MANOPLA et al v. HOME DEPOT USA, INC. et al
MEMORANDUM and ORDER denying 68 Motion for Certificate of Appealability and denying 69 Motion for Certificate of Appealability. Signed by Judge Peter G. Sheridan on 1/8/2018. (km)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF NEW JERSEY
AARON MANOPLA and EVELYN
Civil Action No.: 15-cv-01120 (PGS)
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
HOME DEPOT, INC., ATLANTIC WATER
PRODUCTS, et al.
This matter is before the Court on Defendant Home Depot’s motion to amend and certify
for interlocutory appeal. (ECF No. 68). Defendant Atlantic Water Products joins the motion by
filing a memorandum in support. (ECF No. 69).
On February 12, 2015, Plaintiffs Aaron and Evelyn Manopla brought this action on behalf
of themselves and all others similarly situated against Defendants Home Depot, Inc., and
Defendant Atlantic Water Products, Inc. alleging violations of the Telephone Consumer Protection
Act, 47 U.S.C. § 227 et seq. (“TCPA”). In their Third Amended Complaint, the Manoplas allege
Atlantic Water called their cell phone multiple times beginning January 7, 2015 lasting several
days using an automatic telephone dialing system (ATDS) or an “artificial or pre-recorded voice”
without their prior express consent. The Manoplas further allege Home Depot is vicariously liable
for the calls. The Manoplas are seeking statutory damages in the amount of $500, treble damages
for willful and knowing violation of the TCPA, and injunctive relief. Defendants filed a motion
for summary judgment which was denied by this court on September 29, 2017 based on the reasons
placed on the record on the same date. (ECF No. 64).
Sometime during December 2014, the Manoplas visited a Home Depot store where Ms.
Manopla encountered a kiosk containing water-test-by-mail kits and accompanying forms.
Although the kit displayed Home Depot logos, it was to be returned to Atlantic Water. (“Exhibits
B and C”). Ms. Manopla took the kit home because she was interested in learning more about her
home’s tap water. Ms. Manopla filled in the contact information section of the water test request
card with her cell phone number, email address and mailing address and mailed the card with a
water sample to Atlantic Water. The form did not contain the phrase “solicitation communication”
or “automated telephone calls.” Ms. Manopla testified she expected to be contacted and had no
preference as to which of the methods was used.
First Call 1
The parties agree Home Depot did not make any of the calls at issue in this case. On January
7, 2015, Atlantic Water placed its first call to Ms. Manopla’s cell phone. Ms. Manopla took the
call while she was at work and heard a “pre-recorded” voice stating the following:
Hi, this is Tim from Home Depot Water Testing Services. We have your test results from
the water sample that you sent in. To talk to a live operator, hit any button on your keypad.
Or, you can reach us at (302) 544-7144. Again, that is (302) 544- 7144. Anytime between
9 am and 9 pm Monday through Friday or Saturday between 9 am and 1 pm. Thank you
for calling. Have a Nice Day.
Ms. Manopla pushed the number and spoke to a lady and who gave her the water test
results. Ms. Manopla was advised if she wanted to receive more information about her water, she
“Exhibit D” is a true and correct copy of the report generated by Atlantic Water’s telephone service provider
USAPhone.com (“USA Phone”) that sets out information concerning any and all calls made between Ms. Manopla’s
cell phone number and any telephone number of Atlantic Water that occurred at any time on January 7, 8 and 9, 2015.
could schedule an in-home consultation and would receive “a gift card for participating.” Ms.
Manopla recalled telling the representative she was not interested because of the cost. Atlantic
Water disputes this point and testified that as with the initial testing, any additional testing that
Atlantic Water might have performed at the Manoplas’ home also would have been for free.
Before the parties could finish their conversation, Ms. Manopla ended the call because a
customer walked in to the store. Ms. Manopla asked the representative to call her back so that they
could continue their discussion about the gift card.
