Justia Communications Law Opinion Summaries

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In 2019, two Oakland journalists filed requests with the Oakland Police Department under the California Public Records Act (CPRA) (previously Gov. Code 6250, now 7921.000), including for information regarding the “Celeste Guap” scandal, which involved several Oakland police officers who had sex with Guap while she was underage. The trial court ordered Oakland to produce documents responsive to those requests. Oakland produced a redacted version of the internal affairs investigation report.The court of appeal agreed that some of the challenged redactions were not permitted under the statute. In 2018 Senate Bill 1421 amended Penal Code section 832.7 to require public access to certain records of police misconduct and use of force. The trial court improperly permitted Oakland to redact certain information under section 832.7(b)(4) and (b)(5), including the Guap report’s training and policy recommendations; witness statements containing general information about Guap and her social-media use (without any information about allegations of misconduct against any officer); screenshots of Guap’s Facebook profile; and large portions of her statements to investigators. Redaction of witness-officer’s names or other identifying information from the interview summaries is not appropriate under section 832.7(b)(6)(B) in order to “preserve the anonymity of . . . witnesses.” View "Bondgraham v. Superior Court of Alameda County" on Justia Law

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Liapes filed a class action against Facebook, alleging it does not provide women and older people equal access to insurance ads. The Unruh Civil Rights Act prohibits businesses from discriminating against people with protected characteristics (Civ. Code 51, 51.5, 52(a)). Liapes alleged Facebook requires all advertisers to choose the age and gender of users who will receive ads; companies offering insurance products routinely tell it to not send their ads to women or older people. She further alleged Facebook’s ad-delivery algorithm discriminates against women and older people.The trial court dismissed, finding Facebook’s tools neutral on their face and concluding that Facebook was immune under the Communications Decency Act, 47 U.S.C. 230. The court of appeal reversed. Liapes has stated an Unruh Act claim. Facebook, a business establishment, does not dispute women and older people were categorically excluded from receiving various insurance ads. Facebook, not the advertisers, classifies users based on their age and gender via the algorithm. The complaint also stated a claim under an aiding and abetting theory of liability An interactive computer service provider only has immunity if it is not also the content provider. That advertisers are the content providers does not preclude Facebook from also being a content provider by helping develop at least part of the information at issue. View "Liapes v. Facebook, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court denied a writ of mandamus sought under Ohio's Public Records Act, Ohio Rev. Code 149.43, by Ashley Fluty against the City of Broadview Heights as well as Fluty's requests for statutory damages, attorney fees, and court costs, holding that Fluty was not entitled to any of the requested relief.Fluty brought this action seeking to compel Broadview Heights to produce records related to an incident of suspected child abuse and also requested awards of statutory damages, attorney fees, and court costs. The Supreme Court denied all requested relief, holding (1) Fluty failed to show that she had a clear legal right to the requested writ of mandamus and that Broadview Heights had a clear legal duty to provide it; (2) Fluty's arguments supporting her claim for an award of statutory damages were unavailing; and (3) attorney fees and court costs were improper because Broadview Heights did not engage in bad faith. View "State ex rel. Fluty v. Raiff" on Justia Law

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During the COVID-19 pandemic, Twitter broadened its definition of censorable, harmful information to include “content that goes directly against guidance from authoritative sources of global and local public health information.” Twitter began permanently suspending any user who received five or more infractions for violating its COVID-19 policy. The plaintiffs,Twitter users who used their accounts to question responses to the COVID-19 pandemic, suffered multiple temporary suspensions. They claim the Biden administration became involved, announcing that “[t]he President’s view is that the major [social-media] platforms have a responsibility ... to stop amplifying untrustworthy content, disinformation, and misinformation, especially related to COVID-19 vaccinations.” Later, the Surgeon General released an advisory statement related to COVID-19 misinformation and (according to Plaintiffs) “command[ed] technology platforms” to take several steps. President Biden stated that social media platforms are “killing people” with COVID-19 misinformation. Days later, USA Today reported that the “[t]he White House is assessing whether social media platforms are legally liable for misinformation.”Plaintiffs sued the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), asserting claims under the First Amendment, Fourth Amendment, and Administrative Procedure Act, citing HHS’s unlawful efforts to “instrumentalize[] Twitter” to “silenc[e] opinions that diverge from the White House’s messaging on COVID-19.” The Sixth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the complaint. The plaintiffs have not adequately pleaded that HHS compelled Twitter’s chosen course of conduct, leaving a “highly attenuated chain of possibilities” that is too speculative to establish a traceable harm View "Changizi v. Department of Health and Human Services" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals granting in part and denying in part a writ of mandamus, affirmed the court's award of statutory damages and court costs, and reversed the award of attorney fees, holding that the court of appeals erred in determining that the City of Cleveland acted in bad faith in this case.Cleveland Association of Rescue Employees and its president (collectively, the Union) submitted two public records requests to the City, which denied the requests. The Union then filed a complaint for writ of mandamus to compel production of the records and also sought statutory damages and attorney fees for the City's alleged violation of Ohio Rev. Code 149.43(B). The Union later notified the court of appeals that the City had sufficiently produced the requested records and sought summary judgment with respect to statutory damages and attorney fees. The court of appeals awarded the Union statutory damages of $1,000 and attorney fees of $4,672. The Supreme Court reversed in part, holding that the City's refusal to accept a certified-mail service of the complaint was not a legitimate basis on which to award attorney fees. View "State ex rel. Cleveland Ass'n of Rescue Employees v. City of Cleveland" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court denied a writ of mandamus brought under Ohio's Public Records Act, Ohio Rev. Code 149.43, by Harry Barr, an inmate at the Grafton Correctional Institution (GCII), seeking to compel the warden's assistant at GCI to produce the job description for, and the certification or license held by, Jennifer Whitten, a GCI employee, holding that Barr was not entitled to the writ.In addition to the writ of mandamus, Barr sought statutory damages and also filed a complaint for a temporary restraining order (TRO) and a preliminary injunction and other motions. The Supreme Court dismissed Barr's complaint for a TRO and a preliminary injunction, granted Barr's motion to amend the evidence and deemed the record supplemented, granted his motion to withdraw his motion for an order pursuant to S.Ct.Prac.R.4.01(A), and denied the writ of mandamus and his request for statutory damages, holding that Barr was entitled to some relief. View "State ex rel. Barr v. Wesson" on Justia Law

