Justia Communications Law Opinion Summaries

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Popa browsed the website of Harriet Carter Gifts, added an item to her cart, but left the website without making a purchase. She later discovered that, unbeknownst to her, Harriet Carter’s third-party marketing service, NaviStone, tracked her activities across the site. Popa sued both entities under Pennsylvania’s Wiretapping and Electronic Surveillance Control Act (WESCA), 18 Pa. C.S. 5701, which prohibits the interception of wire, electronic, or oral communications. The district court granted the defendants summary judgment, reasoning that NaviStone could not have “intercepted” Popa’s communications because it was a “party” to the electronic conversation. Alternatively, it ruled that if any interception occurred, it happened outside Pennsylvania, so the Act did not apply.The Third Circuit vacated. Under Pennsylvania law, there is no direct-party exception to WESCA liability, except for law enforcement under specific conditions. The defendants cannot avoid liability merely by showing that Popa directly communicated with NaviStone’s servers. NaviStone intercepted Popa’s communications at the point where it routed those communications to its own servers; that was at Popa’s browser, not where the signals were received at NaviStone’s servers. The court noted that the district court never addressed whether Harriet Carter posted a privacy policy and, if so, whether that policy sufficiently alerted Popa that her communications were being sent to a third-party company to support a consent defense. View "Popa v. Harriet Carter Gifts Inc." on Justia Law

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A DEA task force investigated Jacobs, a Kentucky drug dealer. Jacobs sold drugs to a couple who allegedly were “good friends” with the local Commonwealth Attorney (CA). After Jacobs' arrest on state drug-trafficking charges, the couple had extensive conversations with the CA. After one conversation, an assistant state prosecutor requested Jacobs’s cell phone records from the task force, alerting the DEA to the CA’s relationship with Jacobs’s customers. The CA became involved in the case in other ways, impeding Jacobs’ use as a cooperating witness in other federal investigations by opposing a bond reduction and refusing to seek a state search warrant for an unrelated case if the DEA agent from the Jacobs investigation was involved. The DEA began investigating the CA’s conduct, “Operation Speakeasy.” Evidence was presented to the U.S. Attorney, who refused to bring obstruction charges against the CA.A Cincinnati Enquirer reporter filed a Freedom of Information Act, 5 U.S.C. 552 request with the DEA, seeking any document related to the Jacobs investigation or Operation Speakeasy. The DEA denied that request, citing an exception for “records or information compiled for law enforcement purposes,” disclosure of which “could reasonably be expected to constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.” The Sixth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the Enquirer’s suit. The documents “only minimally advance[d] a public interest in shedding light on the decision” to not prosecute the CA and “significant privacy interests outweigh[ed] the proffered public interest.” View "Cincinnati Enquirer v. Department of Justice" on Justia Law

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Part of the Transportation Equity Act required the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to “consider, in consultation with the Secretary [of Transportation], spectrum needs for the operation of intelligent transportation systems. The FCC allocated that spectrum in 1999. In 2019, the FCC began a new rulemaking process to ensure that the 5.9 GHz band was put to its best use. The FCC also proposed changing the technology that would be used by intelligent transportation systems; vehicles would need to start using “vehicle-to-everything” communications (in which they send communications to cell towers and other devices) rather than the “dedicated short-range” communications originally permitted in 1999.   The Intelligent Transportation Society of America and the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (“Transportation Petitioners”) now petition for review. They argue that the court should vacate the part of the order reallocating the lower 45 megahertz of spectrum but leave in place the rest of the order dealing with what technology intelligent transportation systems use.   The DC Circuit dismissed the appeal and denied the petitions for review. The court found that the FCC adequately explained its conclusion that “30 megahertz is sufficient for the provision of core vehicle safety related [intelligent transportation system] functions. Further, the court reasoned that FCC may modify the licenses it issues when such modifications promote the public interest. View "Intelligent Transportation Society of America v. FCC" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the district court affirming the judgment of the Board of County Commissioners of Park County approving Trial County Telephone Association, Inc.'s (TCT) application for a special use permit to construct a 150-foot broadband communications tower in Park County, holding that the Board did not arbitrarily or capriciously in approving the application.Specifically, the Supreme Court held (1) the Board had a rational basis to conclude that the proposed was not oversized, and therefore, the Board's approval of TCT's application did not violate Park County development regulations; and (2) the Park County regulations did not require the Board to consider alternative sites for a project before approving a special use permit, and it therefore did not act arbitrarily or capriciously in approving the application without considering alternative locations for the proposed tower. View "Jolovich v. Board of County Commissioners of Park County" on Justia Law

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Defendant entered a conditional guilty plea to possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, in violation of 18 U.S.C. Sections 922(g)(1), 924(a)(2). He appealed from the district court’s denial of his motion to suppress evidence of a firearm seized from his “fanny pack,” a small bag strapped around his waist. Defendant argued that the officers (1) lacked reasonable suspicion to stop him as he was walking at a fairground in Winston Salem, North Carolina, and (2) exceeded the scope of any permissible stop and frisk by placing him in handcuffs and by ultimately searching the fanny pack.   The Fourth Circuit affirmed, concluding that the district court did not err in denying the suppression motion. The officers had reasonable suspicion to think that Defendant, a convicted felon and gang member who had posted a recent incriminating statement on social media and whose residence had been the target of recent shootings, was engaged in criminal activity and was armed and dangerous. The court further concluded that the officers did not exceed the scope of the brief detention and frisk by handcuffing Defendant and, after feeling a hard object in his fanny pack, by opening the pack and seizing the firearm. Those actions were justified to ensure the safety of both the officers and other people nearby. View "US v. Chandler Gist-Davis" on Justia Law