Following the first call, there were eight attempted call-backs between Ms. Manopla and
Atlantic Water. None of the eight calls resulted in a person-to-person connection.
i. First attempted call-back: 1/7/15 at 5:24 p.m. This call was the result of Atlantic
Water hand-dialing the Manoplas. The call lasted 2 seconds.
ii. Second attempt call-back: 1/7/15 at 7:58 p.m. This call was the result of the
Manoplas calling Atlantic Water. The call reached the Atlantic Water voice mailbox 999
and lasted 58 seconds.
iii. Third attempted call-back: 1/7/15 at 8:00 p.m. This call was the result of the
Manoplas calling Atlantic Water. The call reached Atlantic Water voice mailbox 206 and
lasted 1 minute 37 seconds.
iv. Fourth attempted call-back: 1/8/15 at 11:44:05 a.m. This call was the result of
Atlantic Water hand-dialing the Manoplas. This call lasted 5 seconds.
v. Fifth attempted call-back: 1/8/15 at 11:44:41 a.m. This call was the result of the
Manoplas calling Atlantic Water. The call reached Atlantic Water voice mailbox 202 and
lasted 55 seconds.
vi. Sixth attempted call-back: 1/8/15 at 4:15 p.m. This call was the result of Atlantic
Water hand-dialing the Manoplas. The call lasted 3 seconds.
vii. Seventh attempted call-back: 1/9/15 at 9:52 a.m. This call was the result of the
Manoplas calling Atlantic Water. The call reached Atlantic Water voice mailbox 202 and
lasted 49 seconds.
viii. Eighth attempted call-back: 1/9/15 at 11:54 a.m. This call was the result of
Atlantic Water calling the Cell Phone Number. The call lasted 1 minute, 6 seconds.
The three Atlantic Water calls to Ms. Manopla’s cell phone number were hand-dialed by
an Atlantic Water representative. At no time during any of the back and forth phone calls did the
Manoplas tell Atlantic Water should stop calling. The Manoplas testified they did not incur any
charges nor did they lose any minutes due to any of the Atlantic Water calls. According to Ms.
Manopla, there was one voicemail message left on her cell phone voicemail.
The tenth and final call between the parties was made on January 9, 2015, at 1:31 p.m.
During the final call, Ms. Manopla asked the Atlantic Water representative about the Home Depot
gift card. Mr. Manopla overheard the Atlantic Water representative tell Ms. Manopla that they
were not getting the gift card, so he took the phone from Ms. Manopla. The Atlantic Water
representative told him that the first Atlantic Water representative was mistaken and that the
Manoplas were not getting the gift card unless they agreed to have someone from Atlantic Water
come to their home. After the final call, Mr. Manopla contacted an attorney to discuss taking legal
action about getting the gift card.
Facts pertinent to Vicarious Liability
Atlantic Water is a party to a 2007 Home Depot Service Provider Agreement (SPA) (See
ECF No. 47). As a service provider, Atlantic Water maintains the kiosks offering their water-test-
by-mail kits in certain Home Depot stores. The SPA provides terms and conditions for Atlantic
Water, as an independent contractor, to provide “water treatment and air quality products including
but not limited to water softeners, water conditioners, water filtration or air purification
equipment” to leads generated by Home Depot. The SPA includes terms such as: (1) number of
hours an Atlantic Water employee must be present in a Home Depot store; (2) minimum number
of leads Atlantic Water must generate from Home Depot stores; (3) close rate percentages based
upon in-home consultations obtained from the Home Depot call center or Atlantic Water; (4)
revenue sharing between Home Depot and Atlantic Water; and (5) payment processing from
customers to Home Depot’s payment system.
The SPA provides Atlantic Water may use Home Depot’s trademark and name, with the
caveat that Atlantic Water must self-identify as an authorized service provider for Home Depot.
Atlantic Water must also call individuals who have returned the water test mail kit from a call
center manned by a live customer representative. Ms. Manopla testified she did not recall if the
initial pre-recorded message stated that the caller was from Home Depot, but the SPA provides the
Atlantic Water representative must “identify themselves as being from the local Water Treatment
dealer, an authorized provider for the Home Depot.” Home Depot also requires that service
providers wear Home Depot badges when they are in a customer’s home and may not wear clothing
bearing a competitor’s logo on service visits.
Home Depot also gave Atlantic Water with a “Service Provider Reference Guide” A
section titled “Secret Shops” describes how Home Depot ensures the customer’s experience is
good and that Atlantic Water is following all of the specifications laid out in the document. Home
Depot admits they review surveys and may reduce the number of stores allocated to Atlantic Water,
put them on a performance improvement plan, or terminate their SPA if they routinely receive low
Questions Justifying Certification for Immediate Appeal
Home Depot presents the following questions as basis for certification for immediate
1. Whether the consent requirement under the TCPA is satisfied where the recipient of
call submits her water for testing, asks to receive information concerning the results of
the water test, provides her contact information, including her cell phone number, and
expects to be contacted to receive the requested information
2. Whether a bare procedural violation of an FCC regulation, without any evidence of
concrete injury-in-fact, is sufficient to establish Article III standing where the recipient
of the call knowingly submitted her cell phone number and expected to be contacted.
