Justia Communications Law Opinion Summaries

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The Second Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of Lands' End in a putative class action brought by Gorss Motels under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), seeking compensation for faxes it received advertising the products of Lands' End.As a preliminary matter, although the parties do not raise the issue on appeal, the court concluded that Gorss has standing to proceed under the TCPA. The court concluded that Gorss gave prior express permission to receive the faxes at issue through its franchise agreements with Wyndham, and rejected plaintiff's contention that any permission to send fax advertisements was given to Wyndham and not to Lands' End. Therefore, the court concluded that Gorss agreed to the process that occurred here, in which Wyndham sent Gorss fax advertisements on behalf of a Wyndham approved supplier, Lands' End, advertising products that could be used in franchised motels. View "Gorss Motels, Inc. v. Lands' End, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court's judgment dismissing an amended complaint against Snap based on immunity under the Communications Decency Act (CDA), 47 U.S.C. 230(c)(1). Plaintiffs, the surviving parents of two boys who died in a high-speed accident, alleged that Snap encouraged their sons to drive at dangerous speeds and caused the boys' deaths through its negligent design of its smartphone application Snapchat. Specifically, plaintiffs claimed that Snapchat allegedly knew or should have known, before the accident, that its users believed that a reward system existed and that the Speed Filter was therefore incentivizing young drivers to drive at dangerous speeds.The panel applied the Barnes factors and concluded that, because plaintiffs' claim neither treats Snap as a "publisher or speaker" nor relies on "information provided by another information content provider," Snap does not enjoy immunity from this suit under section 230(c)(1). In this case, Snap is being used for the predictable consequences of designing Snapchat in such a way that it allegedly encourages dangerous behavior, and the CDA does not shield Snap from liability for such claims. The panel declined to affirm the district court's decision on the alternative ground that plaintiffs have failed to plead adequately in their amended complaint the causation element of their negligent design claim. Accordingly, the panel remanded for further proceedings. View "Lemmon v. Snap, Inc." on Justia Law

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Memphis previously maintained an email Media Advisory List to alert members of the media about newsworthy events and activities. The List included Thomas, the founder, editor, and publisher of MLK50: Justice Through Journalism, an online news website covering issues at “the intersection of poverty, power, and public policy.” Thomas claims that in 2018, she was excluded from the List in retaliation for her news coverage of Mayor Strickland. Thomas alleges that she made multiple requests to be returned to the List and that, at one point, the City’s Chief Communications Officer (Madden) stated: “You have demonstrated, particularly on social media, that you are not objective when it comes to Mayor Strickland.” Thomas’s suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983, asserted violations of the First, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments. The district court dismissed Thomas’ claims against Strickland and Madden on other grounds, and later dismissed as moot her claims against the city, finding that the city had ceased relying upon the List to disseminate media advisories and that the process that led to the new media relations policy was “not ad hoc or discretionary.” The Sixth Circuit affirmed. The city demonstrated that there is no reasonable expectation that it will re-implement the List and established that its change in media relations policy completely and irrevocably eradicated the effects of the challenged conduct. The change in media relations policy was “legislative-like.” View "Thomas v. City of Memphis" on Justia Law

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Mesa sent faxes promoting its services. Some recipients had not consented to receive such faxes, and the faxed materials did not include an opt‐out notice as required by the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), 47 U.S.C. 227(b)(1)(C). Orrington filed a class‐action lawsuit under the TCPA and the Illinois Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act and alleged that Mesa’s conduct constituted common‐law conversion, nuisance, and trespass to chattels for Mesa’s appropriation of the recipients’ fax equipment, paper, ink, and toner. Mesa notified its insurer, Federal, of the Orrington action. Federal declined to provide a defense. After Mesa and Orrington reached a settlement, Mesa sued Federal, alleging breach of contract, bad faith, and improper delay and denial of claims under Colorado statutes.The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of Federal. The policy’s “Information Laws Exclusion” provides that the policy “does not apply to any damages, loss, cost or expense arising out of any actual or alleged or threatened violation of “ TCPA “or any similar regulatory or statutory law in any other jurisdiction.” The exclusion barred all of the claims because the common-law claims arose out of the same conduct underlying the statutory claims. View "Mesa Laboratories, Inc. v. Federal Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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In this libel case, the Eleventh Circuit held that New York's "fair and true report" privilege, codified as N.Y. Civ. Rights Law 74, applies to the fair and true publication of the contents of a document that was filed and sealed in a Florida paternity/child custody proceeding.Plaintiff filed suit against Gizmodo and Katherine Krueger, the author of an article published on the Splinter website owned by Gizmodo, over an article entitled "Court Docs Allege Ex-Trump Staffer Drugged Woman He Got Pregnant with 'Abortion Pill.'" The district court concluded that section 74 applied, and that the Splinter article was a fair and true report of the supplement because it was "substantially accurate." Plaintiff does not challenge the district court's finding that the Splinter article was a fair and true report, but he maintains that the section 74 privilege does not apply because the supplement was filed in a paternity/child custody proceeding and sealed. The court held that section 74's fair and true report privilege applies to the Splinter article written by Ms. Krueger about the supplement filed by the mother of plaintiff's child, and that the 1970 decision of the New York Court of Appeals in Shiles v. News Syndicate Co., 261 N.E.2d 251, 256 (N.Y. 1970), does not preclude the application of section 74. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment to defendants. View "Miller v. Gizmodo Media Group, LLC" on Justia Law

