Justia Communications Law Opinion Summaries
United States v. DISH Network L.L.C.
DISH sold its satellite TV service through its own staff plus third parties: “telemarketing vendors”; “full-service retailers” that sold, installed, and serviced satellite gear; and “order-entry retailers” that used phones to sell nationwide. The United States and four states sued DISH and four order-entry retailers. The district court found that the defendants violated the Telemarketing Sales Rule, 16 C.F.R. 310, the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, 47 U.S.C. 227, and related state laws. A $280 million penalty was imposed. DISH appealed concerning the extent to which DISH had to coordinate do-not-call lists with and among these retailers or was otherwise responsible for their acts. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, except for a holding that DISH is liable for “substantially assisting” Star Satellite and its measure of damages; those violations were essentially counted twice. Regardless of the definition of “cause” under the rule, which makes it unlawful for a seller to “cause a telemarketer to engage in” violations, the retailers were DISH's agents, regardless of any contractual disclaimer. They acted directly for DISH, entering orders into DISH’s system; they did not have their own inventory and were not resellers of any kind. The retailers were authorized to sell DISH’s service by phone nationwide; the district court found that DISH knew about these retailers’ wrongful acts, so DISH is liable as the principal. View "United States v. DISH Network L.L.C." on Justia Law
Irregulators v. FCC
The DC Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the petition for review challenging the Commission's order approving the continued use of admittedly outdated accounting rules for an ever-dwindling number of telephone companies whose pricing is governed by those rules. The court held that the individual petitioners lacked Article III standing to challenge the Commission's orders, because they have presented no evidence that the continuing application of the frozen rules has harmed them or is likely to harm them. In this case, the individuals do not purchase telephone service from a provider whose rates are directly affected by the rules and thus they have not shown how the rules distort the market to their disadvantage or otherwise harm them indirectly. View "Irregulators v. FCC" on Justia Law
Boston Globe Media Partners, LLC v. Department of Criminal Justice Information Services
The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the decision of a superior court judge declaring that booking photographs of police officers arrested for alleged crimes and police incident reports involving public officials were not exempt from disclosure under the public records law, holding that the superior court did not err. Boston Globe Media Partners, LLC (Globe) made public records requests to the State police seeking booking photographs and police incident reports related to the arrests of law enforcement officers. The State police refused to comply with the requests, stating that the records were "criminal offender record information" (CORI) and were therefore not "public records" as defined in Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 4, 7. The Globe also made a public records request to the Boston police department for the names of officers charged with driving under the influence and the related booking photographs and incident reports. The Boston police withheld the records on the same grounds used by the State police. The Globe brought suit. The superior court granted summary judgment for the Globe. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding that requested booking photographs and incident reports were not absolutely exempt from disclosure as public records under exemption (a) or exemption (c) of the CORI Act, Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 6, 167-178B. View "Boston Globe Media Partners, LLC v. Department of Criminal Justice Information Services" on Justia Law
Attorney General v. District Attorney for Plymouth District
The Supreme Court affirmed in part the superior court's grant of summary judgment for the Attorney General and entering a judgment declaring that Boston Globe Media Partners, LLC's (Globe) request for data tables containing certain information for each criminal case tracked by the Commonwealth's eleven district attorneys sought public records that must be disclosed, holding that the district attorneys must disclose to the Globe twenty-two of the twenty-three categories of information requested, excising from the disclosure the docket number for each case requested. Specifically, the Court held (1) the data sought by the Globe would be "specifically or by necessary implication exempted from disclosure" under the Criminal Offender Record Information Act, Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 6, 167-178B if the individuals whose cases were tracked by the data could be directly or indirectly identified; (2) if the docket number for each case were redacted from the remaining categories of information, those individuals could not be directly or indirectly identified from this data; and (3) the request in this case, which required the traction of categories of information from an existing database, does not impose a burden on public record holders that exceed what is required under the public records law. View "Attorney General v. District Attorney for Plymouth District" on Justia Law