3. Whether vicarious liability can be imposed under the TCPA where the undisputed facts
demonstrate that the alleged agent is an independent contractor of the alleged principal,
their relationship is governed by a written agreement providing for the use of live
callers, and the alleged principal did not exercise day-to-day control over the alleged
Summary Judgment Holding
With regards to the calls, the Court held that
Only the first call clearly shows some type of ATDS was utilized. The rest of the
calls would seem to have been hand-delivered or were made by the Manoplas. So
hand-dialed calls do not fall within the TCPA because no automatic dialing system
was used. As such, the Court grants summary judgment to dismiss all calls that
were not subject to an ATDS. The parties should confer about the 10 calls and
determine which are subject to the lawsuit.
(Transc. Pg. 8-9). The Court then elaborated on prior written consent with regards to
Defendant’s argument that Plaintiff had given such consent by signing up for the service. The
Court found the consent insufficient because it did not mention that Plaintiff would receive
automated calls. (Id. pg. 9-10).
Regarding vicarious liability the Court stated,
Pursuant to the facts set forth [. . .] Home Depot retained substantial control over
the arrangement with Atlantic Water through an agreement, which provided for the
monitoring and management of the work. In addition, Home Depot’s logos were
utilized on the booth and on some of the work clothes of the Atlantic Water
representatives. There is some type of agency relationship that is an issue that must
be decided by the trier of fact.
(Trans. Pg. 11-12).
Section 1292(b) provides that interlocutory appeals of a district court order can only be
granted when the following three requirements are met: (1) the order involves a controlling
question of law; (2) as to which there is substantial ground for difference of opinion; (3) and that
an immediate appeal from the order may materially advance the ultimate termination of the
litigation. 28 U.S.C. § 1292(b) (emphasis added). The party moving for certification of the appeal
bears the burden of establishing the requirements under § 1292. See e.g., Meyers v. Heffernan, No.
12-2434, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 175918, at *3 (D.N.J. Dec. 22, 2014). However, the decision to
certify an interlocutory appeal "is wholly within the discretion of the courts," even if all three
statutory elements are met. Bachowski v. Usery, 545 F.2d 363, 368 (3d Cir. 1976) (citation
omitted). Strong policy against piecemeal litigation requires that motions for interlocutory appeals
should be granted "sparingly." Kapossy v. McGraw-Hill, Inc., 942 F. Supp. 996, 1001 (D.N.J.
1996). In that regard, "the court must remember that ... [a] motion should not be granted merely
because a party disagrees with the [previous] ruling." Id. A "difference of opinion" must arise out
of a genuine issue as to the correct legal standard. Id. A question is "controlling" if the incorrect
disposition would necessitate a reversal of the final judgment. Id.
1. Controlling questions of law
Defendant first argues that there are three controlling issues of law. First, the Court’s
determination that Atlantic Water’s initial call to Plaintiffs required prior express written consent,
which if reversed, would result in the dismissal of Plaintiff’s TCPA claim. Second, if the Third
Circuit holds that Plaintiff did not suffer a concrete injury in fact fairly traceable to the use of an
ATDS for a solicited and expected call, they would lack standing to continue this matter. Lastly,
the Court’s finding of agency relationship between Home Depot and Atlantic Water, if reversed
would eliminate the basis for vicarious liability on the part of Home Depot in this matter.
2. Substantial Ground for difference of opinion on questions implicated by the Court’s
a. TCPA Violations
Defendant supports that the Court mistakenly applied the 2012 FCC rules in determining
that written consent was required because those rules protect customers from unwanted
telemarketing calls rather than information calls.
The applicable rule would be 47 C.F.R.
§64.1200(a)(1) which states that “Non-telemarketing texts and calls require only ‘prior express
consent.’” Wick v. Twiolio, Inc., No. C16-00914RSL, 2017 EL 2964855, at *5 (W.D. Wash. July
12, 2017). Plaintiff provided express consent when she provided her cell-phone number when
submitting her water test. Plaintiff opposes by arguing that this is an attempt by Defendant to relitigate the nature of the call.
