Papa John's staring down $250 million lawsuit for texting spam

Spam is the worst pizza topping
Spam is the worst pizza topping

Pizza giant Papa John's has come under fire in a class action lawsuit that could cost it $250 million for illegal text messages.

The lawsuit, filed back in February, was recently certified by a federal court as a national class action case for sending 500,000 unsolicited texts to customers.

The messages were sent through mass texting service OnTime4U, which is also listed as a defendant in the case.

According to the lawsuit, several Papa John's franchisees provided customer phone numbers to OnTime4U without obtaining customer consent. Cell phone numbers were then singled out on the list and bombarded with spam text messages advertising the pizza chain.

"After I ordered from Papa John's, my telephone started beeping with text messages advertising pizza specials. Papa John's never asked permission to send me text message advertisements," plaintiff Erin Chutich said in a statement.

Even pizza need permission

The class action suit is primarily against the individual franchise stores involved and OnTime4U, but also against Papa John's International, the parent company.

While there's no evidence Papa John's had a direct contract with OnTime4U, a preliminary discovery in the case suggests that franchises were encouraged to use the text spamming service.

After an influx of customer complaints about the texted spam, Papa John's sent a memo to its stores in April 2010 expressing that "the practice and process of sending UNSOLICITED messages to mobile devices is most likely ILLEGAL." (Emphasis inserted by Papa John's in original message)

The 1991 federal Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) made it illegal for companies to send text messages to customers who have not explicitly accepted the service, which appears to apply in this case.

Franchises were instructed to permanently remove customer information from OnTime4U's database, which OnTime4U confirmed took place.

However, 500,000 messages had already been sent, and could now cost Papa John's, or at least its franchises, $500 or more per message.

"This should be a wakeup call to advertisers," Heyrich Kalish McGuigan PLLC attorney Donald Heyrich said regarding his firm's case.

"Consumers do not want spam on their cell phones. If you do not have permission from your customers, do not send them text messages. It's as simple as that."

Papa John's better start pooling those delivery tips.