Justia Communications Law Opinion Summaries

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The Telephone Consumer Protection Act bars certain uses of an “automatic telephone dialing system,” which it defines as equipment with the capacity “to store or produce telephone numbers to be called, using a random or sequential number generator,” as well as the capacity to dial those numbers AT&T’s “Customer Rules Feedback Tool,” a device that sends surveys to customers who have interacted with AT&T’s customer service department, exclusively dials numbers stored in a customer database. AT&T sent unwanted automated text messages to Gadelhak. Gadelhak brought a putative class action under the Act, 47 U.S.C. 227(b)(1). The district court held and the Seventh Circuit affirmed that AT&T’s system did not qualify as an “automatic telephone dialing system.” While characterizing the Act as a grammatical nightmare, the court concluded that the phrase “using a random or sequential number generator” modifies both “store” and “produce.” AT&T’s system neither stores nor produces numbers using a random or sequential number generator. View "Gadelhak v. AT&T Services, Inc." on Justia Law

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Officers executed a search warrant at Rawls’ residence, yielding an iPhone 6 and a Mac Pro Computer with attached external hard drives, all protected with encryption software. With a warrant, forensic analysts discovered the password to decrypt the Mac Pro but could not determine the passwords for the external hard drives. The Mac Pro revealed an image of a pubescent girl in a sexually provocative position, logs showing that it had visited likely child exploitation websites and that Rawls had downloaded thousands of files known to be child pornography. Those files were stored on the external hard drives. Rawls’ sister stated that Rawls had shown her child pornography on the external hard drives. A Magistrate ordered Rawls to unencrypt the devices. Rawls cited the Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination. The court denied Rawls’ motion, reasoning the act of decrypting the devices would not be testimonial. Rawls decrypted the iPhone, which contained 20 photographs that focused on the genitals of Rawls’ six-year-old niece. Rawls stated that he could not remember the passwords for the hard drives. The Third Circuit affirmed a civil contempt finding. Rawls, incarcerated since September 2015, moved for release, arguing that 28 U.S.C. 1826(a) limits the maximum confinement for civil contempt to 18 months. The Third Circuit ordered his release, rejecting the government’s argument that Rawls was not a “witness” participating in any “proceeding before or ancillary to any court or grand jury.” The proceedings to enforce the search warrant fall within the statute’s broad description of any “proceeding before or ancillary to any court or grand jury," the Decryption Order is “an order of the court to testify or provide other information,” and section 1826(a) applies to the detention of any material witness, even if that person is also a suspect in connection with other offenses. View "United States v. Apple Mac Pro Computer" on Justia Law

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T-Mobile customers can participate in “T-Mobile Tuesdays,” a promotional service, offering free items and discounts. Customers who no longer wish to receive marketing communications may opt-out by contacting T-Mobile’s customer service. T-Mobile user Warciak received a text message: This T-Mobile Tuesday, score a free 6” Oven Roasted Chicken sub at SUBWAY, just for being w/ T-Mobile. Ltd supply. Get app for details. The message came from T-Mobile. Warciak was not charged for the text. Warciak sued Subway claiming Subway engaged in a common-law agency relationship with T-Mobile, and that Subway’s conduct violated the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA). T-Mobile is not included in the lawsuit. The court dismissed the complaint as lacking sufficient support for claims of actual and apparent authority: control over the timing, content, or recipients of the text message. The court also found that the wireless carrier exemption applied so that no underlying TCPA violation exists ( 47 U.S.C. 227(b)(2)(C)). Prior written consent is not required for calls to a wireless customer by his wireless carrier if the customer is not charged. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The only alleged conduct by Subway is its contractual relationship with T-Mobile. Warciak’s complaint lacks sufficient facts showing Subway manifested to the public that T-Mobile was its agent. He relied on T-Mobile’s conduct. Statements by an agent are insufficient to create apparent authority without also tracing the statements to a principal’s manifestations or control. View "Warciak v. Subway Restaurants, Inc." on Justia Law

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Under Section 227 of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, to be an auto-dialer, the equipment must (1) store telephone numbers using a random or sequential number generator and dial them or (2) produce such numbers using a random or sequential number generator and dial them. Plaintiffs filed suit alleging that the companies' unsolicited phone calls violated the Act. Plaintiffs alleged that the companies placed the calls through "Automatic Telephone Dialing Systems," which the Act regulates and restricts. The Eleventh Circuit held that because neither phone system used randomly or sequentially generated numbers and because the phone system in Plaintiff Glasser's appeal required human intervention and thus was not an auto-dialer, the Act does not cover them. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's judgment in Glasser's case, and affirmed in part and reversed in part the judgment in Plaintiff Evans' case. View "Glasser v. Hilton Grand Vacations Co., LLC" on Justia Law

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A man left a voicemail at former attorney general Holder's law firm, (Covington): Former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, I’m going to kill you. ... to murder you. My name is Atrel Howard. We had spoken in February of 2010. I was a United States unconstitutional convicted ... prisoner by the Common Pleas Court of Cuyahoga County ... through the second part of the clause of the double jeopardy law ... we had spoken. My name is Atrel Howard of Cleveland, Ohio. If you get this message you need to realize that I’m under unconstitutional law. ... I was sentenced to 50 months ... intentional assault of a federal agent or employee on the FBI agency premises. Howard was charged with the knowing and willful transmission in interstate commerce of a communication containing a threat to injure another, 18 U.S.C. 875(c). Covington’s server identified the caller as Atrel Howard, from a Cleveland, Ohio area code. An FBI agent and a probation officer were familiar with Howard’s voice. The telephone number belonged to Howard’s father. The jury instructions were jointly proposed by the parties. Convicted, Howard was sentenced to 30 months for his section 875(c) offense and his supervised release violation. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, rejecting arguments of insufficient evidence; that omitting the essential mens rea element violated Howard’s Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights and deprived the court of jurisdiction; and that the court erred in instructing the jury as to what type of communication would constitute a “true threat.” View "United States v. Howard" on Justia Law

