A group of Papa John's customers have filed a class action lawsuit against the pizza corporation as well as a handful of Papa John's franchisees for unsolicited text messages.
Last Friday, U.S. District Court Judge in Seattle John Coughenour certified the nationwide class action case against Papa John's International (NASDAQ: PZZA) for damages the plaintiffs say could reach over $250 million.
Donald Heyrich, an attorney representing the Papa John's customers, said he believes there were 500,000 text messages or more sent to customers over the span of a few years.
The plaintiffs, who first filed the lawsuit in 2010, point to the Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991 which could lead to a penalty of at least $500 per unsolicited telephone advertisement or texting message.
"Businesses across the country spend massive sums of money on spam filtering software on our email," Heyrich said. "We're trying to keep spam out of our cell phones in the way that it has infected our email."
In August, Jiffy Lube settled a similar class action lawsuit for $47 million for text message spam. The company did not admit to any wrongdoing.
The lawsuit against Papa John's also names five Papa John's franchisee owners in different states: Rain City Pizza, Rose City Pizza, Seattle PJ Pizza, PJ Sound Pizza, Papa Washington.
The franchisees and their attorneys did not return requests for comment.
Caroline Oyler, Papa John's senior vice president of legal affairs, said the company plans to appeal the national certification ruling, which is preliminary.
She said it was not Papa John's text messaging program, but it was a third party vendor, OnTime4U, that a small number of Papa John's franchisees used years ago.
"We will continue to aggressively defend the case," she said.
She said the company became aware a couple years ago that some franchisees were using this service.
"We communicated some concerns that we had," she said. "It's important to note these are independent businesses. We can advise but we can't dictate how they run their businesses."
Papa John's has 4,100 worldwide, 3,300 of which are in North America. About 20 percent of its stores in North America are company-owned.
When asked to respond to Papa John's defense that the text messages were not a part of any corporate program, Heyrich said, "The opinion speaks for itself in that regard. The court certified a class of all individuals in the United States who were sent one of these unsolicited text messages."
He said it was not clear how many people received text messages.
"We understand from the complaints that were logged internally at Papa John's that some people were receiving multiple copies of the same message on the same dayl," Heyrich said.
The next step in the case will likely involve discovery and proving the case at trial, which has yet to be scheduled.