ST. LOUIS (CN) – A federal judge ruled that robocalls voiced by former presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee were primarily intended to advertise a movie about freedom of religion, not to conduct a political survey, and therefore violated the Telephone Consumer Protection Act.
Ron and Dorit Golan filed a class action in 2012 after receiving two unsolicited, recorded messages on their home phone, stating: “Liberty. This is a public survey call. We may call back later.” The Golans are both listed on the Missouri and federal do-not-call registries.
Had they answered the robocalls like many others, they would have been asked by Huckabee if they “agree that traditional American values are under attack in mainstream media and by our government.”
The Golans, who were among the 4 million people who received the call, claimed the survey was a guise promoting the movie, “The Last Ounce of Courage.”
Huckabee reportedly said during the recording, “I am an enthusiastic supporter of a new movie called Last Ounce of Courage… about faith, freedom and taking a stand for American values.”
The 2012 movie centers on a man named Bob Revere who feels the government and a liberal group are attacking his freedom of religion. It reportedly raked in $3.3 million at the box office during a limited screening and currently has a zero percent critic rating on review site Rotten Tomatoes.
The Golans claimed the movie promoters and Huckabee violated the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, or TCPA, by placing robocalls, and sought certification of a subclass who were on the Missouri do-not-call list, but still received calls.
A federal court dismissed the Golans’ claims in 2014, finding they did not demonstrate sufficient injury to give them standing to sue.
However, a three-judge panel of the Eighth Circuit Court reversed the decision the next year, reviving the class action.
On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge E. Richard Webber in Eastern Missouri ruled that defendant Veritas Entertainment violated the TCPA because the millions of prerecorded calls were intended to promote the movie, not to gather information as part of a political survey.
“It is clear from the script, there was only one purpose of these telephone calls, to market the movie,” Webber wrote in his 21-page ruling. “The focus of the telephone call is the movie and values represented in the movie, while only two questions, if any, can be considered a political survey. Because the telephone calls are telemarketing, they are subject to the TCPA; the court will grant plaintiffs’ motions for summary judgment, concluding the purpose of the calls was for telemarketing.”
Huckabee and three others were dismissed as defendants in the case in 2014.
After a long road of back and forth litigation, attorneys are now gearing up for the jury trial set to begin in August.
“We were very pleased with Judge Webber’s ruling whereby we prevailed on five of the six motions for summary judgment or partial summary judgment,” Ron Eisenberg, the Golans’ attorney, said. “The Golans and the class are finally going to get their day in court.”
Attorneys for Veritas Entertainment did not respond Friday to a request for comment.
However, according to court records, they had argued that Veritas did not violate the TCPA because those who answered the prerecorded questions proved they were consenting to the calls, and those who didn’t answer did not hear about the movie.
The Golans and the class say they could be entitled to as much as $2 billion in damages, based on $500 for each of the 4 million phone calls. They also claim Veritas sent 30 million text messages about the movie.