Justia Communications Law Opinion Summaries

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Bank of Hope sued Ryu for embezzling money from its customers. As the case went on, Ryu began sending letters to the Bank’s shareholders, alleging that the Bank’s claims were baseless and were ruining his reputation. He hoped that the letters would pressure the Bank to settle. The Bank asked the magistrate judge to ban Ryu from contacting its shareholders. The district court affirmed the magistrate’s order imposing that ban. The Third Circuit vacated. The district court marshaled no evidence that this restriction on speech was needed to protect this trial’s fairness and integrity and it considered no less-restrictive alternatives. Courts have inherent power to keep their proceedings fair and orderly. They can use that power to order the parties before them not to talk with each other, the press, and the public. The First Amendment, however, requires an explanation of why restricting speech advances a substantial government interest, consider less-restrictive alternatives, and requires that the court ensure that any restriction does not sweep too broadly. View "Bank of Hope v. Chon" on Justia Law

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Tennessee’s Billboard Act, enacted to comply with the Federal Highway Beautification Act, 23 U.S.C. 131, provides that anyone intending to post a sign along a roadway must apply to the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) for a permit unless the sign falls within one of the Act’s exceptions. One exception applies to signage “advertising activities conducted on the property on which [the sign is] located.” Thomas owned a billboard on an otherwise vacant lot and posted a sign on it supporting the 2012 U.S. Summer Olympics Team. Tennessee ordered him to remove it because TDOT had denied him a permit and the sign did not qualify for the “on-premises” exception, given that there were no activities on the lot to which the sign could possibly refer. Thomas argued that the Act violated the First Amendment. The Sixth Circuit affirmed that the Act is unconstitutional. The on-premises exception was content-based and subject to strict scrutiny. Whether the Act limits on-premises signs to only certain messages or limits certain messages from on-premises locations, the limitation depends on the content of the message. It does not limit signs from or to locations regardless of the messages. The provision was not severable from the rest of the Act. View "Thomas v. Bright" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court denied the request sought by Boston Globe Media Partners, LLC (the Globe) for declaratory relief under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 211, 3, holding that records of show cause hearings where a clerk-magistrate in the District Court or the Boston Municipal Court makes a finding of probable cause but declines to exercise his or her discretion to issue a criminal complaint are not presumptively public. The Globe claimed in this action that the public has a common-law and constitutional right to access the show cause hearing records. The Supreme Judicial Court denied the Globe's request for declaratory relief, holding (1) the records are not presumptively public under the common law, the First Amendment, or article 16 of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights, as amended by article 77 of the Amendments to the Constitution; (2) any member of the public may request the records of a particular show cause hearing, and a clerk-magistrate or a judge shall grant the request where the interests of justice so require; and (3) this Court now exercises its superintendence authority to require that all show cause hearings be electronically recorded. View "Boston Globe Media Partners, LLC v. Chief Justice of the Trial Court" on Justia Law

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Jason Blanks, Peggy Manley, Kimberly Lee, Nancy Watkins, Randall Smith, Trenton Norton, Earl Kelly, Jennifer Scott, and Alyshia Kilgore (referred to collectively as "the customers") appealed the denial of a motion to compel arbitration and a declaratory judgment entered in an action brought by TDS Telecommunications LLC, and its two affiliates, Peoples Telephone Company, Inc., and Butler Telephone Company, Inc. (referred to collectively as "the Internet providers"). The customers subscribed to Internet service furnished by the Internet providers; their relationship was governed by a written "Terms of Service." The customers alleged that the Internet service they have received was slower than the Internet providers promised them. At the time the customers learned that their Internet service was allegedly deficient, the Terms of Service contained an arbitration clause providing that "any controversy or claim arising out of or relating to [the Terms of Service] shall be resolved by binding arbitration at the request of either party." In the declaratory-judgment action, the trial court ruled that the Internet providers were not required to arbitrate disputes with the customers. The Alabama Supreme Court determined the arbitration clause in the applicable version of the Terms of Service included an agreement between the Internet providers and the customers that an arbitrator was to decide issues of arbitrability, which included the issue whether an updated Terms of Service effectively excluded the customers' disputes from arbitration. Accordingly, the Supreme Court reversed the trial court's denial of the customers' motion to compel arbitration and its judgment declaring the updated Terms of Service "valid and enforceable," and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Blanks et al. v. TDS Telecommunications LLC" on Justia Law

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Receiving a single unsolicited text message, sent in violation of a federal statute, is not a concrete injury in fact that establishes standing to sue in federal court. Plaintiff filed suit against defendant, alleging violations of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991 (TCPA) after he received unsolicited text messages from defendant's law firm. The court found that the history and the judgment of Congress did not support a finding of concrete injury in plaintiff's allegations. In this case, plaintiff's allegations of a brief, inconsequential annoyance were categorically distinct from those kinds of real but intangible harms. The court noted that its assessment was qualitative, not quantitative. Accordingly, the court reversed and remanded with instructions to dismiss without prejudice the amended complaint. View "Salcedo v. Hanna" on Justia Law

