Justia Communications Law Opinion Summaries

by
In 2004, Kimball was convicted of multiple drug-trafficking, weapons, money-laundering offenses, soliciting murder, witness tampering, and obstruction of justice. He was sentenced to two consecutive terms of life imprisonment plus 15 years. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. In April 2020, Kimball sought compassionate release, asserting that there were extraordinary and compelling reasons warranting compassionate release because he is at high risk of severe illness or death from COVID-19 based on his age (67) and medical conditions (hypertension, heart problems, high cholesterol, and gout) and that the 18 U.S.C. 3553(a) factors weighed in favor of release.The Sixth Circuit affirmed the denial of relief, rejecting Kimball’s argument that the time he has already served—approximately 17 years—is sufficient to serve the section 3553(a) goals because his offense did not involve any “actual violence” and he is statistically unlikely to re-offend based on his age. The court noted that when it affirmed his effective life sentence, he was the “undisputed kingpin and mastermind” of a “massive cocaine-trafficking conspiracy.” The district court’s order noted that its decision rested at least in part on the section 3553(a) factors; courts may deny relief under those factors “even if ‘extraordinary and compelling’ reasons would otherwise justify relief.” Even if the district court “mistakenly limited itself to the commentary’s list of extraordinary and compelling reasons," that would not entitle him to relief. View "United States v. Kimball" on Justia Law

by
The First Circuit affirmed the judgment of the district court granting a preliminary injunction against enforcement against a State of Maine law requiring cable operators to offer their subscribers the option of buying access to cable programs and channels individually, rather than bundled together in a channel or package of channels, holding that the district court did not err.Plaintiffs, a group of cable operators and programmers, sought a preliminary injunction against enforcement of the law, arguing that it was preempted by certain provisions of the federal Communications Act and that it violated the First Amendment. The district court granted the injunction on First Amendment grounds. The First Circuit affirmed, holding (1) the district court correctly determined that the law triggered heightened First Amendment scrutiny because it singled out cable operators; and (2) because Maine conceded that, at this point in the litigation, it had not offered sufficient evidence in support of the law to survive any heightened level of scrutiny, the district court correctly entered a preliminary injunction delaying enforcement of the law. View "Comcast of Maine/New Hampshire v. Mills" on Justia Law

by
High school students from Kentucky received widespread attention for their conduct at the Lincoln Memorial during the 2019 March for Life rally. An incident occurred after the march between Covington Catholic students, including the plaintiffs, and others, including “a self-described Native American Elder.” In the wake of negative coverage and critical posts on social media, the students sued several media defendants and people who had engaged in online commentary about the incident, alleging civil harassment, harassing communications, menacing, and terroristic threatening.The Sixth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the cases against Twitter users Chandrasekhar, a doctor who lives in New Jersey, and Griffin, a comedian who lives in California, for lack of personal jurisdiction. The court rejected an argument that filing a notice of appearance automatically waives the personal jurisdiction defense; precedent that seemingly implied such a rule involved the defendant’s extensive participation in the litigation. Griffin had not filed any responsive pleading that omitted the defense, nor had she “participated in any other way that would lead plaintiffs to conclude that [she] would not assert the defense.” The defendants’ conduct is plainly outside the scope of the Kentucky long-arm statute since neither Griffin nor Chandrasekhar committed any act “in [the] Commonwealth” of Kentucky under KRS 454.210(2)(a)(3). View "Doe v. Griffin" on Justia Law

by
To advertise its nearby adult bookstore, Lion’s Den displays a billboard, affixed to a tractor-trailer, on a neighbor’s property. Kentucky’s Billboard Act prohibits such off-site billboards if the advertisement is not securely affixed to the ground, the sign is attached to a mobile structure, and no permit has been obtained. None of these requirements applies to an on-site billboard advertisement. The Act applies equally to commercial and non-commercial speech on billboards.In a First Amendment challenge to the Act, the Sixth Circuit affirmed an injunction, prohibiting the Commonwealth from enforcing its law. The Act regulates commercial and non-commercial speech on content-based grounds by distinguishing between messages concerning on-site activities and those concerning off-site activities. The court applied strict scrutiny and held that the Act is not tailored to achieve Kentucky’s purported interests in safety and aesthetics. Kentucky has offered no reason to believe that on-site signs pose a greater threat to safety than do off-site signs and billboards are a "greater eyesore." View "L.D. Management Co. v. Gray" on Justia Law

