Justia Communications Law Opinion Summaries

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The Fourth Circuit vacated the district court's order denying DIRECTV's motion to compel arbitration in an action brought by plaintiff, alleging violations of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA). Plaintiff alleged that defendants called her cell phone to advertise DIRECTV products and services even though her telephone number is listed on the National Do Not Call Registry.Because plaintiff signed an acknowledgement expressly agreeing to the arbitration provision of the Wireless Customer Agreement with AT&T, which provision applies to her as an authorized user, the court rejected plaintiff's argument that she did not form an agreement to arbitrate. The court held that plaintiff formed an agreement to arbitrate with DIRECTV where the ordinary meaning of "affiliates" and the contractual context convinced the court that the term includes affiliates acquired after the agreement was signed. Furthermore, in light of the expansive text of the arbitration agreement, the categories of claims it specifically includes, and the parties' instruction to interpret its provisions broadly, the court must conclude that plaintiff's TCPA claims fall within the scope of the arbitration agreement. Therefore, the court remanded for further proceedings. View "Mey v. DIRECTV, LLC" on Justia Law

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The First Circuit affirmed the decision of the district court denying two local residents' (Appellants) motion to intervene in an action brought T-Mobile Northeast LLC pursuant to the Telecommunications Act of 1996, holding that the district court neither erred nor abused its discretion in denying the motions to intervene.T-Mobile sought to operate a wireless telecommunications facility in an existing church steeple in a community in Cape Cod. When T-Mobile was unsuccessful in obtaining the required municipal permissions it sued the Town of Barnstable, two of its agencies, and several municipal officials. Appellants moved to intervene on the grounds that they were abutting landowners who had a stake in the outcome of the case. The district court summarily refused the requests for intervention. The First Circuit affirmed, holding that the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying Appellant's motions to intervene. View "T-Mobile Northeast LLC v. The Town of Barnstable" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court denied Jerone McDougald's motion for mediation and his request for a writ of mandamus seeking to compel Sonrisa Sehlmeyer, the administrative assistant to the warden at the Toledo Correctional Institution, to produce documents pursuant to a public-records request, holding that McDougald did not demonstrate that he had a clear legal right to the requested relief and that Sehlmeyer had a clear legal duty to provide that relief.Sehlmeyer responded to McDougald's public-records request with a notation indicating the number of pages of each requested record and the total amount required for the request. McDougald did not follow up with a cash slip or indication that he was still seeking to inspect the documents. Rather, McDougald filed the present complaint seeking a writ of mandamus and requesting an award of statutory damages and court costs. McDougald also filed a motion asking to submit this case to mediation. The Supreme Court denied all requests, holding that where the institution offered to make the records available, McDougald was not entitled to his requested relief. View "State ex rel. McDougald v. Sehlmeyer" on Justia Law

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The Communications Act of 1934 restricts the rates that telecommunications carriers may charge for transmitting calls across their networks, 47 U.S.C. 201(b). Iowa-based Aureon is a joint venture through which local carriers connect to long-distance carriers such as AT&T and has “subtending” agreements with participating local carriers. AT&T alleged that Aureon imposed interstate and intrastate access charges that violated the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) transitional pricing rules; improperly engaged in access stimulation (enticing high call volumes to generate increased access charges); committed an unreasonable practice by agreeing with subtending carriers to connect calls involving access stimulation; and billed for service not covered by its 2013 interstate tariff. The FCC found that Aureon violated the transitional rule.The D.C. Circuit reversed in part. The transitional rule applies to all “competitive local exchange carriers,” and Aureon falls into that category but the rule applies to intrastate rates so Aureon’s 2013 increase of its interstate rate was not covered. The court remanded the question of whether Aureon’s subtending agreements qualify as access revenue sharing agreements. The court affirmed the FCC’s determination that Aureon’s interstate tariffs apply to traffic involving any local carriers engaged in access stimulation. The FCC erred in refusing to adjudicate AT&T’s unreasonable-practices claim. View "AT&T Corp. v. Federal Communications Commission" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against CBS after the CBS Evening News aired two reports on the opioid crisis in West Virginia that featured plaintiff and his pharmacy. Plaintiff alleged claims of defamation, false light invasion of privacy, tortious interference, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of defendants on all claims. On appeal, plaintiff challenged the district court's rulings as to two allegedly defamatory statements in the report.The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment as to the two allegedly defamatory statements in the reports: (1) "Records show Tug Valley was filling more than 150 pain prescriptions a day from one clinic alone," and (2) plaintiff "admit[ted] to filling 150 pain pill prescriptions daily for one clinic alone." The court held that, because plaintiff failed to offer evidence from which a reasonable juror could find that the allegedly defamatory statements in the CBS reports were false, rather than minor inaccuracies, and he bears the burden of proof on this element of his defamation and false light invasion of privacy claims, summary judgment on both claims was appropriate. Finally, the court held that plaintiff's attempt to raise for the first time on appeal two new implications of the news reports is foreclosed. View "Ballengee v. CBS Broadcasting, Inc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff and his wife filed suit against Assist American for defamation after the organization published a case study in a travel and insurance magazine concerning an injury plaintiff suffered. The district court granted Assist America's motion to dismiss the complaint, finding that the case study at issue did not refer to plaintiff and his wife either explicitly or by implication and thus defamation was improperly pled under Minnesota law.The Eighth Circuit reversed and held that there is a plausible inference, sufficient to survive a motion to dismiss, that persons who read the case study about a middle-aged doctor from the Midwest who injured his leg while zip lining in Mexico resulting in amputation would understand the article to be referencing plaintiff. Because the description in the case study is so specific and unique that it could be viewed by a jury as fitting one individual, this was sufficient to satisfy the pleading requirements. Accordingly, the court remanded for further proceedings. View "Tholen v. Assist America, Inc." on Justia Law

