Justia Communications Law Opinion Summaries

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8x8 provides telephone services via Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP). Customers use a digital terminal adapter, containing 8x8’s proprietary firmware and software. Customers’ calls are switched to traditional lines and circuits when necessary; 8x8 did not pay Federal Communications Excise Tax (FCET) to the traditional carriers, based on an “exemption certificate,” (I.R.C. 4253). Consistent with its subscription plan, 8x8 collected FCET from its customers and remitted FCET to the IRS. In 2005, courts held that section 4251 did not permit the IRS to tax telephone services that billed at a fixed per-minute, non-distance-sensitive rate. The IRS ceased collecting FCET on “amounts paid for time-only service,” stated that VoIP services were non-taxable, and established a process seeking a refund of FCET that had been exacted on nontaxable services, stating stated that a “collector” can request a refund if the collector either “establishes that it repaid the amount of the tax to the person from whom the tax was collected”; or “obtains the written consent of such person to the allowance of such credit or refund.” The IRS denied 8x8’s refund claim. The Claims Court concluded that 8x8 lacked standing and granted the government summary judgment. The Federal Circuit affirmed; 8x8 did not bear the economic burden of FCET, but sought to recover costs borne by its customers, contrary to the Code. The court rejected an argument that FCET was “treated as paid” during the transfer of services to traditional carriers. View "8x8, Inc. v. United States" on Justia Law

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A City of Berkeley ordinance required cell phone retailers to inform prospective cell phone purchasers that carrying a cell phone in certain ways may cause them to exceed Federal Communications Commission guidelines for exposure to radio-frequency radiation. CTIA, a trade association, challenged the ordinance on two grounds: (1) the ordinance violated the First Amendment; and (2) the ordinance was preempted. CTIA requested a preliminary injunction staying enforcement of the ordinance. The district court denied CTIA’s request, and CTIA filed an interlocutory appeal. Finding no reversible error, the Ninth Circuit affirmed. View "CTIA Witeless Ass'n v. City of Berkeley" on Justia Law

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Roby Lowery Stapleton was murdered in 1963. Her murder remains unsolved. In 2013, through the Keech Law Firm, Stapleton’s family made a formal written request to the Department of Arkansas State Police (ASP) for a copy of the case file and other materials relating to ASP’s investigation into Stapleton’s murder. ASP denied the request. Keech then filed a complaint against ASP asking the circuit court to compel disclosure under the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) . ASP maintained that the material was exempt under FOIA because it was the subject of an open and ongoing investigation into Stapleton’s murder. The court ordered ASP to turn over the file, concluding that the case was not an “open and ongoing” law enforcement investigation and, therefore, the claimed exemption did not apply. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the circuit court’s finding that this investigation was not open and ongoing was not clearly erroneous; and (2) this case falls squarely within the purpose of FOIA. View "Department of Arkansas State Police v. Keech Law Firm P.A." on Justia Law

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Defendant Bryan Jones secretly recorded Brenda Papillon’s conversations with other people outside his presence. Papillon sued Jones under the Interception of Communications Act, Iowa Code chapter 808B, which prohibits “willfully intercept[ing]…a[n] oral communication” without permission of one of the parties. At a bench trial, Papillon offered the recordings and transcripts into evidence. Jones objected based on section 808B.7, but the district court allowed Papillon to use the recordings. The court subsequently found Jones liable under the Act and awarded actual damages, punitive damages, and attorney fees. The court of appeals reversed the award of punitive damages because the district court did not find Defendant was aware of the requirements of chapter 808B, and otherwise affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed in part and vacated in part, holding (1) to recover punitive damages, the plaintiff must prove the defendant knew he was violating chapter 808B; but (2) the evidence in this case supported a finding that Defendant knew he was violating the statute. Remanded. View "Papillon v. Jones" on Justia Law

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The Junk Fax Prevention Act of 2005, 47 U.S.C. 227(b) bans most unsolicited fax advertisements, but allows unsolicited fax advertisements in certain commercial circumstances. The FCC issued a rule in 2006 that requires businesses to include opt-out notices not just on unsolicited fax advertisements, but also on solicited fax advertisements. Petitioners, businesses that send solicited fax advertisements, contend that the FCC's new rule exceeds the FCC's authority under the Act. The court held that the Act's requirement that businesses include an opt-out notice on unsolicited fax advertisements does not authorize the FCC to require businesses to include an opt-out notice on solicited fax advertisements. Therefore, the court held that the FCC's 2006 Solicited Fax Rule is unlawful to the extent that it requires opt-out notices on solicited faxes. The court vacated the order in this case because it interpreted and applied that 2006 Rule, remanding for further proceedings. View "Bais Yaakov of Spring Valley v. FCC" on Justia Law