by
A 2017 “tweet” by @realDonaldTrump stated: “The Amazon Washington Post fabricated the facts on my ending massive, dangerous, and wasteful payments to Syrian rebels fighting Assad.” BuzzFeed requested CIA records about Agency payments to Syrian rebels, citing the Freedom of Information Act, 5 U.S.C. 552(a)(3)(A). The Agency invoked Exemptions 1 and 3. The district court granted the Agency summary judgment, explaining that the “tweet did not mention the [Agency] or create any inference that such a program would be linked to or run by the [Agency].”BuzzFeed sent another, more broadly stated, request. The Agency asserted that a response would reveal whether it had an intelligence interest in, intelligence sources about, and connection to programs related to Syrian rebels — information exempt from disclosure under Exemptions 1 and 3. Exemption 1 covers “matters”2 that are “specifically authorized under criteria established by an Executive order to be kept secret in the interest of national defense or foreign policy. Exemption 3 covers matters “specifically exempted from disclosure by statute,” the National Security Act qualifies as a withholding statute under Exemption 3, 50 U.S.C. 3024(i)(1).The district court granted BuzzFeed summary judgment, holding that the tweet officially acknowledged “the government’s intelligence interest in the broader categories of records that BuzzFeed has requested.” The D.C. Circuit reversed. The tweet was not an official acknowledgment of the existence (or not) of Agency records. View "Leopold v. Central Intelligence Agency" on Justia Law

by
Plaintiff Mike Campbell filed a 42 U.S.C. 1983 suit against Missouri state representative Cheri Toalson Reisch after she blocked him from her Twitter account, alleging that she violated the First Amendment by denying him the right to speak. The district court agreed with plaintiff, declared that Reisch had violated his rights, and ordered her to stop blocking plaintiff and others because of the content or viewpoint of their speech.The Eighth Circuit reversed, holding that plaintiff is not entitled to section 1983 relief because Reisch was not acting under state law when she blocked him from her Twitter account. The court held that Reisch's account is the kind of unofficial account that the court envisioned in Knight First Amendment Inst. at Columbia Univ. v. Trump, 928 F.3d 226, 235–36 (2d Cir. 2019). The court explained that no one seriously disputes that her account at least began life as a private account because Reisch was not a public official when she created it. Even if Reisch had been a public official at the time, the court would still hold that she had not created an official governmental account because she used it overwhelmingly for campaign purposes. The court thought that Reisch's Twitter account is more akin to a campaign newsletter than to anything else, and so it's Reisch's prerogative to select her audience and present her page as she sees fit. Therefore, Reisch's own First Amendment right to craft her campaign materials necessarily trumps Campbell's desire to convey a message on her Twitter page that she does not wish to convey, even if that message does not compete for room as it would, say, in a campaign newsletter. The court remanded for the district court to enter judgment in Reisch's favor. View "Campbell v. Reisch" on Justia Law

by
Murphy, a journalist with approximately Twitter 25,000 followers, had a Twitter “verification badge,” which “lets people know that an account of public interest is authentic.” Murphy “writes primarily on feminist issues, including the Me Too movement, the sex industry, sex education, third-wave feminism, and gender identity politics.” Murphy argues “that there is a difference between acknowledging that transgender women see themselves as female and counting them as women in a legal or social sense.” Murphy posted several tweets critical of transgender women. Twitter removed her posts and informed her she had violated its hateful conduct rules. After she posted additional similar messages, Twitter permanently suspended her account.Murphy filed suit, alleging breach of contract, promissory estoppel, and violation of the unfair competition law. The trial court dismissed the complaint, concluding Murphy’s suit was barred by the Communications Decency Act of 1996, 47 U.S.C. 230, under which interactive computer service providers have broad immunity from liability for traditional editorial functions undertaken by publishers—such as decisions whether to publish, withdraw, postpone or alter content created by third parties. The court of appeal affirmed. Each of Murphy’s causes of action seeks to hold Twitter liable for its editorial decisions. Murphy also failed to state a cognizable claim under California law. The Hateful Conduct Policy was in place when Murphy began posting her deleted tweets; Twitter expressly reserved the right to remove content, and suspend or terminate accounts “for any or no reason.” View "Murphy v. Twitter, Inc." on Justia Law

