Justia Communications Law Opinion Summaries

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The Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991 prohibits almost all robocalls to cell phones, 47 U.S.C. 227(b)(1)(A)(iii). A 2015 amendment created an exception that allows robocalls made solely to collect a debt owed to or guaranteed by the United States, 129 Stat. 588. The Fourth Circuit concluded that the government-debt exception was a content-based speech restriction that could not withstand strict scrutiny and was severable from the robocall restriction. The Supreme Court affirmed. Under the Free Speech Clause, the government generally has no power to restrict expression because of its message, its ideas, its subject matter, or its content. Content-based laws are subject to strict scrutiny. The government-debt exception is content-based because it favors speech made for the purpose of collecting government debt over political and other speech. The exception does not draw distinctions based on speakers, and even if it did, that would not automatically render the distinction content-neutral. The exception focuses on whether the caller is speaking about a particular topic and not simply on whether the caller is engaged in a particular economic activity. While the First Amendment does not prevent restrictions directed at commerce or conduct from imposing incidental burdens on speech, this law does not simply have an effect on speech, but is directed at certain content and is aimed at particular speakers. The government has not sufficiently justified the differentiation between government-debt collection speech and other important categories of robocall speech, such as political speech, issue advocacy, and the like. View "Barr v. American Association of Political Consultants, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court denying Appellant's request for attorney fees authorized but not mandated by statute, holding that the district court did not abuse its discretion in awarding no fees or costs. Appellant sued Defendant under federal and state wiretapping statutes and under Neb. Rev. Stat. 20-203. The jury found that Appellant met his burden of proof as to both the federal and state wiretapping claims and awarded damages of $4,800. The trial court sustained Appellant's motions for judgment notwithstanding the verdict and to alter or amend based on the jury's award of damages, awarding statutory damages of $10,000. The district court denied attorney fees and costs. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) trial courts are not required to provide an explanation of an award of attorney fees; (2) while Defendant obtained a jury verdict in his favor, it was less than half of the minimum damages statutorily mandated, and therefore, the district court did not abuse its discretion in awarding no attorney fees; and (3) the district court did not abuse its discretion by not awarding litigation costs. View "Brumbaugh v. Bendorf" on Justia Law

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The San Francisco District Attorney sued HomeAdvisor, alleging it violated California’s False Advertising Law, Business and Professions Code section 17500, and the Unfair Competition Law section 17200, claiming that many of HomeAdvisor’s advertisements “are false and misleading because they are likely to deceive consumers into believing that all service professionals hired through HomeAdvisor who come into their homes have passed criminal background checks." The only person who actually undergoes a background check is the owner/principal of an independently-owned business. The court of appeal affirmed a preliminary injunction that prohibited HomeAdvisor from broadcasting certain advertisements, but, excepting advertisements HomeAdvisor discontinued, permitted HomeAdvisor to continue broadcasting them for specified lengths of time if accompanied by a disclaimer. The court rejected arguments that the order was vague, indefinite, overbroad, and unconstitutional. The government may ban forms of communication more likely to deceive the public than to inform it.” By providing several specific examples of permissible and impermissible advertising, the preliminary injunction order is sufficiently definite for HomeAdvisor to determine what it “may and may not do” pending a trial on the merits of the claims. The enjoined advertisements and descriptions are inherently likely to deceive because they exploit the ambiguity of the term “pro.” View "Gascon v. HomeAdvisor, Inc." on Justia Law

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The First Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment reversing the magistrate's order that had quashed an administrative subpoena duces tecum as to the recordings of certain telephone conversations, holding that the magistrate judge clearly erred in finding that Appellants met their burden of proving that an employer's interception of the telephone calls was intentional. When investigating whether Patient Services, inc. (PSI) had engaged in an illegal kickback scheme, the Government issued an administrative subpoena duces tecum to PSI for all recorded conversations of PSI officers and employees. This appeal concerned conversations that were recorded on the extension of Karen Middlebrooks. Middlebrooks's telephone conversations were recorded while she was working in PSI's call center on the second floor where calls were regularly recorded. At issue was whether PSI intentionally continued recording Middebrooks's calls after her transfer to the third floor, where calls were not regularly recorded, in violation of Title III of the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act. The magistrate judge ruled that the recordings violated Title III. The district court reversed. The First Circuit affirmed, holding that the magistrate judge clearly erred in finding that Appellants met their burden of proving that PSI's interception of calls from Middlebrooks's extension after her move to the third floor was intentional. View "In re HIPAA Subpoena" on Justia Law

