Justia Communications Law Opinion Summaries

by
The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals denying Appellant's request for a writ of mandamus against Governor Mike DeWine, holding that Appellant failed to establish by clear and convincing evidence a clear legal right to the requested relief and a clear legal duty on the part of the Governor to provide it.Appellant, an inmate, sent a public-records request to the Governor requesting certain documents. Appellant later filed this action seeking a writ of mandamus to compel the production of the documents. The court of appeals denied the writ of mandamus. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that where the evidence showed that the Govenor's office satisfied its duty to make the records available by sending them to the correctional institution at which Appellant was an inmate, Appellant was not entitled to his requested relief. View "State ex rel. Ware v. DeWine" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court denied the writ of mandamus sought by Relator, an inmate at the Toledo Correction Institution, ordering the production of shift rosters that show the duty assignments of correctional officers within the prison, holding that the shift rosters are security records exempt from disclosure under the Public Records Act.Respondent, the public-records custodian at TCI, withheld the requested records from Relator on the basis that they were "security records" exempt from public-records disclosure under Ohio Rev. Code 149.433(A) and (B). Relator then filed this action seeking a writ of mandamus ordering Respondent to produce the requested records. The Supreme Court denied the writ, holding that the shift rosters are security records exempt from public records disclosure under section 149.433(A) and (B). View "State ex rel. Burfitt v. Sehlmeyer" on Justia Law

by
After the FCC determined that incumbents no longer dominated the telecommunications market because of the plethora of competitor modes of voice transmission, the FCC exercised its statutory authority to forbear from enforcing the wholesale pricing requirement and one element of the unbundling requirement.The DC Circuit denied petitions for review challenging the propriety of the FCC's forbearance of the wholesale price requirements and challenging the forbearance of the unbundling requirement. The court concluded that the Commission looked reasonably at the whole national market for voice transmission and how the incumbents' share of that market is declining rapidly; the Commission was reasonable to focus on the national market when making national policy; and, while the Commission's order did not explicitly address the availability of broadband in rural areas, it clearly stated that it only granted forbearance as to "price cap" incumbents. The court noted that the Commission justified its forbearance policy by stating that it would induce incumbents and insurgents to develop more advanced networks. In regard to the forbearance of the unbundling requirement, the Commission's reasoning largely coincides with its justification for forbearing from enforcing the wholesale requirement. Given that CPUC effectively conceded that greater consideration of public safety would not change the outcome, the court did not think that a remand on this issue was necessary. Finally, the court rejected the remaining administrative law challenges. View "COMPTEL v. Federal Communications Commission" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court granted in part and denied in part Jerone McDougald's writ of mandamus to compel Larry Greene to provide documents in response to McDougald's public-records request, holding that McDougald was entitled to a writ of mandamus compelling Greene to allow him personally to inspect two of the three records he sought.McDougald, an inmate at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility (SOCF), sent a public-records request to Greene, the records custodian at SOCF, requesting to inspect three records. When Greene did not allow the inspection, McDougald filed the present complaint for a writ of mandamus. Also pending was McDougald's motion to consider the exhibits attached to his complaint as substantive evidence and his two motions for leave to amend. The Supreme Court granted the motion to consider evidence, granted in part and denied in part the writ of mandamus, and denied McDougald's request for an award of statutory damages, holding (1) McDougald was entitled to a writ of mandamus with respect to his request for two of the three records he requested; and (2) McDougald was not entitled to statutory damages. View "State ex rel. McDougald v. Greene" on Justia Law

by
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

by
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

by
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

by
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

by
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

by
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