Justia Communications Law Opinion Summaries
Green v. Chicago Police Department
A public body has five-10 business days to respond to a request for information under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) (5 ILCS 140/3(d), (e)). In 2014, the Chicago Police Department (CPD) received FOIA requests from local newspapers for information relating to citizen complaints filed against Chicago police officers since 1967. The Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) sought to enjoin the release of files that were more than four years old; its collective bargaining agreement required the destruction of records of alleged police misconduct at that age. The court granted the FOP an injunction prohibiting the release of files that were more than four years old as of the date of the newspapers’ FOIA request. . Meanwhile, Green, who was convicted in 1986 of offenses arising from a quadruple homicide, became aware that files he wants could be destroyed. He hopes to prove his innocence by exposing police misconduct. Green sent CPD a FOIA request. CPD did not respond.The Illinois Supreme Court held that unless the FOIA exemption states otherwise, the circuit court should review the withholding of information under the circumstances that existed when the public body made its decision. If the information becomes releasable later, a requester may refile his request. When CPD constructively denied Green’s request, an injunction barred CPD from releasing responsive files that were more than four years old. The subsequent invalidation of the injunction was immaterial. View "Green v. Chicago Police Department" on Justia Law
Doe v. McLaughlin
In 2016, McLaughlin, the head of a business, was arrested based on an alleged domestic dispute with his former girlfriend, Olivia. In 2018, an Illinois court ordered all records in that case expunged, and the destruction of McLaughlin’s arrest records and photographs. McLaughlin sought an order of protection against Olivia. The terms of the parties’ subsequent settlement were incorporated in a judgment, which was sealed. Doe nonetheless posted multiple Twitter messages about McLaughlin’s arrest with McLaughlin’s mugshot, tagging McLaughlin’s business contacts and clients, and media outlets. Twitter suspended Doe’s accounts. The Illinois court issued a subpoena requiring the production of documents related to Doe’s Twitter accounts and issued “letters rogatory” to the San Francisco County Superior Court. Under the authority of that court, McLaughlin's subpoena was to be served on Twitter in San Francisco, requesting information personally identifying the account holders. In a motion to quash, Doe argued he had a First Amendment right to engage in anonymous speech and a right to privacy under the California Constitution. Doe sought attorney fees, (Code of Civil Procedure1987.2(c))The court of appeal affirmed orders in favor of McLaughlin. No sanctions were awarded. Doe failed to establish he prevailed on his motion to quash or that “the underlying action arises from [his] exercise of free speech rights on the Internet.” Doe presented no legally cognizable argument that McLaughlin failed to make a prima facie showing of breach of the settlement agreement. View "Doe v. McLaughlin" on Justia Law
Li v. Jin
Yaning was president of the Alumni Association; Jin was the executive vice president, and Fuzu was the vice president. To incorporate the Association as a nonprofit, Jin filed documents, listing himself as Secretary and CFO, and Yaning as CEO. This information was hidden from Fuzu. Association members elected a new board of directors. Fuzu was elected as secretary. Fuzu did not attend the meeting and was not informed of his election. Jin filed the Association’s IRS application for tax-exempt status, listing Fuzu as a director. No notice was given to Fuzu. Months later, Fuzu learned that he had been listed on the IRS application and was upset that his personal information had been used without his consent and that he had not been told he was on the board. Fuzu posted a message in the Association Wechat group telling alumni about Jin's actions.Jin sued Fuzu, alleging defamation and false light. Fuzu filed a cross-complaint, alleging breach of charitable trust, constructive fraud, fraud, and intentional deceit, civil conspiracy, commercial misappropriation of likeness, common law misappropriation of likeness, and negligent infliction of emotional distress. Each party filed a special motion to strike under Code of Civil Procedure 425.16. The court of appeal reversed the denial of the anti-SLAPP motion with respect to Jin’s submission to the IRS application; that application is a protected activity. The trial court must whether Fuzu can demonstrate that his claims relating to the submission have minimal merit. View "Li v. Jin" on Justia Law
Electronic Frontier Foundation, Inc. v. Super. Ct.