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ABC stores its subscribers’ data on the cloud. ABC received a grand jury subpoena issued under 18 U.S.C. 2703(c)(2), ordering it to produce the non-content data of one of its subscribers, as part of a criminal investigation. The subpoena was accompanied by a nondisclosure order (NDO), prohibiting ABC from notifying any person, except its lawyers, of the existence of the subpoena for one year. Weeks later, a magistrate issued a search warrant directing ABC to produce content-specific data for the same account, with another NDO. ABC complied. The subscriber filed for bankruptcy. ABC moved to modify the NDOs to permit it to notify the bankruptcy trustee of the existence of the subpoena and warrant, arguing that the NDOs are content-based restrictions and prior restraints that infringe upon its First Amendment rights. ABC asserted the bankruptcy trustee had a duty to uncover and assert causes of action against the debtor’s officers and directors. The district court found that 18 U.S.C. 2705(b) implicates the First Amendment rights of service providers and that such an NDO passes strict scrutiny. The Third Circuit affirmed the denial of ABC’s motion to amend the NDOs. The governmental interest in maintaining grand jury secrecy is sufficiently strong for the NDOs to withstand strict scrutiny; the restriction is the least restrictive means of serving that interest and is narrowly tailored, being limited to one year. View "In The Matter of the Application of Subpoena 2018R00776" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court held that the newspaper in this defamation case was not liable for republishing public police logs and requests for assistance received from a police department because the fair report privilege shielded the newspaper's editor from liability. The University of Massachusetts Boston police department received a report that an unknown man was engaging in suspicious activity near campus, and the police included an account of this report in their blotter, a daily public policy log. The news editor of the school newspaper republished the blotter entry, a version of the report, and a photograph of Plaintiff. Plaintiff was subsequently identified as the unknown man. Plaintiff bright this action against university employees and the editor, alleging that they spread false reports about him. The trial judge granted summary judgment for the defendants. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding that the report and photograph fell under the fair report privilege. View "Butcher v. University of Massachusetts" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court awarding attorney's fees to two media organizations after they secured for public release the names of three Billings police officers who were disciplined for having sexual relations with a city clerk, holding that the district court did not abuse its discretion in making a statutory award of fees. The Billings Gazette ran a story reporting that three City police officers had been suspended without pay for having sex on City property. Each of the three officers filed a separate motion for temporary restraining order (TRO) seeking protection of his identity. The district court issued the TROs. The media companies sought a declaration that the public's right to know clearly outweighed the alleged privacy interests the officers asserted and requested attorney's fees and costs pursuant to Mont. Code Ann. 2-3-221. The district court ordered release of the officers' identities and granted the media companies' request for fees and costs. The Supreme Court affirmed the award of attorney's fees, holding that the district court properly exercised its discretion in awarding fees and costs. View "City of Billings v. Billings Gazette" on Justia Law

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Defendants solicited and obtained $180,000 from plaintiff produce a documentary on the Syrian refugee crisis. Plaintiff sued, alleging that no “significant” work on the documentary has occurred, that defendants never intended to make the documentary, and that a cinematographer has not been paid and claims the right to any footage he has shot, putting the project in jeopardy. Defendants filed an unsuccessful anti-SLAPP (strategic lawsuit against public participation (Code Civ. Proc. 425.16)) motion to strike, arguing the complaint arises out of acts in furtherance of their right of free speech in connection with an issue of public interest--their newsgathering related to the Syrian refugee crisis, and that plaintiff could not demonstrate minimal merit on his claims because the action is subject to an arbitration provision; plaintiff’s allegations are contradicted by the investor agreement; and the evidence establishes that substantial progress was made. The court found that plaintiff’s claims did not arise out of acts in furtherance of defendants’ protected speech but were “based on the failure to do acts in furtherance of the right of free speech." The court of appeal reversed. Defendants made a prima facie showing that the complaint targets conduct falling within the “catchall” provision of the anti-SLAPP law. Defendants’ solicitation of investments and their performance of allegedly unsatisfactory work on the documentary constituted activity in furtherance of their right of free speech in connection with an issue of public interest. The court erred in denying the motion at the first stage of the anti-SLAPP analysis. View "Ojjeh v. Brown" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit filed an order withdrawing its prior opinion and replacing the opinion with an amended opinion, denying a petition for panel rehearing, and denying on behalf of the court a petition for rehearing en banc. The panel also filed an amended opinion reserving the district court's dismissal, as barred by section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (DCA), of claims under New York law and the Lanham Act's false advertising provision. Enigma filed suit alleging that Malwarebytes Inc. has configured its software to block users from accessing Enigma's software in order to divert Enigma's customers. The panel distinguished Zango Inc. v. Kaspersky Lab, Inc., 568 F.3d 1169, 1173 (9th Cir. 2009), from this case and held that the parties here were competitors. The panel heeded the warning in Zango against an overly expansive interpretation of section 230 that could lead to anticompetitive results. The panel held that the phrase "otherwise objectionable" does not include software that the provider finds objectionable for anticompetitive reasons. In regard to the state-law claims, the panel held that Enigma's allegations of anticompetitive animus were sufficient to withstand dismissal. In regard to the federal claim, the panel held that section 230's exception for intellectual property claims did not apply because Enigma's false advertising claim did not relate to trademarks or any other type of intellectual property. The panel remanded for further proceedings. View "Enigma Software Group USA, LLC v. Malwarebytes, Inc." on Justia Law