by
In this case alleging that Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU) failed to maintain and produce certain government data the Supreme Court reversed the decision of the court of appeals holding that Plaintiff's complaint under the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act was insufficiently pleaded and affirmed the court's holding that the Minnesota Official Records Act did not authorize a private cause of action, holding that the allegations of Plaintiff's complaint were sufficient.In his complaint, Appellant alleged that the actions of MnSCU violated both the Data Practices Act and the Official Records Act. The district court dismissed both claims, concluding that Appellant could not pursue judicial remedies under the Data Practices Act after obtaining an administrative remedy under the that and that the Official Records Act does not authorize a private cause of action. The court of appeals affirmed but decided the Data Practices Act issue on the alternate ground that the complaint was insufficiently pleaded. The Supreme Court reversed in part, holding (1) Appellant's complaint was sufficiently pleaded; and (2) the Official Records Act does not authorize a private cause of action. View "Halva v. Minnesota State Colleges & Universities" on Justia Law

by
Heyer, a Deaf individual who communicates in ASL, is civilly committed as a sexually dangerous person. In prison and while civilly committed, Heyer’s access to the Deaf community has dwindled. Detainees in Heyer’s Unit can communicate with the outside by writing letters, in-person visits, the prison email system, and a TTY machine for making calls under the supervision of a Bureau of Prisons (BOP) staff member to preapproved numbers. BOP also installed a videophone in Heyer's unit and contracted with a provider of SecureVRS services for calls to preapproved numbers, with monitoring. SecureVRS calls do not allow Heyer to call Deaf friends. All of the available means of communication are problematic because Heyer’s English skills are “novice low. ”An expert concluded that his reading and writing skills mimic those of a seven-year-old.The district court held that the BOP’s refusal to allow Heyer to make point-to-point calls with other Deaf individuals did not violate his First Amendment rights. The Fourth Circuit reversed. Heyer’s constitutional rights are not defined merely by his civil detainee status or his past conduct. They are also defined by his status as a Deaf individual cut off from his community in a manner more complete than even foreign language prisoners. The district court erred by crediting BOP testimony about the risks of point-to-point calls without considering testimony about safety features that have managed those risks for other forms of communication it makes available. View "Heyer v. United States Bureau of Prisons" on Justia Law

by
Defendant Edward Siegel was an unsuccessful candidate for the Solana Beach City Council in 2016. During and after the City Council campaign, Siegel’s campaign manager, defendant Brian Hall, sent a letter to the editor, distributed e-mails to local government and media, and posted Facebook messages about City Council members Lesa Heebner and Mike Nichols, and their relationship with local developer Joseph Balla (with Heebner and Nichols collectively, plaintiffs). Primarily using a fictional persona he created, “Andrew Jones,” Hall asserted or implied that Heebner and Nichols lobbied for the North County Transit District (NCTD) to select Balla for a Solana Beach train station project in exchange for Balla giving them design work on the project and directing a charitable donation to a nature conservancy they supported. Siegel and Hall also ran a campaign advertisement implying that Heebner endorsed Siegel in the City Council race using a favorable quote from a 2007 Certificate of Appreciation signed by Heebner and given to Siegel by the City for his volunteer work. Plaintiffs sued for defamation based on the publications, and Heebner claimed false light invasion of privacy based on the advertisement. Hall filed special motions to strike pursuant to Code of Civil Procedure section 425.16, the anti-SLAPP statute. Siegel agreed not to file anti-SLAPP motions in exchange for relief from default; when he tried to file notices of joinder to Hall’s motions, the trial court rejected them. The court permitted plaintiffs to conduct discovery on actual malice, and then denied the anti-SLAPP motions. Hall appealed, contending the trial court erred: (1) by denying his motions; (2) by denying Siegel’s joinder; and (3) in permitting discovery. In essence, his position was that his publications were political opinions about a conflict of interest and not actionable. To this the Court of Appeal disagreed: calculated or reckless falsehoods can still amount to defamation even in that context. The Court reached a different conclusion as to plaintiffs' false light claim, as Heebner did not show the advertisement was defamatory per se or introduce evidence of special damages. Finally, the Court of Appeal affirmed the joinder and discovery rulings. View "Balla v. Hall" on Justia Law