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Appellant filed suit against Appellee Harper and various news organizations, alleging defamation, civil conspiracy, and tortious interference with contract. Appellant, a Russian born academic, alleges that appellees defamed her by falsely stating that she was a Russian spy involved in the alleged collusion between Russia and the campaign of former President Donald Trump. On appeal, appellant challenges the district court's dismissal of her tort claims and Appellee Halper challenges the denial of his motion for sanctions.The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of the majority of appellant's defamation claims as time-barred, dismissal of the remaining defamation claims as a matter of law, and dismissal of the vicarious liability claim against NBCUniversal. In regard to statements published prior to May 23, 2018, the court rejected appellant's argument that each time an allegedly defamatory publication was hyperlinked or tweeted, the statute of limitations began anew. The court concluded that the public policy supporting the single publication rule and the traditional principles of republication dictate that a mere hyperlink, without more, cannot constitute republication. The court rejected appellant's contention that third party tweets constitute republication pursuant to Weaver v. Beneficial Finance Co., 98 S.E.2d 687 (Va. 1957), a Virginia Supreme Court decision from 1957. In regard to statements published after May 23, 2018, the court concluded that although these statements are not time-barred, neither can they survive a motion to dismiss. In this case, the Washington Post Article did not defame appellant, and NBCUniversal is not liable for the tweets authored by Malcolm Nance through a respondeat superior theory of liability. Because appellant's defamation claims fail, so too does her civil conspiracy claim. The court also concluded that appellant's claim of tortious interference with contract failed where the allegations of Appellee Halper's knowledge of appellant's business expectancies are wholly conclusory. Finally, the court concluded that the district court acted within its discretion by electing not to award sanctions to appellant's counsel at this point and in denying the motion to sanction without prejudice. View "Lokhova v. Halper" on Justia Law

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MacIver, a “think tank that promotes free markets, individual freedom, personal responsibility, and limited government,” sponsors a “separately branded” MacIver News Service. Some of Wisconsin Governor Evers's press events are open to the public, and others are limited to subsets of the media of varying size. The Governor’s Office maintains a media advisory list to notify members of the media of events. The original list was based on newspaper circulation, radio listenership, and TV viewership.MacIver reporters learned of an invitation-only press and, although not invited, sent an RSVP. They were not admitted. Hundreds of other media personnel were also not invited to the small event. MacIver requested the criteria used to determine which journalists would be allowed access. The Governor’s Office distributed guidance for determining how media would be granted access to limited-access events, noting that the “most important consideration is that access is based on neutral criteria.” The factors were adapted from standards used by the Wisconsin Capital Correspondents Board and the U.S. Congress. According to the Governor, MacIver is not included on the list because MacIver Institute “is not principally a news organization” and “their practices run afoul of the neutral factors.”MacIver sued, citing the First and Fourteenth Amendments. The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of Governor Evers. The press conferences were non-public fora and the criteria that the Governor used to accept or exclude media were reasonable. There is no evidence of viewpoint discrimination under any First Amendment test. View "John K. MacIver Institute for Public Policy, Inc. v. Evers" on Justia Law

