Justia Communications Law Opinion Summaries

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DirecTV and Dish Network (“Defendants”) provide video services in part through the Internet. The City of Creve Coeur filed this class action in Missouri state court on behalf of local government authorities, seeking a declaratory judgment that Defendants are liable under the Video Services Providers Act (“VSPA”) and implementing local ordinances, plus injunctive relief, an accounting of unpaid fees, and damages. Defendants removed the action based on diversity jurisdiction and the Class Action Fairness Act (CAFA). After the state court entered an interlocutory order declaring that VSPA payments are fees, rather than taxes, DirecTV filed a second notice of removal, arguing this order established the required federal jurisdiction. The district court granted Creve Coeur’s motion to remand.   The Eleventh Circuit affirmed on different grounds. The court explained that the district court’s remand order plainly stated that the remand was based on comity principles as articulated in Levin, not on “state-tax based comity concerns.” Comity as a basis to remand was raised and fully argued in the first remand proceeding. Federal courts have long precluded two bites at this apple. Second, the Supreme Court in Levin emphatically stated that the century-old comity doctrine is not limited to the state-tax-interference concerns that later led Congress to enact the TIA. Third, the state court’s December 2020 Order addressed, preliminarily, only the VSPA fee-or-tax issue under state law. It did not address the broader considerations comity addresses. The state court order in no way overruled or undermined the basis for the district court’s first remand order. Therefore, DirecTV failed to establish the essential basis for a second removal. View "City of Creve Coeur v. DirecTV LLC" on Justia Law

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Millennium's laboratory provides drug testing to healthcare professionals. Mauthe, a private practice MD, used Millennium’s services. On May 2, 2017, Millennium faxed all of its customers a single-page flyer promoting a free educational seminar to “highlight national trends in opioid misuse and abuse . . . and discuss the role of medication monitoring ... during the care of injured workers.” Although Millennium offered urine testing to detect opioids, the fax did not mention that service nor provide any pricing information, discounts, or product images. The seminar did not promote any goods or services for sale but described statistics on opioid abuse and the role of such drugs in chronic pain management. It explained that drug testing could help detect or monitor opioid abuse, and assessed the efficacy of several testing methods. The seminar did not identify providers or prices for any of the drug testing methods it reviewed. After the seminar, Millennium did not follow up with any registrants or attendees.Mauthe who has sued fax senders in more than 10 lawsuits since 2015, seeking damages under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, 47 U.S.C. 227, (b)(3), filed a putative class action against Millennium. The Third Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit. Liability under the TCPA extends only to “unsolicited advertisement[s],” meaning communications that promote the sale of goods, services, or property. Under an objective standard, no reasonable recipient could construe the seminar fax as such an unsolicited advertisement. View "Robert W Mauthe MD PC v. Millennium Health LLC" on Justia Law

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Adams Outdoor Advertising owns billboards throughout Wisconsin, including 90 in Madison. Madison’s sign-control ordinance comprehensively regulates “advertising signs,” to promote traffic safety and aesthetics. The ordinance defines an “advertising sign” as any sign advertising or directing attention to a business, service, or product offered offsite. In 1989, Madison banned the construction of new advertising signs. Existing billboards were allowed to remain but cannot be modified or reconstructed without a permit and are subject to size, height, setback, and other restrictions. In 2009, Madison prohibited digital displays; in 2017, the definition of “advertising sign” was amended to remove prior references to noncommercial speech. As amended, the term “advertising sign” is limited to off-premises signs bearing commercial messages.Following the Supreme Court’s 2015 “Reed” decision, Adams argued that any ordinance treating off-premises signs less favorably than other signs is a content-based restriction on speech and thus is unconstitutional unless it passes the high bar of strict scrutiny. The judge applied intermediate scrutiny and rejected the First Amendment challenge. The Supreme Court subsequently clarified that nothing in Reed altered its earlier precedents applying intermediate scrutiny to billboard ordinances and upholding on-/off-premises sign distinctions as ordinary content-neutral “time, place, or manner” speech restrictions. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit. View "Adams Outdoor Advertising Limited Partnership v. City of Madison, Wisconsin" on Justia Law

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The plaintiffs distribute pamphlets to and try to engage with, women entering abortion clinics, hoping to persuade the women not to end their pregnancies. Louisville-Jefferson County ordinances provide that no one shall “knowingly obstruct, detain, hinder, impede, or block another person’s entry to or exit from a healthcare facility” and imposes a prophylactic 10-foot “buffer zone” around the entrance of any “healthcare facility,” forbidding any nonexempt individual from “knowingly enter[ing]” or “remaining . . . within” it “during [a] facility’s posted business hours.” The law exempts persons entering or leaving a healthcare facility persons using the public sidewalk or street right-of-way adjacent to a healthcare facility solely for the purpose of reaching a destination other than the facility, municipal agents acting within the scope of their employment, and employees or agents of a healthcare facility acting within the scope of their employment.”The Sixth Circuit enjoined the enforcement of the buffer zone provision as likely violating the First Amendment. The County did not demonstrate that it was “narrowly tailored to serve a significant governmental interest.” One abortion clinic has reported problems but the ordinance covers every hospital, clinic, and dentist’s office in the area. The court noted that the “obstruction” provision of the ordinance addresses the same concerns. View "Sisters for Life, Inc. v. Louisville-Jefferson County., Kentucky Metropolitan Government" on Justia Law

