Justia Communications Law Opinion Summaries

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YouTube, a video-sharing website, places “advertising restrictions” on certain videos to prevent the user who posted the video from realizing advertising revenues. Network administrators and individual subscribers can also elect to limit user access to YouTube videos using “Restricted Mode.” YouTube considers whether the content involves drugs, alcohol, sex, violence, tragedies, inappropriate language, and whether the content is "gratuitously incendiary, inflammatory, or demeaning towards an individual or group.” YouTube uses an “automated filtering algorithm.” Users whose videos have been restricted or demonetized may request human review. Prager has posted more than 250 YouTube videos and has been prohibited from monetizing over 50 of its videos. In some cases, other users have posted videos identical to Prager’s restricted videos; the copycat videos have not been restricted. Prager claims the restrictions are based on its political identity or viewpoints.After a district court dismissed its federal lawsuit, Prager sued in state court. The court of appeal affirmed the dismissal of the suit, citing immunity under the Communications Decency Act, 47 U.S.C. 230, for interactive computer service providers acting as “publishers or speakers” of content provided by others. The challenged conduct is the exercise of a publisher’s traditional editorial functions, The court rejected arguments that the defendants are themselves information content providers, that their terms of service and public pronouncements subjected them to liability notwithstanding the Act, and that the Act, in immunizing defendants from Prager’s state law claims, is unconstitutional. View "Prager University v. Google LLC" on Justia Law

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Kirkland, a Maryville patrol officer, used her Facebook account to criticize the county sheriff. She belittled his public speaking abilities and referred to his supporters as “brainwashed minions.” Kirkland had previously worked as a Sheriff’s Office corrections officer. Kirkland had previous disciplinary issues. Kirkland’s supervisors became concerned that her posts would undermine the Department’s relationship with the Sheriff’s Office and asked her to stop. They also reprimanded her for other behavioral issues. Following Kirkland’s Facebook post claiming the sheriff had excluded her from a training event because she was female and opposed his reelection, Maryville fired Kirkland.Kirkland sued, citing First Amendment retaliation, Title VII, and the Tennessee Human Rights Act. The Sixth Circuit affirmed summary judgment in the city’s favor. Although the statements were made in Kirkland’s capacity as a private citizen and Maryville did not show Kirkland made the post with knowledge of, or reckless indifference to, its falsity, the balance of interests favored the city. The court noted the heightened need for order, loyalty, and efficiency in law enforcement. The city has “legitimate and powerful interests” as a law enforcement agency in preserving its working relationship with the Sheriff’s Office that outweigh Kirkland’s speech rights. View "Kirkland v. City of Maryville" on Justia Law

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The Chicago Sun-Times sent Cook County Health and Hospitals System a request under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) (5 ILCS 140/1) for information about gunshot wound patients who arrive at the defendant’s emergency rooms unaccompanied by law enforcement. The newspaper was investigating whether the defendant was meeting a requirement to notify local law enforcement when so-called “walk-in” gunshot wound patients are treated, 20 ILCS 2630/3, and asked for the “time/date” of each relevant hospital admission and the corresponding “time/date” of law enforcement notification. Cook County asserted two FOIA exemptions and withheld the records, claiming they contained personal health information prohibited from disclosure by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) (110 Stat. 1936) and private information barred from disclosure under FOIA. The newspaper argued that the year listed on each record was discoverable, even if the time of day, day of the month, and month were not.The Cook County circuit court granted the defendant summary judgment. The appellate court reversed and the Illinois Supreme Court agreed, holding that HIPAA and FOIA permitted the release of the year elements of the records as long as the individual identifying information was redacted, or “deidentified” to maintain patient confidentiality. View "Chicago Sun-Times v. Cook County Health and Hospital System" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court held that Netflix Inc. and Hulu, LLC (together, Defendants) were not video-service providers under the Fair Competition in Cable Operations Act, Ohio Rev. Code 1332.21 (the Act) and that the Act did not expressly or impliedly give the City of Maple Heights the authority to bring a cause of action such as the one at issue in this case.The City of Maple Heights filed a federal class action and declaratory judgment lawsuit against Netflix and Hulu in federal court asserting that Defendants were in violation of the Act. Defendants moved separately to dismiss the complaint on the grounds that their streaming services did not fall within the Act. The federal court certified two state-law questions for Supreme Court review. The Court answered (1) Netflix and Hulu were not service providers under Ohio law; and (2) the Act did not grant Maple Heights either an express or an implied right to bring an action against Defendants to enforce Ohio's video service provider provisions. View "City of Maple Heights v. Netlix, Inc." on Justia Law