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The Communications Act, 47 U.S.C. 151, requires the FCC to advance universal service. The FCC's Universal Service Fund (USF), administered by USAC, allows carriers that serve high-cost areas to recover reasonable costs “for the provision, maintenance, and upgrading of facilities and services.” High-cost area carriers may also receive support from the National Exchange Carrier Association (NECA) pool.SIC was designated as an eligible telecommunications carrier to provide service to the Hawaiian homelands and began receiving high-cost support funds and participating in the NECA pool. SIC subsequently leased a "massive and expensive" cable from a related entity. In 2010, the FCC allowed 50 percent of SIC’s lease expenses. In 2016, the FCC determined that projected growth never materialized and limited SIC to $1.9 million per year from the NECA pool. The D.C. Circuit denied an appeal.In 2011, the FCC put a $250 per-line, per-month cap on USF support; SIC had received $14,000 per line per year. In 2015, SIC's manager was convicted of tax crimes; the company had paid $4,063,294.39 of his personal expenses, which he improperly designated as business expenses. The FCC suspended SIC's ‘high-cost funding. An audit revealed that SIC improperly received millions of dollars of USF funds. The Hawaii Public Utilities Commission refused to certify SIC. The D.C. Circuit declined to order reinstatement of USF support and upheld a 2016 FCC order requiring repayment of $27,270,390.SIC filed suit in the Claims Court, alleging that the reductions in SIC’s subsidies resulted in a taking of property without just compensation, seeking $200 million in damages. The Federal Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit. The court’s Tucker Act jurisdiction is preempted by the Communication Act's comprehensive remedial scheme. SIC’s claims seek review of FCC decisions, which are within the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of appeals. View "Sandwich Isles Communications, Inc. v. United States" on Justia Law

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The Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991 (TCPA) restricts communications made with an “automatic telephone dialing system,” defined as equipment with the capacity both “to store or produce telephone numbers to be called, using a random or sequential number generator,” and to dial those numbers, 47 U.S.C. 227(a)(1). Facebook’s social media platform allows users to elect to receive text messages when someone attempts to log in to the user’s account from a new device. Facebook sent such texts to Duguid, alerting him to login activity on a Facebook account linked to his telephone number, but Duguid never created any Facebook account. Duguid tried, unsuccessfully, to stop the unwanted messages. He brought a putative class action, alleging that Facebook violated the TCPA by maintaining a database that stored phone numbers and programming its equipment to send automated text messages. The Ninth Circuit ruled in Duguid’s favor.The Supreme Court reversed: To qualify as an “automatic telephone dialing system” under the TCPA, a device must have the capacity either to store a telephone number using a random or sequential number generator or to produce a telephone number using a random or sequential number generator. The statutory context confirms that the TCPA’s autodialer definition excludes equipment that does not use a random or sequential number generator. Congress found autodialer technology harmful because autodialers can dial emergency lines randomly or tie up all of an entity's sequentially numbered phone lines. Duguid’s interpretation would encompass any equipment that stores and dials telephone numbers. View "Facebook, Inc. v. Duguid" on Justia Law

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Federal Communications Commission (FCC) ownership rules limit the number of radio stations, television stations, and newspapers that a single entity may own in a given market. Section 202(h) of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 directs the FCC to review its media ownership rules every four years and to repeal or modify rules that no longer serve the public interest. In 2017, the FCC concluded that three ownership rules were no longer necessary to promote competition, localism, or viewpoint diversity and that the record did not suggest that repealing or modifying those rules was likely to harm minority and female ownership. The FCC repealed two ownership rules and modified another. The Third Circuit vacated the order.The Supreme Court reversed. The FCC’s decision to repeal or modify the three ownership rules was not arbitrary and capricious under the Administrative Procedures Act (APA); it considered the record evidence and reasonably concluded that the rules at issue were no longer necessary to serve the agency’s public interest goals of competition, localism, and viewpoint diversity and that the changes were not likely to harm minority and female ownership. The FCC acknowledged the gaps in the data sets it relied on and noted that, despite its repeated requests for additional data, it had received no countervailing evidence suggesting that changing the rules was likely to harm minority and female ownership. The FCC considered two studies that purported to show that past relaxations of the ownership rules had led to decreases in minority and female ownership levels and interpreted them differently. The APA imposes no general obligation on agencies to conduct or commission their own studies. Nothing in the Telecommunications Act requires the FCC to conduct such studies before exercising its discretion under Section 202(h). View "Federal Communications Commission v. Prometheus Radio Project" on Justia Law