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In a license revocation proceeding before the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the United States sought to admit classified evidence relating to electronic surveillance it had conducted against China Telecom (Americas) Corporation (China Telecom). Pursuant to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA),the government filed this petition for a determination that the electronic surveillance was lawful and that fruits of the surveillance were admissible in the underlying FCC proceedings. After the district court granted the government’s petition, the FCC revoked China Telecom’s license in the underlying action and we then denied China Telecom’s petition for review of the FCC order without relying on or otherwise considering the classified evidence.   The DC Circuit vacated the district court order granting the government’s petition because the government’s petition no longer presents a live controversy. Accordingly, China Telecom’s appeal from the district court order is moot. The court explained that here, the district court’s review of the surveillance materials was triggered by the government’s notice of its intent to use the surveillance in a “trial, hearing, or other proceeding in or before [a] court, department, officer, agency, regulatory body, or other authority of the United States.” In response, China Telecom principally requests disclosure pursuant to section 1806(g), asserting a due process right to discover the classified materials so that it may defend itself in the underlying FCC proceeding. The court explained that any order requiring the government to disclose classified evidence at issue in an FCC revocation proceeding would be wholly ineffectual because the proceedings in which the parties sought to use that evidence have ended. View "USA v. China Telecom (Americas) Corporation" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court vacated the decision of the court of appeals affirming the order of the trial court summarily denying the City of Greensboro's request that the trial court modify restrictions it imposed upon the possible use and discussion of certain police video records by the Greensboro City Council, holding that the trial court abused its discretion.The order at issue was entered pursuant to N.C. Gen. Stat. 132-1.4A(g) to release recordings of an incident that occurred in Greensboro on September 10, 2016. The City of Greensboro interpreted the conditions in the order as a "gag order" and requested that the trial court modify the restrictions. The trial court summarily denied the request, and the court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court vacated the court of appeals and remanded the case for a new hearing, holding that the trial court abused its discretion by denying, without explanation, the City's motion to modify the restrictions. View "In re Custodial Law Enforcement Recording" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court vacated the order of the district court awarding the Las Vegas Review-Journal (LVRJ) costs and attorney fees in proceedings under the Nevada Public Records Act (NPRA), holding that the district court abused its discretion by imposing such a substantial discount from the amount requested without explaining its reasons for doing so.The award at issue in this case discounted the costs and fees requested by the LVRJ by almost forty percent. When the LVRJ asked the judge to explain the reduction, the judge did not elaborate on his reasons for the reduction. The Supreme Court vacated so much of the order as discounted the fees and costs requested by the LVRJ and otherwise affirmed, holding that, without specific reasons for the discount, this Court could not determine whether the district court's order was an abuse of discretion. View "Las Vegas Review-Journal v. Clark County Office of the Coroner/Medical Examiner" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court granted in part and denied in part a writ of mandamus requested by Relator, an inmate at the Trumbull Correctional Institution, against Respondents, including Anthony Davis, (collectively, TCI) seeking production of records responsive to six public-records requests he sent in June 2021, holding that Relator was entitled, in part, to mandamus.By way of six messages, Relator requested four records. As to the first record, the Supreme Court denied mandamus on the ground that Relator failed to establish that Davis was the custodian of the record in question. As to the remaining three requested records, the Supreme Court held that TCI breached a statutory obligation to provide Relator with the records. The Court then awarded Relator $3,000 in statutory damages, holding that Relator satisfied the method-of-transmission requirement for an award of statutory damages. View "State ex rel. Ware v. Wine" on Justia Law

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Uebelacker sent a former coworker (Schuman) private Facebook messages disparaging her bosses. Soon afterward, Uebelacker’s employer discovered the messages while another employee (Booth) was transferring files from Schuman’s former work computer so others could access them. Schuman was still signed in to her personal Facebook account on the active internet browser. Booth opened the conversation and took screenshots of the conversation. Uebelacker was demoted and eventually fired. Uebelacker sued under the Stored Communications Act, which prohibits unauthorized access to communications in electronic storage, 18 U.S.C. 2701(a).The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the employer based on the statute of limitations, which requires that suits be filed no later than “two years after the date upon which the claimant first discovered or had a reasonable opportunity to discover the violation.” The Act’s limitations period began running in January 2019 and expired in January 2021. Uebelacker did not file suit until March 2021. A vague fear of termination cannot save Uebelacker’s claim. View "Uebelacker v. Rock Energy Cooperative" on Justia Law

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YouTube, a video-sharing website, places “advertising restrictions” on certain videos to prevent the user who posted the video from realizing advertising revenues. Network administrators and individual subscribers can also elect to limit user access to YouTube videos using “Restricted Mode.” YouTube considers whether the content involves drugs, alcohol, sex, violence, tragedies, inappropriate language, and whether the content is "gratuitously incendiary, inflammatory, or demeaning towards an individual or group.” YouTube uses an “automated filtering algorithm.” Users whose videos have been restricted or demonetized may request human review. Prager has posted more than 250 YouTube videos and has been prohibited from monetizing over 50 of its videos. In some cases, other users have posted videos identical to Prager’s restricted videos; the copycat videos have not been restricted. Prager claims the restrictions are based on its political identity or viewpoints.After a district court dismissed its federal lawsuit, Prager sued in state court. The court of appeal affirmed the dismissal of the suit, citing immunity under the Communications Decency Act, 47 U.S.C. 230, for interactive computer service providers acting as “publishers or speakers” of content provided by others. The challenged conduct is the exercise of a publisher’s traditional editorial functions, The court rejected arguments that the defendants are themselves information content providers, that their terms of service and public pronouncements subjected them to liability notwithstanding the Act, and that the Act, in immunizing defendants from Prager’s state law claims, is unconstitutional. View "Prager University v. Google LLC" on Justia Law