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Golden Gate, which operates a Berkeley horse racing track, sued Action, an animal rights organization, and individuals who allegedly climbed over a fence surrounding the race track, lit incendiary devices that produced smoke, then lay down on the track with their arms connected using PVC to make removing them difficult. The trespassers prevented scheduled races. The complaint alleged trespass and intentional interference with prospective economic relations. The complaint alleged that “each of the defendants" was "the agent, co-conspirator, aider and abettor, employee, representative, co-venturer, and/or alter ego of each and every other defendant,” but did not specify the circumstances upon which Action’s alleged vicarious liability was based. Action responded by filing an anti-SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation, Code of Civil Procedure 425.16) motion, claiming it “had no involvement in the civil disobedience.”The trial court denied the anti-SLAPP motion, ruling that Action failed to show that the complaint challenged protected activity. The court of appeal affirmed. Claims alleging that an advocacy organization is vicariously liable for a third party’s illegal conduct may be subject to a demurrer or other summary challenge, but they cannot be stricken under the anti-SLAPP statute unless the organization’s alleged liability is premised on constitutionally protected activity. The only fair reading of the complaint is that the wrong on which the claims against Action are based was the organization’s alleged involvement in the illegal trespass, not its speech or petitioning activity. View "Golden Gate Land Holdings LLC v. Direct Action Everywhere" on Justia Law

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Petitioners, the National Association of Broadcasters, sought a review of an order (“the Order”) of the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”). The Order mandated that radio broadcasters check two federal sources to verify a sponsor’s identity.The DC Circuit vacated the Order holding that the FCC has no authority to impose that verification requirement. The court wrote that the FCC’s verification requirement ignores the limits that the statute places on broadcasters’ narrow duty of inquiry. It instead tells a broadcaster to seek information from two federal sources in addition to the two sources that the statute prescribes. That is not the law that Congress wrote. Here, Congress chose the means for broadcasters to obtain the information necessary to announce who paid for programming: Ask employees and sponsors. The FCC cannot alter Congress’s choice. View "National Association of Broadcasters v. FCC" on Justia Law

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Westfield amended its ordinance governing signs within city limits. Out of a stated concern for public safety and aesthetics, the ordinance requires those wishing to install a sign or billboard to apply for a permit. The ordinance exempts directional signs, scoreboards, particular flags, and notices on gas pumps and vending machines. It prohibits signs on poles and those advertising ideas, products, or services not offered on the same premises (off-premises signs). Those seeking to install a non-compliant sign may appeal the denial of a permit or, if necessary, request a variance. GEFT applied for a permit to build a large digital billboard on private property along U.S. Highway 31 in Westfield. Because of the proposed sign’s off-premises location and use of a pole, Westfield denied GEFT’s application and subsequent variance request.GEFT sued, 42 U.S.C. 1983. The Seventh Circuit previously upheld a restraining order compelling GEFT to cease all actions to install its proposed billboard pending the outcome of the litigation. The district court later granted GEFT summary judgment and permanently enjoined Westfield from enforcing many aspects of its ordinance. The Seventh Circuit remanded for consideration in light of the Supreme Court’s recent decision in “City of Austin v. Reagan National;” the fact that the city must read a sign to evaluate its conformity with regulations is not alone determinative of whether the regulation is content-based. View "GEFT Outdoors, LLC v. City of Westfield" on Justia Law

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In this public records case concerning attorneys fees, a majority of the Supreme Court adopted the principle that to "prevail in whole or insubstantial part" under Wis. Stat. 19.37(2)(a) means that the party must obtain a judicially sanctioned charge in the parties' legal relationship.In this case a records custodian voluntarily turned over a requested record. The court of appeals, which has previously employed a causal-nexus to determine the release of records was caused in some way by the litigation, recognized the limitations of a causation-based approach and considered instead whether the records were properly withheld. The Supreme Court held (1) to prevail in whole or in substantial part and thus to be entitled to attorney's fees means the party must obtain a judicially-sanctioned charge in the parties' legal relationship; and (2) even of the party that requests the records can pursue attorney's fees following release of the records at issue, an award of attorney's fees would not be appropriate in the instant case. View "Friends of Frame Park, U.A. v. City of Waukesha" on Justia Law

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In 2020, while wildfires swept through portions of Sonoma County, close to many homes, Sheriff Essick met with the County Board of Supervisors, fire officials, and members of the public in a streamed town hall meeting. Essick provided updates on an evacuation strategy and fielded questions from the public. When asked whether evacuated residents might be permitted to reenter mandatory evacuation zones to feed pets and animals left behind, Sheriff Essick refused to grant such permission, citing safety concerns. Sheriff Essick’s subsequent communications led to a harassment complaint. An independent investigator, Oppenheimer, conducted an inquiry and prepared a written report. A newspaper requested that the county release the complaint, the report, and various related documents) California Public Records Act (CPRA), Gov. Code 6250). The trial court denied Essick's request for a preliminary injunction barring the report's release. The court of appeal affirmed. The court rejected arguments that the Oppenheimer Report should be classified as confidential under CPRA exemptions for “peace officers” “personnel records,” or reports or findings relating to a complaint by a member of the public against a peace officer The county is not estopped from releasing the Oppenheimer Report nor bound to keep the results of the investigation confidential. Nothing in the Public Safety Officers Procedural Bill of Rights explicitly grants or mentions confidentiality from CPRA requests, Sonoma County is not Essick's “employing agency.” View "Essick v. County of Sonoma" on Justia Law