Honolulu Civil Beat Inc. v. Department of the Attorney General
In this case concerning the State's refusal to produce the results of an investigation into the Office of the Auditor based in part on the lawyer-client privilege the Supreme Court held that the State may not exclude a government record from disclosure under the Uniform Information Practices Act (UIPA) on the basis of a lawyer-client relationship between two State entities that is asserted but not proved. Honolulu Civil Beat Inc. (Civil Beat) contacted the Department of the Attorney General (the Department) requesting under the UIPA access to copies of investigative reports related to the State Auditor's Office. The State refused to produce any documentation based in part on the lawyer-client privilege and the professional rule protecting confidential lawyer-client communications. Civil Beat filed a complaint alleging that the Department had denied Civil Beat its right to access government records under the UIPA. The circuit court granted summary judgment for Civil Beat. The Supreme Court vacated the circuit court's judgment, holding that the circuit court erred in concluding that the requested record was protected from disclosure under the UIPA by Haw. Rev. Stat. 92F-13(4). Because the court did not address the two other disclosure exceptions asserted by the Department, the Supreme Court remanded the case. View "Honolulu Civil Beat Inc. v. Department of the Attorney General" on Justia Law
Facebook, Inc. v. Superior Court of the City and County of San Francisco
The defendants were indicted on murder, weapons, and gang-related charges stemming from a drive-by shooting. Each defendant served a subpoena duces tecum on one or more social media providers (Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, collectively “Providers”), seeking public and private communications from the murder victim’s and a prosecution witness’s accounts. Providers repeatedly moved to quash the subpoenas on the ground that the federal Stored Communications Act (18 U.S.C. 2701) barred them from disclosing the communications without user consent. The trial court concluded that the Act must yield to an accused’s due process and confrontation rights, denied the motions to quash, and ordered Providers to produce the victim’s and witness’s private communications for in camera review. The court of appeal granted mandamus relief, concluding the trial court abused its discretion by not adequately exploring other factors, particularly options for obtaining materials from other sources, before issuing its order. The trial court focused on defendants’ justification for seeking the private communications and the record does not support the requisite finding of good cause for the production of the private communications for in camera review. View "Facebook, Inc. v. Superior Court of the City and County of San Francisco" on Justia Law
Customedia Technologies, LLC v. Dish Network Corp.
Customedia’s patents, which share a specification, disclose comprehensive data management and processing systems that comprise a remote AccountTransaction Server (ATS) and a local host Data Case Management System and Audio/Video Processor Recorderplayer (VPR/DMS), e.g., a cable set-top box. Broadcasters and other content providers transmit advertising data via the ATS to a local VPR/DMS. That data be selectively recorded in programmable storage sections in the VPR/DMS according to a user’s preferences. These storage sections may be “reserved, rented, leased or purchased from end user[s], content providers, broadcasters, cable/satellite distributor, or other data communications companies administering the data products and services.” On Dish Network’s petition for review, the Patent Trial and Appeal Board found various claims ineligible under 35 U.S.C. 101 and other claims unpatentable under 35 U.S.C. 102. The Federal Circuit affirmed the ineligibility finding, applying the Supreme Court’s “Alice” holding that “[l]aws of nature, natural phenomena, and abstract ideas are not patent-eligible.” The claimed invention is at most an improvement to the abstract concept of targeted advertising wherein computers are merely used as a tool; the invocation of already-available computers that are not themselves plausibly asserted to be an advance amounts to a recitation of what is well-understood, routine, and conventional. View "Customedia Technologies, LLC v. Dish Network Corp." on Justia Law
Nelson Auto Center, Inc. v. Multimedia Holdings Corp.
