ATLANTA (AP) — After a home maintenance company sent more than 300,000 junk faxes to unsuspecting Atlanta residents, one annoyed recipient decided to fight back.
That decision started a legal feud that's lasted almost a decade and led to an eye-popping $459 million penalty against the company that was the focus of arguments Monday before the Georgia Supreme Court.
It started when American Home Services, a siding and gutter installation company, hired a Texas firm to send a flood of faxes to metro Atlanta consumers in the early 2000s. One of the recipients was a Georgia sign company called Fastsigns, which filed a class action lawsuit in October 2003 targeting the junk faxes.
Fastsigns claimed that the faxes violated a 1991 federal law that makes it illegal for anyone to use a telephone fax machine, computer or other electronic device to send unsolicited ads to fax machines.
A Fulton County judge sided with Fastsigns and entered the $459 million judgment against the company — $1,500 in damages for each of the 306,000 junk faxes that were sent. But the Georgia Court of Appeals tossed out the ruling, saying the decision should hinge on how many faxes were actually received and not the number of faxes that were sent.
During Monday's arguments, American Home Services attorney Celeste McCollough said the appeals court made the right decision. She said Fastsigns inflated the amount of damages by claiming that hundreds of thousands of people were harmed by the faxes when the firm could only identify six people who received the faxes.
"There is no actual injury when a telephone facsimile is sent but not received," she argued.
But Fastsigns attorney Michael Jablonski argued the appeals court ignored the plain language of the federal law when it tossed out the award. He said sending the faxes ties up the telephone system and leads to "rampant abuse" of the telecommunications network.
"Congress made the decision that we need to stop junk faxes," he said. "And the only way to stop them is to stop them from being sent."