US pizza chain Papa John’s is facing a $250 million class-action lawsuit for sending illegal text messages to customers.
The plaintiffs in the case allege that Papa John’s franchises sent customers a total of 500,000 unwanted text messages in early 2010. According to attorney Donald Heyrich, some customers said they received 15 or 16 texts in a row, even in the middle of the night.
Erin Chutich, one of the plaintiffs in the case, said, “After I ordered from Papa John’s, my telephone started beeping with text messages advertising pizza specials. Papa John’s never asked permission to send me text message advertisements.”
The company sent the texts through a mass text messaging service called OnTime4U, which is also named as a defendant in the case. When the company was first sued in April 2010, the franchises allegedly ended their involvement with OnTime4U after Papa John’s informed its corporate stores and franchise owners that sending unsolicited text messages “is most likely illegal.”
Papa John’s was correct in that assumption. Under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991, companies are barred from sending text message advertisements without a consumer first opting into the service.
Papa John’s head of legal affairs, Caroline Oyler, said the company’s corporate text messaging program was not subject to the lawsuit, since the texts were sent “by third-party vendors and a small number of franchisees.”
Heyrich said the class-action lawsuit against Papa John’s could lead to the largest damages ever awarded under the TCPA. The plaintiffs are seeking $500 per text message, but could be awarded up to $1,500 for each if a jury rules that Papa John’s knowingly and willfully broke the law.
Heyrich said, “We have noticed text message spam is increasing in part because advertisers see it as a great way to get their material directly into the hands of customers. We hope this case keeps text message spam out of cellphones.”
Oyler said the pizza chain sees “no basis” for the $250 million estimate.
The class-action lawsuit was certified by US District Court Judge John Coughenour on November 9. Oyler said the company is planning to appeal Coughenour’s ruling.
“We don’t agree with it and will continue to aggressively defend it,” she said. “We’ll continue to litigate the case and defend the lawsuit and move to have it dismissed.”