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New Jersey permits candidates running in primary elections to include beside their name a slogan of up to six words to help distinguish them from others on the ballot but requires that candidates obtain consent from individuals or incorporated associations before naming them in their slogans. Candidates challenged this requirement after their desired slogans were rejected for failure to obtain consent. They argued that ballot slogans are, in effect, part of the campaign and that the consent requirement should be subject to traditional First Amendment scrutiny.The district court disagreed, holding that, though the ballot slogans had an expressive function, the consent requirement regulates the mechanics of the electoral process. The court applied the Anderson-Burdick test. The Third Circuit affirmed. The line separating core political speech from the mechanics of the electoral process “has proven difficult to ascertain.“ The court surveyed the election laws to which the Supreme Court and appellate courts have applied the Anderson-Burdick test, as opposed to a traditional First Amendment analysis, and derived criteria to help distinguish which test is applicable. New Jersey’s consent requirement is subject to Anderson-Burdick’s balancing test; because New Jersey’s interests in ensuring election integrity and preventing voter confusion outweigh the minimal burden imposed on candidates’ speech, the requirement passes that test. View "Mazo v. New Jersey Secretary of State" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court answered a question of law certified by the district court in the negative, holding that two video streaming services - Netflix, Inc. and Hulu, LLC - did not provide "video service" within the meaning of Tenn. Code Ann. 7-59-303(19) and thus did not qualify as "video service providers" required to pay franchise fees to localities under section 7-59-303(20).The City of Knoxville brought this action asserting that Netflix and Hulu were required to pay franchise fees because they used public rights-of-way to provide video service. Specifically, Knoxville argued that Netflix and Hulu were "video service providers" as defined in the Competitive Cable and Video Services Act, Tenn. Code Ann. 7-59-301 to -318, and were thus required to apply for a franchise and pay franchise fees to Knoxville. The district court certified a question of law to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court answered that Netflix and Hulu did not provide a "video service" within the meaning of section -303(19) and thus did not qualify as "video service providers" under section -303(20). View "City of Knoxville, Tenn. v. Netflix, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals dismissing Appellant's petition for a writ of mandamus against Baker, Dublikar, Beck, Wiley & Mathews (the Baker firm), Public Entity Risk Services of Ohio (PERSO), and the Ohio Township Association Risk Management Authority (OTARMA) seeking to obtain unreacted copies of invoices that the Baker firm had prepared for PERSO, holding that the court of appeals did not properly apply the standard of review in dismissing Appellant's petition.Appellant brought this action under Ohio's Public Records Act, Ohio Rev. Code 149.43, seeking a writ of mandamus ordering Appellees to produce unreacted copies of the requested records. The court of appeals determined that Appellees were subject to the Act despite their private-party status but dismissed the petition on the ground that the records were protected by the attorney-client privilege. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) PERSO was not immune from suit; and (2) the court of appeals department from the Civ.R. 12(B)(6) standard. View "State ex rel. Ames v. Dublikar, Beck, Wiley & Mathews" on Justia Law

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The Cincinnati Citizen Complaint Authority investigates alleged police misconduct and usually interviews the relevant officers, complainants, and other witnesses. Officers are required to participate in such investigations. An officer may bring a union representative to the interview. The Authority video records the interviews. Sergeant Hils, the President of the Union, claims that Authority Investigator Ekeke, in recording an officer’s interview, selectively turned off the recording when the officer made exculpatory statements. Another time, he alleges, Ekeke “threatened” an officer before the interview. Hils tried to record an interview of Officer Knapp, whom he represented. The Authority instituted a policy, prohibiting officers or their representatives from recording the interviews.Hils and affected officers sued, alleging violations of their free-speech rights, 42 U.S.C. 1983. The union filed an unfair labor practices charge, which led to a partial settlement agreement. The city agreed to record all future interviews. The district court held that the settlement agreement mooted the selective-recording claims and that the First Amendment does not include a right to record a government investigation. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. The policy satisfies rational-basis review. The Authority has legitimate interests in maintaining order and fairness during its interviews by ensuring the ongoing interviews are not selectively broadcasted, by ensuring the integrity of the investigation, by protecting the subjects of the investigation from unfair and precipitous public criticism, and by trying to prevent other subjects of the investigation from hearing prior interviews. View "Hils v. Davis" on Justia Law

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The First Circuit affirmed the judgment of the district court granting Defendants' motion to dismiss this action for defamation, false light invasion of privacy, and intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress, holding that Plaintiffs did not plausibly allege defamation under principles of the First Amendment and that there was otherwise no error.Dana Cheng and Epoch Group sued Dan Neumann and Maine People's Alliance in Maine federal court alleging defamation based on statements in an article written by Neumann and published by Maine People's Alliance entitled "Maine GOP hosts speaker present at Jan. 6 Capitol assault." The district court granted Defendants' motion to dismiss under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) and New York's anti-SLAPP statute. The First Circuit affirmed, holding that the challenged statements were non-actionable opinions and that Plaintiffs' remaining challenges were waived. View "Cheng v. Neumann" on Justia Law

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Broadband Voice, LLC, d/b/a Fuse.Cloud, LLC (Fuse), appealed a Mississippi circuit court's dismissal of its complaint with prejudice. Fuse entered into four contracts with Jefferson County for telephone and internet installation and services. In January 2020, an entirely new board of supervisors took office. The County notified Fuse on November 3, 2020, that it would be terminating the contracts entered into by the 2019 board of supervisors. The termination was to take effect on November 16, 2020. Fuse notified the new board of supervisors that an early-termination fee of $116,984.02 would be imposed if the County terminated the contracts. Fuse disconnected the County’s service before the November 16, 2020 termination date, and sued when the County refused to pay the fee. On August 23, 2021, the circuit court dismissed Fuse’s complaint with prejudice, finding that there were no triable issues. Fuse argued on appeal to the Mississippi Supreme Court that it was entitled to $116,984.02 in early-termination fees from the four contracts. Finding that the early-termination-fee provision was negotiated by the prior board, and that prior board could not limit the ability of a subsequent board to terminate that provision or any other provision of the four contracts, the Supreme Court held the early-termination fee was not enforceable. The circuit court's dismissal was affirmed. View "Broadband Voice, LLC d/b/a Fuse.Cloud, LLC v. Jefferson County, Mississippi" on Justia Law