Nelson Auto filed suit against KARE 11, alleging that the news provider published false and defamatory statements regarding a criminal complaint filed by the State of Minnesota in Otter Tail County District Court charging Gerald Worner, Nelson Auto's former Fleet Manager, with five counts of theft by swindle. The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of KARE 11's motion to dismiss, holding that the district court did not err by concluding that Nelson Auto is a public figure as a matter of Minnesota law. The court agreed with the district court that, given the absence of facts from which actual malice might reasonably be inferred, the allegations show nothing more than oversight on KARE 11's part, which does not constitute actual malice. View "Nelson Auto Center, Inc. v. Multimedia Holdings Corp." on Justia Law
West v. Charter Communications, Inc.
In 1938, West’s predecessor granted Louisville Gas & Electric’s predecessor a perpetual easement permitting a 248-foot-tall tower carrying high-voltage electric lines. In 1990, Louisville sought permission to allow Charter Communication install on the towers a fiber-optic cable that carries communications (telephone service, cable TV service, and internet data); West refused. In 2000 Louisville concluded that the existing easement allows the installation of wires that carry photons (fiber-optic cables) along with the wires that carry electrons. West disagreed and filed suit, seeking compensation. The Seventh Circuit affirmed that the use that Louisville and Charter have jointly made of the easement is permissible under Indiana law. The court cited 47 U.S.C. 541(a)(2), part of the Cable Communications Policy Act of 1984, which provides: Any franchise shall be construed to authorize the construction of a cable system over public rights-of-way, and through easements, which is within the area to be served by the cable system and which have been dedicated for compatible uses, except that in using such easements the cable operator shall ensure…. The court examined the language of the easement and stated: “At least the air rights have been “dedicated” to transmission, and a telecom cable is “compatible” with electric transmission. Both photons and electrons are in the electromagnetic spectrum.” View "West v. Charter Communications, Inc." on Justia Law
In 1992, Leslie Hill pleaded guilty to five misdemeanor counts of distributing obscene material for renting adult videos at a video-rental store he owned. In November 2013, Hill was arrested in Homewood on a misdemeanor charge of harassing communications. Pursuant to that arrest, the Sheriff's Department determined that, based on Hill's 1992 convictions, he was required to register as a sex offender under the Sex Offender Registration and Community Notification Act ("SORNA"). Hill refused to do so on the ground that the 1992 convictions did not qualify as sex offenses under SORNA. The Sheriff's Department collaborated with WVTM-TV on a weekly televised news segment entitled "To Catch a Predator;" the Department would “select somebody that we were either having trouble finding or somebody that had refused to come register or whatever the case may be. . . .And we would type up a script for the Sheriff to read, and then we would take it over to his office and he would read it basically in front of one of the TV cameras in his office to run on TV." Hill was featured on the December 6, 2013, segment of "To Catch a Predator." After the December 6 broadcast, Hill, through his attorney, contacted the district attorney’s office expressing his opinion that his 1992 convictions did not constitute a sex offense under SORNA. A deputy district attorney agreed and requested that the warrants be recalled. On December 10, 2013, both warrants issued against Hill were recalled. Neither Hill nor his attorney contacted WVTM after the December 6 broadcast to inform it that the warrants against Hill had been recalled. On a December 13 airing of the program, a news anchor stated the warrants against Hill had been recalled. Nevertheless, Hill sued Sheriff Hale, a deputy and lieutenant, and WVTM, alleging state-law claims of defamation, false light, negligent training and supervision, and the tort of outrage against all defendants. In appeal no. 1180343, Birmingham Broadcasting (WVTM-TV) appealed a $250,000 judgment entered on a defamation verdict against it. In appeal no. 1180370, Hill appealed the dismissal of all the claims Hill asserted against three members of the Jefferson County Sheriff's Department ("the Sheriff's Department") on the basis of state immunity. After review, the Alabama Supreme Court reversed judgment in appeal no. 1180343 and rendered judgment in favor of WVTM, and affirmed judgment in appeal no. 1180370. View "Birmingham Broadcasting" on Justia Law