Popular U.S. pizza chain Papa John’s faces a $250 million class-action lawsuit for blasting customers with illegal text messages.The plaintiffs allege that Papa John’s (PZZA) franchises sent customers a total of 500,000 unwanted messages in early 2010. The spam texts offered deals for pizza, and some customers complained they were getting 15 or 16 texts in a row, even during the middle of the night, according Donald Heyrich, an attorney representing the class. Erin Chutich, one of the plaintiffs, said in a statement:
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 pizza franchises sent the text blasts through a mass text messaging service called OnTime4U, which is also a defendant in the case. When Papa John’s was first sued in April 2010, the franchises allegedly ended their involvement with OnTime4U’s text program, after the pizza company informed its corporate stores and franchisees that sending unsolicited messages to cellphones “is most likely illegal.”
The Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991 bars companies from sending advertisements via text message without a consumer first opting into the service.
Caroline Oyler, Papa John’s head of legal affairs, said that Papa John’s corporate text messaging program is not subject to the lawsuit, as the text were sent “by third-party vendors and a small number of franchisees.”
The class-action lawsuit could lead to the largest damages awards ever recovered under the TCPA. The plaintiffs are seeking $500 per text, but they could be awarded up to $1,500 for each message if a jury rules that Papa John’s willfully broke the law. Oyler, however, said that Papa John’s sees “no basis” for the plaintiff’s estimate of $250 million. Papa John’s plans to appeal the judge’s ruling.
Lawyers representing the customers in the suit believe they have a strong case, however, and plan to continue to defend their position. Heyrich said in a statement:
This should be a wakeup call to advertisers. Consumers do not want spam on their cell phones. If you do not have permission from your customers, do not send them text messages. It’s as simple as that.
Chances are that Papa John’s sells their customer list to large marketing aggregators, which are more than happy to sell to anyone who’s willing to come up with the cash for the list.
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