Organizers of a 2020 grassroots push that used robocalls in an effort to oust Mayor John Cooper via referendum agreed to pay more than $1 million to settle a class action federal lawsuit, court documents show.
The parties agreed to settle in February, but details of the settlement only became public this month. U.S. District Judge Eli Richardson signed off on the preliminary agreement Wednesday.
Nashville residents, possibly thousands of them, received automated calls on the evening of July 16, 2020, that included a prerecorded message urging voters to sign a petition to recall the mayor.
The payout is estimated to be $30-$100 for each class member, according to the settlement agreement.
Federal suit over Telephone Consumer Protection Act claim
The calls may have violated federal law, the suit argued.
The calls came from No Tax 4 Nash, one of several affiliated organizations that unsuccessfully sought the signatures in response to a property tax increase in Davidson County.
Metro Council passed a 34% property tax hike and broad cuts or status quo budgets for many departments in June 2020 as the city moved to respond to the economic downturn tied to the COVID-19 pandemic amid an already-strained budget.
Two suits filed against the calls were consolidated later that summer.
The suit argued the group’s use of both automated dialing and prerecorded messages flouted the 1991 Telephone Consumer Protection Act. Congress found that such calls are a greater nuisance and invasion of privacy than live solicitation calls and are therefore prohibited.
The suits named as plaintiffs Metro Nashville Public School Board member Rachael Anne Elrod; local attorneys Sarah Martin and Andrew Kaufman; Nashville resident Brooks Brasfield and all those who received the calls. The suit eventually grew to include third-party defendants: the companies that directly facilitated the calls.
No Tax 4 Nash has been tied to other organizations that are embroiled in an ongoing legal battle with Metro government that is costing taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars.
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The settlement agreement includes a note the defendants still deny they violated federal law and are settling to avoid the expense and “uncertainties” of the litigation.
Collectively, the defendants were ordered to deposit $1,010,500 into a settlement fund. A portion of that, up to 35%, can be claimed as attorneys fees.
The rest will be split between those with valid claims. Any leftover funds, including from uncashed checks after six months, will be donated to an as-yet-unspecified charity, the settlement order noted.
Notices to class members should be going out soon, court scheduling documents show. They’re set to be handled by a Minnesota-based firm, CAC Services Group LLC, which specializes in class action work.
A final hearing on the settlement is set for Sept. 15, after the notice and response period for class members.
Reach reporter Mariah Timms at [email protected] or 615-259-8344 and on Twitter @MariahTimms.