A federal appeals court in California has ruled that debt buyer Portfolio Recovery Associates must stop using an automatic dialing system to call cell phones without prior consent.

The 9th Circuit Court in Pasadena, Calif. supported a preliminary injunction barring Portfolio Recovery from using its "Avaya Proactive Contact Dialer" to dial cell phone numbers that the company obtained through skiptracing. Between Feb. 1 and March 31, 2011, Portfolio Recovery called 46,657 cellphone numbers in California, all obtained through skiptracing, according to the ruling.

The three-judge panel also approved provisional class certification in an action alleging Portfolio Recovery used the dialer in violation of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA). Last year, in San Diego, U.S. District Judge Anthony Battaglia granted an injunction and certification after finding a likelihood of success for lead plaintiff Jesse Meyer. The panel agreed late last week, pointing out that the company had admitted in securities filings that it used "predictive dialers", which is "sufficient to determine that [Portfolio Recovery] used an automatic telephone dialing system."

Portfolio Recovery officials were not available for comment.

Judge Morgan Christen, upon approving provisional class certification, wrote for the court: "We have little difficulty concluding the record supports the district court's finding that [Portfolio Recovery] would have continued to violate the TCPA if an injunction had not been issued. In response to Meyer's motion for a preliminary injunction, [Portfolio Recovery] did not acknowledge the wrongful nature of its conduct. Instead, [Portfolio Recovery] assured the court it would stop calling Meyer without making any assurance regarding other members of the provisional class. We agree with Meyer that [Portfolio Recovery's] violation of the TCPA violated his right to privacy, an interest the TCPA intended to protect."

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