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Sensabaugh, the former head football coach at David Crockett High School in Washington County, Tennessee, made two Facebook posts expressing his concerns about the conditions and practices of schools within the District. The posts included pictures of students. Sensabaugh refused to comply with requests to remove the posts and became aggressive with his supervisors who noted other alleged misconduct, including his use of profane language with students and his requiring a student to practice while injured. He was fired after a guidance meeting where his conduct caused his supervisor to report her concern “that Sensabaugh posed a threat to the safety of the students and staff.” He sued, raising First Amendment retaliation and municipal liability claims. The Sixth Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the defendants, finding no causal connection between Sensabaugh’s Facebook posts and his termination. A thorough independent investigation preceded Sensabaugh’s termination; that investigation concluded that the misconduct allegations were substantiated in full or in part and that the misconduct supported termination. View "Sensabaugh v. Halliburton" on Justia Law

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Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Golden was researching Golden’s then-forthcoming book, Spy Schools: How the CIA, FBI, and Foreign Intelligence Secretly Exploit America’s Universities. Golden requested documents from public universities, including three requests to the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) under New Jersey’s Open Public Records Act, N.J. Stat. 47:1A-1–47:1A-13 (OPRA). Many of the NJIT documents originated with the FBI and were subject to prohibitions on public dissemination. The FBI directed NJIT to withhold most of the records. NJIT obliged, claiming exemption from disclosure. After this suit was filed, NJIT and the FBI reexamined the previously withheld records and produced thousands of pages of documents, formerly deemed exempt. Golden then sought prevailing plaintiff attorneys’ fees under OPRA. The district court denied the fee motion. The Third Circuit reversed. Under the catalyst theory, adopted by the Supreme Court of New Jersey, plaintiffs are entitled to attorneys’ fees if there exists “a factual causal nexus between [the] litigation and the relief ultimately achieved” and if “the relief ultimately secured by plaintiffs had a basis in law.” Before Golden filed suit, NJIT had asserted OPRA exemptions to justify withholding most of the requested records. Post-lawsuit, NJIT abandoned its reliance on those exemptions and produced most of the records. Golden’s lawsuit was the catalyst for the production of documents and satisfied the test. That NJIT withheld records at the behest of the FBI does not abdicate its role as the records custodian. View "Golden v. New Jersey Institute of Technology" on Justia Law

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In this lawsuit alleging that Verizon Wireless violated the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), 47 U.S.C. 227, the First Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of Verizon's motion to compel arbitration but reversed the court's grant of summary judgment in Verizon's favor, holding that the district court erred in concluding that Plaintiff's TCPA claims failed as a matter of law because her telephone number was not assigned to a cellular telephone service. In her complaint, Plaintiff claimed that Verizon's unauthorized, automated calls to her cellular telephone violated the TCPA. The district court concluded that Plaintiff's telephone number was not assigned to a cellular telephone service within the meaning of the relevant provision of the TCPA and granted summary judgment to Verizon. The First Circuit reversed, holding (1) the district court correctly denied Verizon's motion to compel arbitration; but (2) in concluding that Plaintiff's number was not assigned to a cellular telephone service the district court failed to consider the hybrid nature of Plaintiff's telephone service with Republic Wireless and erred in treating other facts as dispositive. View "Breda v. Cellco Partnership" on Justia Law

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In 1996, Higgs murdered three women at a Maryland federal property. He was convicted in federal court and sentenced to death. Higgs claimed that the government failed to turn over exculpatory evidence in violation of Brady v. Maryland. His 2012 Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the Park Police sought a complete copy of everything pertaining to the convictions. The Park Police produced some information, then referred the request to the FBI. Higgs filed suit, challenging the FBI’s decisions to redact or withhold information under FOIA Exemptions, 5 U.S.C. 552(b)(6), (b)(7)(C), and (b)(7)(D). Exemptions (6) and 7(C) cover materials that would invade personal privacy; Exemption 7(D) covers information that “could reasonably be expected to disclose the identity of a confidential source, … and, in the case of a record or information compiled by criminal law enforcement authority in the course of a criminal investigation … information furnished by a confidential source.” The district court concluded that the FBI properly withheld certain documents under Exemption 7(D), but did not justify the invocation of Exemption 7(C), and had to release all of the names of still-living people, contact information, reports of interviews, fingerprints, and rap sheets. T. The Seventh Circuit reversed in part. The court erred when it found that the public interest prevailed over the privacy interests of the persons involved under Exemptions 6 and 7(C). The court affirmed with respect to Exemption 7(D) materials. View "Higgs v. United States Park Police" on Justia Law

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Petitioners challenged one of the FCC's orders paring some regulatory requirements for the construction of wireless facilities. The Order exempted most small cell construction from two kinds of previously required review: historic-preservation review under the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) and environmental review under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Furthermore, the Order effectively reduced Tribes' role in reviewing proposed construction of macrocell towers and other wireless facilities that remain subject to cultural and environmental review. The DC Circuit granted the petitions in part because the Order did not justify the Commission's determination that it was not in the public interest to require review of small cell deployments. In this case, the Commission did not adequately address possible harms of deregulation and benefits of environmental and historic-preservation review pursuant to its public interest authority under 47 U.S.C. 319(d). Therefore, the Order's deregulation of small cells was arbitrary and capricious. The court denied the petitions for review on the remaining claims. View "United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians in Oklahoma v. FCC" on Justia Law