Justia Communications Law Opinion Summaries

by
Prison Legal News (“PLN”) published a monthly magazine to help inmates navigate the criminal justice system. Between January 2010 and April 2014, the Federal Bureau of Prisons (“BOP”) rejected the distribution of 11 publications PLN sent to inmate subscribers at the BOP’s United States Penitentiary, Administrative Maximum Facility in Florence, Colorado (“ADX”). PLN sued the BOP, claiming the rejections violated PLN’s First Amendment rights, its Fifth Amendment procedural due process rights, and the Administrative Procedure Act (“APA”). ADX responded by distributing the 11 publications, revising its institutional policies, and issuing a declaration from its current Warden. Based on these actions, the BOP moved for summary judgment, arguing that PLN’s claims were moot or not ripe. PLN filed a cross-motion for partial summary judgment on its First and Fifth Amendment claims. The district court granted the BOP’s motion and dismissed the case as moot. The Tenth Circuit determined factual developments during the litigation indeed mooted PLN’s claims. Therefore, the district court did not err in granting summary judgment for the BOP and dismissing this case for lack of jurisdiction. View "Prison Legal News v. Federal Bureau of Prisons" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the circuit court dismissing with prejudice Transparent GMU's petition for writ of mandamus seeking to obtain donor information under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act (VFOIA), Va. Code 2.2-3700 et seq., from George Mason University (GMU) and the George Mason University Foundation, Inc. (the Foundation), holding that the Foundation's records were not subject to disclosure under VFOIA. Transparent filed VFOIA requests with GMU and the Foundation seeking records of grants and donations involving contributions to or for GMU from any of several charitable foundations. The Foundation, a privately held corporation established the raise funds and manage donations given for the benefit of GMU, responded that it was not a public body and its records were not public records subject to VFOIA. Transparent filed a petition for mandamus relief. The circuit court found that the Foundation was not a public body under VFOIA and dismissed the petition with prejudice. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding the Foundation was not a public body subject to VFOIA. View "Transparent GMU v. George Mason University" on Justia Law

by
Flat Wireless and NTCH challenged the FCC's order approving rates that Verizon offered to Flat Wireless for both voice and data roaming. The DC Circuit held that Flat Wireless' challenge runs counter to Commission rules that deliberately eschew cost-based regulation of roaming rates. The court rejected Flat Wireless' primary contention that the Commission should have required Verizon to offer roaming rates closer to its costs, and considered Flat Wireless' challenge as a collateral attack on the Voice and Data Roaming Rules. The court rejected Flat Wireless' remaining arguments in support of its claim and denied the petition for review. The court also held that it lacked jurisdiction over Flat Wireless' challenge to the 2015 Open Internet Rule because the rule was nonfinal as to Flat Wireless and was still subject to the Commission's revision. Finally, the court dismissed NTCH's petition for review because it was not properly before the court. View "Flat Wireless, LLC v. FCC" on Justia Law

by
A Maryland law requiring newspapers, among other platforms, to publish on their websites, as well as retain for state inspection, certain information about the political ads they decide to carry, violates the First amendment. The Fourth Circuit affirmed the preliminary injunctive relief awarded by the district court and explained that, while Maryland's law tries to serve important aims, the state has gone about this task in too circuitous and burdensome a manner to satisfy constitutional scrutiny. The court agreed with the district court that the law is a content-based law that targets political speech and compels newspapers, among other platforms, to carry certain messages on their websites. The court declined to decide whether strict or exacting scrutiny should apply to a disclosure law like the one at issue, and held that the law failed under the more forgiving exact scrutiny standard. View "The Washington Post v. McManus" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court concluded that the fair report privilege does not apply to a nonpublic, one-on-one conversation between a newspaper reporter and a detective of a county sheriff's department, who also served as the public information officer for the sheriff's department, holding that the privilege applies only to public proceedings or official actions of government that have been made public. Plaintiff sued the newspaper at issue here, alleging that the newspaper had published defamatory statements that the detective made about Plaintiff during a nonpublic, one-on-one conversation with the newspaper reporter. The trial court granted the newspaper summary judgment based on the fair report privilege. The court of appeals reversed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the fair report privilege did not apply to the report at issue in this appeal. View "Burke v. Sparta Newspapers, Inc." on Justia Law

