Justia Communications Law Opinion Summaries

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SMART manages a public-transportation system for the counties in and around Detroit. For a fee, parties may display advertisements on the inside and outside of SMART’s buses and bus shelters. SMART guidelines prohibit “political” ads; ads that engage in “scorn or ridicule”; advertising promoting the sale of alcohol or tobacco; advertising that is false, misleading, or deceptive; advertising that is clearly defamatory or likely to hold up to scorn or ridicule any person or group of persons; advertising that is obscene or pornographic or advocates imminent lawlessness or unlawful violent action.AFDI sought to run an ad that said: “Fatwa on your head? Is your family or community threatening you? Leaving Islam? Got Questions? RefugefromIslam.com.” SMART rejected this ad as “political” and as holding up a group of people to “scorn or ridicule.”Initially, the Sixth Circuit held that the advertising space on SMART’s buses is a nonpublic forum and that SMART likely could show that its restrictions were reasonable and viewpoint neutral. In light of subsequent Supreme Court decisions, the Sixth Circuit reversed. SMART’s ban on “political” ads is unreasonable because SMART offers no “sensible basis for distinguishing what may come in from what must stay out.”. SMART’s ban on ads that engage in “scorn or ridicule” is not viewpoint-neutral. For any group, “an applicant may [display] a positive or benign [ad] but not a derogatory one.” View "American Freedom Defense Initiative v. Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transportation" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court dismissed this appeal from an order of the district court declining to issue a writ of mandamus in order for Appellant to obtain an audio recording of his criminal trial, holding that the district court lacked jurisdiction of this action for writ of mandamus, and therefore, the Supreme Court lacked jurisdiction of this appeal.Appellant, an inmate, filed a complaint for writ of mandamus seeking, under Neb. Rev. Stat. 84-712 et seq. (the public records statutes), to obtain an audio recording of his criminal trial. The district court district court denied and dismissed Appellant's action for writ of mandamus, concluding that the public records statutes were inapplicable to Appellant's request and that access to the record of court proceedings was governed by court rules rather than the public records statutes. The Supreme Court dismissed Appellant's appeal, holding that because Appellant did not file motion and affidavit or a verified petition, the district court lacked jurisdiction of this proceeding for mandamus. View "State ex. rel. Malone v. Baldonado-Bellamy" on Justia Law

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Vermont National Telephone Company (VNT) appealed the state Commissioner of Taxes’ determination that, pursuant to Department of Taxes Regulation section 1.5833-1, the capital gain VNT earned from the 2013 sale of two Federal Communications Commission telecommunications licenses was subject to Vermont Tax. Additionally, VNT argued the penalty the Commissioner assessed for VNT's failure to report the 2013 sale violated 32 V.S.A. section 3202(b)(3) and the state and federal Constitutions. Finding no reversible error, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed the Commissioner. View "Vermont National Telephone Company v. Department of Taxes" on Justia Law

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Yelp publishes crowdsourced business reviews and allows businesses to advertise on its Website and mobile app. Yelp employs over 2,000 sales representatives to solicit advertising sales. Gruber, a solo attorney practitioner, was contacted by phone several times by Yelp sales representatives. During these calls, in which the sales representatives’ voices were recorded, Gruber discussed confidential and financial information regarding his law firm. When conversing with one representative, who happened to be his friend, Gruber sometimes joked, discussed private topics, and used profanity. Gruber did not recall that any Yelp sales representative notified him that the conversations were being recorded. Gruber sued under the California Invasion of Privacy Act (CIPA) Pen. Code 630, alleging unlawful recording and intercepting of communications; unlawful recording of and eavesdropping upon confidential communications; and unlawful wiretapping.The trial court granted Yelp summary judgment. The court of appeal reversed. While Gruber was not recorded during any calls (only Yelp’s representatives were recorded), CIPA is violated if a defendant records any portion of a conversation between two or more individuals. When the Yelp salespeople spoke during the one-sided recordings of their conversations with Gruber, the recordings revealed firsthand and in real-time their understanding of or reaction to Gruber’s words. Yelp failed to meet its burden of production regarding whether its use of VoIP technology precludes CIPA's application. View "Gruber v. Yelp Inc." on Justia Law

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Bennett worked at the Metro Government Emergency Communications Center (ECC) for 16 years. On November 9, 2016, Bennett, a white woman, responded to someone else's comment on her public-facing Facebook profile, using some of the commenter’s words: “Thank god we have more America loving rednecks. Red spread across all America. Even niggaz and latinos voted for trump too!” Bennett identified herself as an employee of Metro, the police department, and ECC in her Facebook profile. A constituent reposted part of Bennett’s statement and commented: If your skin is too dark your call may have just been placed on the back burner. Several employees and an outsider complained to ECC leadership. Bennett failed to show remorse. ECC officials determined that Bennett violated three Civil Service Rules and, after paid administrative leave and a due process hearing, fired her.Bennett sued Metro for First Amendment retaliation. The Sixth Circuit reversed a judgment in favor of Bennett, finding that the district court improperly analyzed the “Pickering” factors. The record indicated that the harmony of the office was disrupted; the court erred in discounting the importance of harmonious relationships at ECC. It is possible that inaction on ECC’s part could have been seen as an endorsement of the speech and impaired future discipline of similar derogatory statements. It is also possible that a damaged relationship with her colleagues could affect the quality and quantity of Bennett's work. Bennett’s comment detracted from ECC's mission. View "Bennett v. Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County" on Justia Law