Between 2018 and 2020, Electric Frontier Foundation, Inc. (EFF) moved to unseal affidavits filed in support of executed search warrants requested by the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department (the Sheriff) and issued under seal by the San Bernardino Superior Court between March 2017 and March 2018. EFF was a “non-profit civil liberties organization working to protect and promote fundamental liberties in the digital world.” According to EFF, cell-site simulators collected the digital data of innocent people. “EFF claims law enforcement authorities in San Bernardino County lead the state in the use of cell-site simulators. Because of its concerns about the use of cell-site simulators, EFF petitioned to unseal eight “search warrant packets” that contained warrants issued by the Superior Court between March 2017 and March 2018 that allowed the Sheriff to use cell-site simulators. The Sheriff and the San Bernardino County District Attorney (collectively, the County) did not object to the unsealing of one warrant packet (SBSW 18-0850), but opposed the unsealing of portions of the seven other warrant packets. Specifically, the County argued the returns to the executed search warrants and the so-called “Hobbs affidavits” in support of the warrants should have remained sealed indefinitely, because they contained sensitive information about confidential informants and “official information.” The trial court denied EFF’s motion and ordered the affidavits to remain sealed. EFF appealed. Finding no abuse of discretion, the Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court. View "Electronic Frontier Foundation, Inc. v. Super. Ct." on Justia Law
State ex rel. Stevenson v. King
The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals granting a writ of mandamus compelling East Cleveland Mayor Brandon King and the East Cleveland mayor and finance director (collectively, Appellants) to produce documents in response to a public-records request but reversing the court of appeals' judgment granting an award of attorney fees, holding that the writ was properly granted.In this mandamus action, the court of appeals denied two of Appellee's claims for relief but granted a third issuing a writ of mandamus directing Appellants to produce certain documents. In a subsequent order, the court of appeals ordered Appellants to pay attorney fees. The Supreme Court reversed in part, holding that the court of appeals (1) properly granted a writ of mandamus for the production of public records; but (2) improperly granted the award of attorney fees. View "State ex rel. Stevenson v. King" on Justia Law
Fann v. Honorable Kemp
The Supreme Court reversed the order of the trial court that the Senate disclose all communications concerning an audit to American Oversight, holding that communications concerning legislative activities need not relate to proposed or pending legislation nor require an affirmative showing of indirect impairment of legislative deliberations to qualify for legislative privilege.At issue in this case was the scope and application of legislative privilege pursuant to the "Gravel/Fields framework" under the Arizona Constitution and common law. In 2020, Senate members contracted to conduct an audit of ballots cast in Maricopa County. American Oversight, a nonprofit organization, filed a complaint under Ariz. Rev. Stat. 39-121 to compel disclosure of the documents. The trial court rejected the Senate's immunity claim and ordered it to disclose the documents. When the Senate submitted a privilege log listing several withheld and redacted communications along with the requested documents American Oversight moved to compel the Senate to produce the withheld records. The trial court rejected the Senate's legislative privilege claim and granted the motion. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the Gravel/Fields framework requires that the Senate only disclose communications concerning administrative, political, or other non-legislative matters. View "Fann v. Honorable Kemp" on Justia Law
Financial Fiduciaries, LLC v. Gannett Co., Inc.
A Wisconsin newspaper owned by Gannett published an article about Batterman and his business, Financial Fiduciaries, describing a judicial proceeding in which several trust beneficiaries successfully removed Batterman as de facto trustee of a $3 million fund. The court concluded that Batterman violated his fiduciary duties. Although the court did not rule on whether Batterman committed criminal acts, it ordered him to pay the beneficiaries’ litigation expenses because his conduct “amounted to something of bad faith, fraud or deliberate dishonesty.” Batterman sent a retraction letter to the newspaper. Weeks later, the newspaper revised the article but did not remove it. Batterman then sued Gannett for defamation. The district court entered judgment for Gannett, finding that the allegedly defamatory statements were substantially true and protected by Wisconsin’s judicial-proceedings privilege, which protects publishers that report court activity.The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The district court correctly ruled that the only plausible defamation claim in Batterman’s complaint pertained to the implication that he committed elder abuse. The other defamatory statements were substantially true and privileged. Mishandling a deceased person’s estate may not always constitute elder abuse, but a reasonable jury could not conclude that observing the relationship between Batterman’s conduct and elder abuse constituted a false statement. View "Financial Fiduciaries, LLC v. Gannett Co., Inc." on Justia Law
G AND G CLOSED CIRCUIT EVENTS V. ZIHAO LIU
The district court ruled that Sections 553 and 605 do not apply when a pirated program is transmitted via Internet streaming. The Ninth Circuit, however, concluded that Plaintiff, a middleman distributor of entertainment display rights, failed to meet its burden on summary judgment to provide evidence sufficient to demonstrate a genuine issue of material fact regarding the method of transmission of the program at issue. Accordingly, the panel declined to reach the merits and affirmed on that alternative ground. View "G AND G CLOSED CIRCUIT EVENTS V. ZIHAO LIU" on Justia Law
Popa v. Harriet Carter Gifts Inc.
Cincinnati Enquirer v. Department of Justice
A DEA task force investigated Jacobs, a Kentucky drug dealer. Jacobs sold drugs to a couple who allegedly were “good friends” with the local Commonwealth Attorney (CA). After Jacobs' arrest on state drug-trafficking charges, the couple had extensive conversations with the CA. After one conversation, an assistant state prosecutor requested Jacobs’s cell phone records from the task force, alerting the DEA to the CA’s relationship with Jacobs’s customers. The CA became involved in the case in other ways, impeding Jacobs’ use as a cooperating witness in other federal investigations by opposing a bond reduction and refusing to seek a state search warrant for an unrelated case if the DEA agent from the Jacobs investigation was involved. The DEA began investigating the CA’s conduct, “Operation Speakeasy.” Evidence was presented to the U.S. Attorney, who refused to bring obstruction charges against the CA.A Cincinnati Enquirer reporter filed a Freedom of Information Act, 5 U.S.C. 552 request with the DEA, seeking any document related to the Jacobs investigation or Operation Speakeasy. The DEA denied that request, citing an exception for “records or information compiled for law enforcement purposes,” disclosure of which “could reasonably be expected to constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.” The Sixth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the Enquirer’s suit. The documents “only minimally advance[d] a public interest in shedding light on the decision” to not prosecute the CA and “significant privacy interests outweigh[ed] the proffered public interest.” View "Cincinnati Enquirer v. Department of Justice" on Justia Law