted the company sends texts on behalf of schools
which contain hyperlinks directing message recipients to a page on a West
website where recipients can listen to the voice messages associated with the school
event or emergency. They asserted those links were still active and accessible
weeks or even months later.
And plaintiffs argued the attempt to limit the scope of the
case was a premature attempt to short-circuit the class action.
In a brief filed March 21, West reasserted its contentions
that, while it does retain some of the files and messages sought by plaintiffs,
it doesn’t do so with all messages nor does it do so for an unlimited amount of
time, as its retention policies are set by agreements it holds with the schools
for which it sends messages.
“What is different now is that (West Interactive) is
required to maintain all of the data regarding all of the calls made on behalf
of all of the schools and school districts regardless of client requirements,”
West wrote in its response. “To the
extent plaintiffs wish to represent a purported class of people that received
those messages, they should be required to bear the costs of WISC’s
preservation of this class data.”
West Interactive is defended in the action by attorneys with
the firm of Sessions Fishman Nathan & Israel, of Chicago.