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Rudd alleged that his ex-wife abducted their sons with assistance from her attorney (Meyers), during a child custody dispute. Rudd called the police but alleges that they refused to help him because Meyers is married to the city manager. Rudd filed an official complaint with the police department. Rudd claims that officials subsequently helped Meyers obtain an ex parte personal protection order as “leverage” in the custody case, authorized officers to illegally disclose Rudd’s information on the Law Enforcement Information Network, and falsified reports. Rudd prevailed in the custody case. Norton Shores later hired a new police chief, Gale. Rudd thought that Gale might “objectively” address the way that the police had handled his sons’ abduction and filed an official complaint. Gale told Rudd that he would investigate and have the Michigan State Police investigate. Instead, Rudd alleges, Gale gave his complaint to Meyers, the city manager, and the former police chief; never internally investigated; and set up a sham outside investigation. Rudd claims that his complaint triggered retaliatory actions, including an effort to get him jailed.Rudd brought a pro se suit against everyone involved. The Sixth Circuit reversed the dismissal of his suit. The evidence may confirm Rudd’s allegations or it may disprove them but a court must accept his allegations as true at the pleading stage. View "Rudd v. City of Norton Shores" on Justia Law

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Oakland entered into agreements with OBOT for the development of the former Oakland Army Base. The project was to include a bulk commodity shipping terminal for products, including coal. When the subject of coal became public, it activated interest groups, ultimately leading to an ordinance banning coal handling and storage in the city and a resolution applying the ordinance to the terminal. A federal court held that the resolution was a breach of the OBOT agreements, and enjoined Oakland from relying on the resolution. Friction between OBOT and Oakland continued. OBOT sued, alleging breach of contract and tort claims.The city filed a demurrer, then a special motion to strike (SLAPP motion, Code of Civil Procedure 425.16) that sought to strike “in part” the complaint. The SLAPP motion was heard with other matters. The hearing dealt primarily with the demurrer, which the court overruled in most part, and sustained in part with leave to amend. Days later, the court “denied without prejudice” the SLAPP motion, describing it as “premature” in light of the amended complaint to come.The court of appeal determined that the SLAPP motion has no merit because the complaint is not based on protected activity and remanded with instructions to deny the motion on the merits. The essence of the complaint arose from Oaklands’s acts or omissions in breach of its agreements, its refusal to cooperate, and its tortious conduct. View "Oakland Bulk and Oversized Terminal, LLC v. City of Oakland" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court denied Relator's requested writ of mandamus seeking to compel Respondent to produce a document pursuant to a public records request and to pay statutory damages and court costs, holding that Respondent provided a complete response to Relator's public records request.In addition to Relator's mandamus petition and request for damages and court costs, Relator filed unopposed motions seeking leave to amend his complaint and leave to submit additional facts. The Supreme Court denied the writ, both motions, and the requests for statutory damages and court costs, holding (1) Relator did not show that Respondent failed to fulfill any of her obligations as a public-records custodian; (2) Defendant was not entitled to an award of court costs or statutory damages; and (3) both motions for leave are denied. View "State ex rel. McDougald v. Sehlmeyer" on Justia Law

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The Center for Investigative Reporting sought a permanent injunction that would require the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) to run an advertisement on the inside of SEPTA buses. The advertisement promotes the Center’s research on racial disparities in the home mortgage lending market. SEPTA rejected the advertisement under two provisions of its 2015 Advertising Standards, which prohibit advertisements that are political in nature or discuss matters of public debate.The Third Circuit reversed the district court and ordered injunctive and declaratory relief. The challenged provisions of the 2015 Standards violate the First Amendment; they are incapable of reasoned application. The court noted the absence of guidelines cabining SEPTA’s General Counsel’s discretion in determining what constitutes a political advertisement and that the Center had demonstrated at least some instances of arbitrary decision-making. View "Center for Investigative Reporting v. Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority" on Justia Law

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Royal employed Kraft and Matthews (Defendants) in its sales team. Royal’s employee handbook prohibited using company equipment for personal activities; unauthorized use, retention, or disclosure of any of Royal’s resources or property; and sending or posting trade secrets or proprietary information outside the organization. Royal’s “GPS Tracking Policy” stated, “[e]mployees may not disable or interfere with the GPS (or any other) functions on a company-issued cell phone,” nor may employees “remove any software, functions or apps.” The Defendants resigned to become employed with one of Royal’s competitors. Royal discovered that, shortly before his resignation, Kraft forwarded from his Royal email account to his personal one quotes for Royal customers and Royal paystubs; contacted a Royal customer through Royal’s email server to ask the customer to send “all the new vendor info” to Kraft’s personal email account; then deleted and reinstalled the operating system on his company-issued laptop, rendering its data unrecoverable. Matthews did much the same and announced her resignation on social media, sharing a link to the song, “You Can Take This Job and Shove It.”Royal sued, citing the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA), 18 U.S.C. 1030, which refers to one who “intentionally accesses a computer without authorization or exceeds authorized access, and thereby obtains . . . information from any protected computer.” The district court concluded that the Defendants did not “exceed[]” their “authorized access,” under CFAA. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. While their conduct might violate company policy, state law, perhaps another federal law, the employees were authorized to access the information in question. View "Royal Truck & Trailer Sales & Service, Inc. v. Kraft" on Justia Law