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Businesses challenged New York General Business Law section 518, which provides that “[n]o seller in any sales transaction may impose a surcharge on a holder who elects to use a credit card in lieu of payment by cash, check, or similar means,” as violating the First Amendment by regulating how they communicate their prices, and as unconstitutionally vague. The Second Circuit vacated a judgment in favor of the businesses, reasoning that in the context of singlesticker pricing—where merchants post one price and would like to charge more to customers who pay by credit card—the law required that the sticker price be the same as the price charged to credit card users. In that context, the law regulated a relationship between two prices: conduct, not speech. The Supreme Court vacated, limiting its review to single-sticker pricing. Section 518 regulates speech. It is not a typical price regulation, which simply regulates the amount a store can collect. The law tells merchants nothing about the amount they may collect from a cash or credit card payer, but regulates how sellers may communicate their prices. Section 518 is not vague as applied to the businesses; it bans the single-sticker pricing they wish to employ, and “a plaintiff whose speech is clearly proscribed cannot raise a successful vagueness claim.” View "Expressions Hair Design v. Schneiderman" on Justia Law

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NARUC challenged the FCC's order authorizing interconnected Voice-over-Internet-Protocol service providers (I-VoIPs) to obtain North American Numbering Plan telephone numbers directly from the Numbering Administrators rather than through intermediary local phone service numbering partners. NARUC argued that the Commission has effectively classified I-VoIP service as a Title II telecommunications service, or acted arbitrarily by delaying a classification decision or by extending Title II rights and obligations to I-VoIPs in the absence of classification. The court concluded that it lacked jurisdiction and dismissed the petition, concluding that NARUC failed to demonstrate an injury-in-fact, and thus failed to establish Article III standing to challenge the Order. View "National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners v. FCC" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, municipal corporations operate the local “emergency communications” or “911” programs in their respective counties, alleged that the telephone company, to reduce costs, offer lower prices, and obtain more customers, engaged in a covert practice of omitting fees mandated by Tennessee’s Emergency Communications District Law (Code 7-86-101), and sought compensation under that statute. They also alleged that, while concealing this practice, the telephone company violated the Tennessee False Claims Act. The district court dismissed the first claim, finding that the statute contained no implied private right of action, and rejecting the second claim on summary judgment on the second claim, finding that the statements at issue were not knowingly false. In consolidated appeals, the Sixth Circuit reversed. Plaintiffs provided evidence of a “massive quantity of unexplained unbilled lines,” establishing a disputed question of material fact. The Law does not require the plaintiffs to prove that the defendant acted in some form of bad faith, given that the statute imposes liability for “deliberate ignorance” View "Knox County Emergency Communications District v. BellSouth Telecommunications LLC" on Justia Law

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AT&T applied for a permit from the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Planning Commission to build a 125-foot cell-phone tower. Neighboring residents opposed the application, arguing that the tower would spoil the view from their properties, disturb the character of the neighborhood, endanger public health and safety, and depress residential property values. They cited a staff report concerning the tower's visual impact, an expert report on radio frequency emissions, and valuation studies. The Commission granted the site permit. The Fayette County Circuit Court dismissed an appeal on procedural grounds. A state court appeal is pending. The district court dismissed a separate suit alleging negligence, negligence per se, gross negligence, and nuisance. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, citing “obstacle” preemption by the federal Telecommunications Act of 1996. The court also noted that the claims constituted an improper collateral attack on the Commission’s decision to approve the tower. View "Robbins v. New Cingular Wireless PCS, LLC" on Justia Law

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In February 2006, BellSouth Telecommunications, Inc., and BellSouth MNS, Inc., filed an ex parte motion for a protective order in the Chancery Court, seeking to protect certain documents. The documents fell into the following four categories: (1) an August 2005 proposal submitted by BellSouth to the Mississippi Department of Information Technology Services in response to the Department’s request for telecommunications products and services; (2) the Telecommunications Products and Service Agreement between BellSouth and the Department dated November 2005; (3) correspondence between BellSouth and the Department related to the first two documents; and (4) related BellSouth marketing materials. Following legislative amendments in 2015 to the Mississippi Public Records Act of 1983 and to Mississippi Code Section 25-1-100, CellularSouth sought production of the proposal and the contract between the Department and BellSouth. After review, the Supreme Court found the chancery court erred in its interpretation of the amended Mississippi Code Section 25-61-11 when it entered an order continuing to protect the contract from production. Furthermore, the Court held that, because the rights in question in the case sub judice were created by statute, the Public Records Act, as amended, governed this dispute. Accordingly, the Court reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "Cellular South, Inc. v. BellSouth Telecommunications, LLC" on Justia Law