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Following an incident at President Trump's 2019 Social Media Summit involving Appellee Brian Karem, a journalist with a hard pass, and Sebastian Gorka, a Summit attendee, the Press Secretary suspended Karem's pass for thirty days on the ground that his conduct violated "professional journalistic norms." The DC Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of a preliminary injunction enjoining the enforcement of the suspension of Karem's hard pass credentials based on Fifth Amendment due process grounds. The court held that Karem is likely to succeed on his due process claim because, on this record, he lacked fair notice that the White House might punish his purportedly unprofessional conduct by suspending his hard pass for a month. The court also held that the remaining preliminary injunction factors counsel in favor of affirmance where Karem stands to suffer immediate irreparable harm absent an injunction, and the balance of the equities and the public interest factors also favor an injunction. The court limited the scope of the injunction to run only to the Press Secretary, rather than the Press Secretary and the President. View "Karem v. Trump" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment in favor of an eleven year old boy in an action alleging that Credit One violated the Telephone Consumer Protection Act by making 189 automated calls to his cell phone. In this case, Credit One was trying to collect past-due payments from a customer, but, unbeknownst to the bank, the customer's cell phone number had been reassigned to Sandra Lemos, who in turn had let her son, N.L., use the phone as his own. The panel joined every circuit to have addressed this issue and held that the consent of the person it intended to call did not exempt Credit One from liability under the TCPA. Therefore, Credit One cannot escape liability under the TCPA and upheld the district court's determination that Credit One was liable for the calls made to N.L. The panel also held that, in light of Marks v. Crunch San Diego, LLC, 904 F.3d 1041 (9th Cir. 2018), the district court properly instructed the jury on the definition of an "automatic telephone dialing system." Because the jury instruction on this definition is consistent with Marks, the panel held that Credit One's challenge to it failed. View "N. L. v. Credit One Bank, N.A." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the court of appeal reversing the judgment of the trial court granting a petition for writ of mandate directing the City of Hayward to refund to a records requester the charges for approximately forty hours its staff spent editing out exempt material from digital police body camera footage, holding that the trial court was correct to disallow the City's charge for time its staff spent responding to the requests. The City claimed that its costs for time its employees spent responding to Plaintiff's requests were chargeable as costs of data extraction under Cal. Gov't Code 6253.9, subdivision (b)(2). The Supreme Court held that the City must bear its own redaction costs because the term "data extraction" does not cover the process of redacting exempt material from otherwise disclosable electronic records. View "National Lawyers Guild v. City of Hayward" on Justia Law

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Local exchange carriers (LECs) can assess interexchange carriers (IXCs) access charges when LECs provide IXCs with services that enable the IXCs to exchange wireless-to-wireline calls that originate and terminate within the same Major Trading Area (MTA). In this multidistrict litigation case, IXCs Sprint and Verizon filed suit against hundreds of LECs in various courts. The Fifth Circuit held that, because the LECs filed access charge tariffs with the FCC and state regulators, the filed-rate doctrine requires Sprint, Verizon, and Level 3 to pay those charges. Therefore, the court affirmed the dismissal of Sprint and Verizon's claims for damages and affirmed summary judgment on the LECs' claims and counterclaims. However, the court vacated in part, holding that Sprint and Verizon could be entitled to declaratory relief as to at least some of the LECs. Accordingly, the court remanded the dismissal of Sprint and Verizon's claim for declaratory relief. View "In re: IntraMTA Switched Access Charges Litigation" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court dismissed as moot Victoria Ullmann's mandamus complaint seeking to compel Respondent, Columbus City Attorney Zach Klein, to comply with two public-records requests, granted Ullmann's motion for statutory damages, and denied her request for attorneys fees, holding that Ullmann was entitled to statutory damages because Klein failed timely to produce records responsive to Ullmann's public-records requests. At issue before the Supreme Court in Ullmann's mandamus action was whether Klein failed to respond to her public-records requests. In her merit brief, Ullmann stated that she had "finally gotten lots of the documents" she requested from Klein. The Supreme Court dismissed Ullmann's complaint against Klein as moot, holding that because Ullmann failed to identify what public records responsive to her requests remained undisclosed or show that the documents provided were unlawfully redacted, Ullmann was not entitled to a writ of mandamus. The Court further granted Ullmann an award of statutory damages in the amount of $1,000, denied her request for attorney fees, and denied her motions for in camera review of redacted documents Klein provided her and for oral argument. View "State ex rel. Ullmann v. Klein" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit reversed the district court's dismissal of plaintiffs' complaint alleging three defamation counts against defendants. The defamatory statements at issue stemmed from the parties' failed business relationship in the sport of darts. The court held that the pleaded actual damages are sufficient to satisfy the $75,000 amount-in-controversy requirement. In this case, the complaint does not limit its request for damages to a precise monetary amount, but pleaded in excess of $60,000. On the merits, the court held, under Missouri law, that defendants' three statements are capable of defamatory meaning and the opinion privilege does not render these statements nonactionable at this stage. In light of the totality of the circumstances and context in which these statements were made, the court held that a reasonable factfinder could conclude that these statements at a minimum imply an assertion of objective fact. Therefore, the district court erred in concluding that the complaint failed to state a claim for defamation and in dismissing the action. The court remanded for further proceedings. View "Turntine v. Peterson" on Justia Law