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Unaccepted settlement offer at heart of text message ruling


The U.S. Supreme Court’s 6-3 ruling in Campbell-Ewald Co. v. Jose Gomez stems from a U.S. Navy recruitment message.

Mr. Gomez, then nearly 40 years old, received an unsolicited text message in May 2006 from Mindmatics L.L.C., a subcontractor hired by marketing firm Campbell-Ewald Co., urging that he enlist in the Navy, according to court papers. The contract between Mindmatics and Campbell-Ewald had provided that the messages, which were sent to more than 100,000 people, were to be sent to cellular phone users between the ages of 18 and 24 who had consented to receiving solicitations.

Mr. Gomez filed suit in 2010 against Detroit-based Campbell-Ewald in Pasadena, California, federal court alleging the firm violated the Telephone Consumer Protection Act by sending the message and sought class action status.

Campbell-Ewald offered Mr. Gomez $1,503 for each message he received plus costs to settle the case, but he allowed the offer to lapse.

The marketing firm then moved to dismiss the suit, arguing Mr. Gomez’s rejection of the offer made the case moot. The federal court granted the firm summary judgment.

But in September 2014, a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco reinstated the case, and the marketing firm appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“An unaccepted settlement offer has no force,” Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote for the U.S. Supreme Court’s 6-3 majority. “With the offer off the table, and the defendant’s continuing denial of liability, adversity between the parties persists.”

“We need not, and do not, now decide whether the result would be different” had the defendant deposited “the full amount of the plaintiff’s individual claim in an account payable to the plaintiff” and a court entered judgment for the plaintiff in that amount, Justice Ginsburg wrote. “That question is appropriate for a case in which it is not hypothetical.”