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Q Link Wireless LLC (Q Link) petitioned the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission (Commission) for designation as an eligible telecommunications carrier (ETC). The designation would have made Q Link eligible to access certain federal funds for providing telecommunications services to underserved communities in New Mexico. Following lengthy and protracted proceedings before the Commission’s hearing examiner, Q Link filed a motion to withdraw its petition. The hearing examiner filed an Order Recommending Dismissal of Proceeding with Prejudice (Recommended Decision). The recommendation was to dismiss the petition and to ban Q Link from ever again filing a petition to obtain an ETC designation. The Commission adopted the Recommended Decision in full. Q Link appealed, and the New Mexico Supreme Court reversed, concluding that the Commission lacked express or implied statutory authority to ban Q Link from ever again seeking an ETC designation. View "Q Link Wireless LLC v. N.M. Pub. Regulation Comm'n" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court held that the Baltimore Police Department (BPD) arbitrarily and capriciously denied Open Justice Baltimore's (OJB) request for a fee waiver in relation to the production of closed files relating to certain use of force investigations and remanded the case to BPD to reconsider OJB's requested fee waiver in light of the factors set forth in this opinion, as well as other relevant factors.OJB, an organization seeking to investigate and publicize reports of police misconduct, filed several requests under the Maryland Public Information Act (MPIA) for records relating to citizen and administrative complaints of police misconduct. OJB asked BPD to waive the approximately $245,000 in fees it would cost to produce the files, asserting that a fee waiver would be in the public interest. BPD denied the fee waiver request in its entirety. The circuit court upheld the fee waiver denial. The Supreme Court remanded the case, holding that BPD's fee waiver denial was arbitrary and capricious because BPD failed meaningfully to consider all relevant factors in deciding whether to grant the requested fee waiver. View "Baltimore Police Dep't v. Open Justice Baltimore" on Justia Law

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The National Police Association (NPA), a non-profit organization, describes its purpose as “educat[ing] supporters of law enforcement in how to help police departments accomplish their goals.” In 2018-2019, some police departments around the country took issue with fundraising mailers the NPA sent residents, characterizing the solicitations as deceptive. The Indianapolis Star and the Associated Press reported on the alerts issued by these police departments in articles that questioned whether the money NPA raised went to police departments. Counsel for the NPA sent a letter to the publisher and AP’s general counsel, providing notice under Indiana Code 34-15-4-2 that the NPA considered the articles defamatory and intended to sue. The letter sought a retraction and removal of public access to online copies of the stories. NPA subsequently sued the publishers, alleging libel. The district court dismissed its case, reasoning that NPA never alleged “actual malice”—that the publishers were aware of an inaccuracy or had serious doubts about the accuracy of the material—when the stories were first published.The Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting “a novel interpretation of the Restatement (Second) Torts 577(2)” that would create a requirement that internet publishers remove previously published libelous information. The court declined to certify questions to the Indiana Supreme Court to confirm that such a duty exists in Indiana. The alleged duty lacks doctrinal support. View "National Police Association, Inc. v. Gannett Co., Inc." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court granted Harry Barr a limited writ of mandamus, holding that Barr was entitled to relief on his request for certain inmate records predating State ex rel. Mobley v. Ohio Dep't of Rehabilitation & Correction, 201 N.E.3d 853 (Ohio 2022).Barr, an inmate, sought certain documents from James Wesson, the institutional public information officer at Grafton Correctional Institution (GCI), pursuant to Ohio's Public Records Act, Ohio Rev. Code 149.43. Wesson produced some records and, as to the remaining, claimed that Barr failed sufficiently to specify which records he wanted and that Barr's requests predated Mobley, thus rendering them unenforceable. The Supreme Court granted Barr a limited writ of mandamus as to prison-kite logs predating Mobley, ordered Wesson to produce the email messages that Barr requested if they exist, denied the writ as to Barr's request for a list of cross-gender employees, dismissed his complaint for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction, and denied his motion to strike a certain affidavit, holding that Barr demonstrated that he had a clear legal right to access the prison-kite logs and specified email messages if they existed. View "State ex rel. Barr v. Wesson" on Justia Law