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Wilson, with the help of co-signer Allan, took out a student loan serviced by PHEAA. The two submitted a written request for forbearance on the loan and, in doing so, consented to calls to their cell phones. In October 2013, however, both requested that PHEAA stop calling about the loan. Despite their requests, PHEAA called Allan 219 times and Wilson 134 times, after they revoked consent. They claim that those calls violated the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, 47 U.S.C. 227 (TCPA), which generally makes it a finable offense to use an automatic telephone dialing system (ATDS) to make unconsented-to calls or texts.The Sixth Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the plaintiffs. Section 227(a) provides that a device that generates and dials random or sequential numbers qualifies as an ATDS. The Avaya system used by PHEAA dials from a stored list of numbers only. The court concluded that the plain text of section 227, read in its entirety, makes clear that devices that dial from a stored list of numbers are subject to the autodialer ban. View "Allan v. Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency" on Justia Law

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Speech First challenged University of Illinois policies that allegedly impermissibly chill the speech of its student members. The Bias Assessment and Response Team (BART) responds to reports of bias-motivated incidents. Most students contacted by BART either do not respond or decline to meet; they suffer no consequences. If a student agrees to meet, BART staff explains that the student's conduct drew attention and gives the student an opportunity to reflect upon her behavior. BART’s reports are not referred to the University Police. The University Housing Bias Incident Protocol addresses bias-motivated incidents committed within University housing. There are no sanctions or discipline associated with a reported incident. When a student breaches his housing contract or violates University policy, there is a separate disciplinary process. Expression of the views described in the complaint would not contravene housing contracts nor violate any University policies. Individuals subject to student discipline may be subject to “No Contact Directives” (NCDs) and prohibited from communication with identified parties. NCDs do not constitute disciplinary findings and are not part of the students’ official disciplinary records. An NCD does not prohibit the student from talking or writing about the other. The University has not investigated or punished any members of Speech First under any of the challenged policies.The Seventh Circuit affirmed the denial of a preliminary injunction. Speech First failed to demonstrate that its members face a credible fear that they will face discipline on the basis of their speech as a result of the policies. View "Speech First, Inc. v. Killeen" on Justia Law

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In an appeal by allowance, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court considered the level of deference courts had to afford an administrative agency’s interpretation of its enabling statute. Additionally, the Court considered whether the Commonwealth Court erred in concluding that Distributed Antenna System (DAS) networks were public utilities under the Pennsylvania Public Utility Code (Code), thereby reversing the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission’s (PUC) interpretation of the definition of “public utility." This case involved the status of DAS networks as public utilities in Pennsylvania. Appellees, Crown Castle NG East LLC (Crown Castle NG) and Pennsylvania-CLEC LLC (Pennsylvania-CLEC) (collectively Crown Castle), operated DAS networks. Crown Castle’s DAS networks provided telecommunications transport services to Wireless Service Providers (WSP), such as AT&T Wireless, Verizon Wireless, T-Mobile, and others. The WSPs offered "commercial mobile radio service" (CMRS) to retail end-users. The Supreme Court agreed with the Commonwealth Court that DAS network operators did not provide CMRS because DAS network operators “own no spectrum, need no phone numbers, and their contractual relationship is solely with the WSPs, not with the retail cell phone user. . . . [T]he DAS network operator has no control over the generation of that signal [that it transports for the WSPs].” Accordingly, the Court concluded that DAS network operators did not furnish CMRS and were not excluded from the definition of public utility by Section 102(2)(iv). Further, the Court concluded the Commonwealth Court did not err in holding that the PUC’s interpretation of a clear and unambiguous statutory provision was not entitled to deference. Further, the Commonwealth Court properly concluded that DAS network service met the definition of “public utility” and is not excluded from that definition as it did not furnish CMRS service. View "Crown Castle NG East LLC, et al v. Pennsylvania Utilities Commission" on Justia Law

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Federal prison officials seized one of Callahan’s paintings and some mail-order photos on the ground that they violated the prison’s rules against possessing sexually explicit materials. After filing internal grievances without success, Callahan sued for money damages and other relief under the First Amendment’s right to freedom of speech. The district court declined to create an implied cause of action, often called a Bivens claim, under the First Amendment for Callahan’s claim.The Third Circuit affirmed, noting that the Supreme Court has not recognized a new Bivens action in 40 years and has repeatedly declined to do so. The Court has rejected the Bivens inclination that a private right of action exists when Congress is silent and has adopted the opposite approach in statutory and constitutional cases. The Court has even cut back on the three constitutional claims once covered and has never recognized a Bivens action for any First Amendment right. The court noted that Callahan is in prison based on serious child pornography convictions. His lawsuit challenges the prison’s determination that his painting project and pictures were sexually explicit enough to increase the risks of harassment of female personnel and disorder among prisoners. View "Callahan v. Federal Bureau of Prisons" on Justia Law