by
In this interlocutory appeal concerning whether the Brigham Young University (BYU) Police Department is a "governmental entity" subject to the Government Records Access and Management Act (GRAMA), Utah Code 63G-2-101 to -901, the Supreme Court concluded that it would better serve the administration and interests of justice to remand the case back to the district court. The Salt Lake Tribune sent a GRAMA request to BYU's Police Department seeking certain documents. The University Police provided some, but not all, of the documents. The Tribune appealed to the Utah State Records Committee. The Committee denied the appeal, concluding that the University Police was not a "governmental entity" within the meaning of GRAMA and that it lacked jurisdiction. On judicial review, the district court concluded that the University Police is a governmental entity. The court of appeals certified the interlocutory appeal to the Supreme Court. Thereafter, the legislature amended GRAMA to explicitly define the police departments of private universities as governmental entities subject to GRAMA. The Tribune subsequently made a new GRAMA request for the contested records under the amended statute. The Supreme Court declined to decide the issue because answering the question presented will not have any presidential value for future cases or materially affect the final decision in this case. View "Piper v. State Records Committee" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court granted in part a petition for a writ of prohibition or mandamus challenging a discovery ruling compelling Petitioner to disclose the identity of his sources in a tort action, holding that digital media falls within the protections of Nev. Rev. Stat. 49.275. The current version of section 49.275 protects journalists who are associated with newspapers, press associations, periodicals, and radio and television programs from mandatory disclosure of confidential sources. Petitioner in this case was a blogger who was sued for defamation. During discovery, Petitioner invoked the news shield statute under section 49.275 and refused to provide the identity of his sources. Respondent filed a motion to compel Petitioner to reveal his sources, arguing that the news shield statute does not apply to bloggers. The district court granted the motion to compel. Petitioner then filed this petition challenging that decision as well as the order allowing limited discovery. The Supreme Court granted the writ in part, holding that digital medial falls within the protections of section 49.275 but that the case required a remand so the district court could reconsider whether Petitioner's blog fell within the protection of the statute. View "Toll v. Honorable James Wilson" on Justia Law

by
Harnishfeger published a book under a pseudonym, Conversations with Monsters: Chilling, Depraved and Deviant Phone Sex Conversations, concerning her time as a phone‐sex operator. A month later, Harnishfeger began a one‐year stint with the Indiana Army National Guard as a member of the Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA) program, a federal anti-poverty program administered by the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS). When Harnishfeger’s National Guard supervisor discovered Conversations and identified Harnishfeger as its author, she demanded that CNCS remove Harnishfeger. CNCS complied and ultimately cut her from the program. Harnishfeger filed suit alleging First Amendment and Administrative Procedure Act violations. The district court granted the defendants summary judgment. The Seventh Circuit reversed in part and affirmed in part. The book is protected speech; it was written and published before Harnishfeger began her VISTA service. Its content is unrelated to CNCS, VISTA, and the Guard. It was written for a general audience, concerning personal experiences and is a matter of public concern. A jury could find that Harnishfeger’s National Guard supervisor infringed her free-speech rights by removing her from her placement because of it. The supervisor’s actions were under color of state law, so 42 U.S.C. 1983 offers a remedy, and she was not entitled to qualified immunity. There is no basis, however, for holding CNCS or its employees liable. Harnishfeger failed to show a triable issue on any federal defendant’s personal participation in a constitutional violation. View "Harnishfeger v. United States" on Justia Law

by
Plaintiff filed a class action under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, alleging that DIRECTV and the company it contracted with to provide telemarketing services, Telecel, failed to maintain the do-not-call list and continued to call individuals who asked not to be contacted. The Eleventh Circuit vacated the district court's certification order, holding that the unnamed members of the putative class who did not ask DIRECTV to stop calling them were not injured by the failure to comply with the regulation. Therefore, their injuries were not fairly traceable to DIRECTV's alleged wrongful conduct, and thus they lacked Article III standing to sue DIRECTV. The court also held that, although the case was justiciable because the named plaintiff had standing, the district court abused its discretion in certifying the class as it is currently defined. In this case, determining whether each class member asked Telecel to stop calling requires an individualized inquiry, and the district court did not consider this problem at all when it determined that issues common to the class predominated over issues individual to each class member. Accordingly, the court remanded for further proceedings. View "Cordoba v. DIRECTV, LLC" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court affirming the decision of the O'Brien County Board of Supervisors determining that two newspapers under common ownership and published in the same city could not be combined for purposes of determining circulation because the publications were not offered for sale or delivered "in the same geographic area" under Iowa Code 349.6, holding that the district court did not err. The two newspapers at issue were the Sanborn Pioneer and the O'Brien County's Bell-Times-Courier, both owned by Marcus News, Inc. Marcus News and Iowa Information, Inc. both submitted applications to the Board requesting that their newspapers be selected as official county publications. The Board concluded that the two newspapers of Marcus News should not be considered as one newspaper and, as a result, did not select the publications as official newspapers for O'Brien County. The district court affirmed. The Supreme Court also affirmed, holding that the district court correctly concluded that the two publications should not be combined and considered as one publication in the same geographic area. View "Marcus News, Inc. v. O’Brien County Board of Supervisors" on Justia Law