Defendant mentions a recent decision by this District, Broking v. Green Brook Buick GMC
Suzuki, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 134026 (Aug. 22, 2017), were the court used the standard for prior
express consent, rather than the prior express written consent outlined in 47 CFR 64. 1200 (f)(8).
In Broking, Plaintiff brought a TCPA claim against Defendant for violations that arose out
of one automated call made to Plaintiff’s residence. Id. at *2. There, this Court applied the
language in 47 U.S.C. §227(b)(1)(B), which states that the TCPA prohibits a party from using an
ATDS “to initiate any telephone call to any residential telephone line using an artificial or
prerecorded voice to deliver a message without the prior express consent of the called party.”
There the court held that a call that was made with the only purpose to complete or confirm
Plaintiff’s satisfaction with his service did not constitute telemarketing. Id. at *15.
Here, the call did not serve only informative purposes. During the call Plaintiff was offered
a gift card in exchange for scheduling an in-home consultation. "[T]elemarketing means the
initiation of a telephone call or message for the purpose of encouraging the purchase or rental of,
or investment in, property, goods, or services, which is transmitted to any person." 47 C.F.R. §
64.1200(f)(12). The call initiated in this case clearly sought to encourage Plaintiff to hire the
company for services, namely in-home water testing.
The facts of this case more closely resemble those of Evans v. Nat’l Auto Div., L.L.C., 2016
U.S. Dist. LEXIS 123660 (Sept. 12, 2016), where Plaintiff filed a TCPA claim after signing up for
free quotes and subsequently received automated calls. Id. at *3. In that case, as here, the issue of
written prior consent was raised, though its adequacy remained unresolved. Id. at *10.
Next, Defendant argues that there is substantial ground for difference of opinion on
whether a bare procedural violation of an FCC regulation supports Article III standing. Plaintiffs
did not incur any charges and did not lose money or minutes of cellphones uses to Atlantic Water
calls. Defendant also argues that the holding of Sussino v. Work Out World Inc., 862 F.3d 346
(2017) does not apply because in Sussino this Court held that there was an injury where Plaintiff
received an unsolicited call. Id. at 348. Here, Defendant holds that Plaintiffs admitted that they
wanted and expected a call for their water test, therefore they fail to allege that they suffered an
injury in fact. Yet, Defendant disregards that the ATDS was not only used to convey the water
test result but also to offer additional services, such as in-home water testing.
b. Agency Relation
Defendant argues that the Court’s holding that the agency relationship could exist even
though the agreement provides that Atlantic Waters is an independent contractor is erroneous and
provides substantial grounds for difference of opinion. At the very least, the identification of
Atlantic Waters as an independent contractors creates a presumption that no agency relationship
exists. As this Court mentioned when deciding the motion for summary judgment, Home Depot
retained substantial control over the arrangement with Atlantic Water through an agreement, which
provided for the monitoring and management of the work. Additionally, Home Depot’s logos
were utilized on the booth and on some of the work clothes of the Atlantic Water representatives,
indicating that some type of agency relationship exists. (Trans. 11-12).
3. An immediate appeal may materially advance the ultimate determination of the case.
Defendant supports that should the appeal be allowed, and the holding of this Court
reversed, the case would effectively be terminated.
Defendant’s request to review the analysis provided by the Court could have been filed as
a motion for reconsideration, rather than a motion for interlocutory appeal. As Plaintiff mentioned,
at the center of this request for appeal is the issue of whether the call was a telemarketing one or
not. Defendant’s disagreement with the findings of this Court is not sufficient to meet the heavy
burden mandated by interlocutory appeal.
The motion is denied.
This matter having come before the Court on Defendant Home Depot’s motion to amend
and certify for interlocutory appeal (ECF No. 68); and Defendant Atlantic Water Products, Inc.’s
motion in support of the motion to amend and certify interlocutory appeal (ECF No. 69); and the
Court having carefully reviewed and taken into consideration the submissions of the parties, and
for good cause shown, and for all of the foregoing reasons,
IT IS on this 8th day of January, 2018
ORDERED that Defendants’ motions to amend and certify for interlocutory appeal (ECF
No. 68 and 69) are denied.
s/Peter G. Sheridan
PETER G. SHERIDAN, U.S.D.J.
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