Justia Communications Law Opinion Summaries

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The case involves Capitol Broadcasting Company, McClatchy Company LLC, and James S. Farrin, P.C. (the plaintiffs) who sought access to certain accident reports from the City of Raleigh, the City of Salisbury, the City of Kannapolis, the North Carolina Department of Public Safety, and the North Carolina State Highway Patrol Department (the defendants). The plaintiffs claimed they were entitled to these reports under North Carolina state law. However, the defendants refused to release the reports, arguing that a federal privacy statute prohibited them from doing so. The plaintiffs then sought a declaratory judgment in federal court that the federal law did not apply.The case was initially heard in the United States District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina. The district court dismissed the plaintiffs' declaratory judgment action for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The court concluded that the plaintiffs' complaint failed to raise a federal question on its face, as the right the plaintiffs asserted was a state law right and the federal law was only relevant as a potential defense.The plaintiffs appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. The appellate court affirmed the district court's decision, agreeing that the plaintiffs' complaint failed to raise a federal question on its face. The court explained that the plaintiffs' claim was based on state law, and the federal law was only relevant as a potential defense. The court also rejected the plaintiffs' argument that the complaint presented a substantial question of federal law because it sought to assert their First Amendment rights. The court concluded that the First Amendment concerns were not sufficient to create federal question jurisdiction as they were not dispositive in resolving the core dispute of the interplay between the state law and the federal law. View "Capitol Broadcasting Company, Inc. v. City of Raleigh" on Justia Law

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This case revolves around the question of whether a search for internet-related evidence that extended to a previously unknown basement apartment was reasonable, even though the apartment was not specified in the warrant. The police had obtained a warrant to search a property after receiving information that child pornography had been downloaded to a particular IP address associated with that address. The property appeared to be a single-family home. However, during the execution of the warrant, the police encountered Kevin Matthew Dhyne, who lived in a basement apartment on the property and used the same internet access as the rest of the house. The police searched Dhyne’s apartment and found sexually explicit material involving children on his laptop.The trial court agreed with Dhyne's argument that the search violated the U.S. and Colorado constitutions because the warrant was not specific to his basement apartment. However, the court denied Dhyne’s motion to suppress the evidence, reasoning that even if the officers had not searched his apartment in conjunction with the original warrant, they would have executed the same search later that day under a warrant specific to the basement apartment, and the evidence would therefore have inevitably been discovered. Dhyne was convicted of two counts of sexual exploitation of a child.The Colorado Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s denial of the suppression motion, though it did so by upholding the search rather than by applying the inevitable discovery exception. The court of appeals agreed that for a multi-dwelling unit, separate dwellings normally require separate, specific warrants. However, the court justified the search of Dhyne’s apartment based on the shared use of the IP address.The Supreme Court of the State of Colorado affirmed the outcome, holding that the warrant's reference to the property's "[h]ouse, garage, and any outbuildings" was sufficiently specific because there were no outward indicators that the basement apartment existed. The court also held that the execution of the warrant was reasonable in this specific scenario, where the warrant was for all buildings on the property and the defendant told the police that he lived in the basement and used the IP address that provided grounds for the search. View "Dhyne v. People" on Justia Law

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The case involves Clayton Zellmer, who sued Meta Platforms, Inc. (formerly Facebook) for alleged violations of the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA). Zellmer, who never used Facebook, claimed that the company violated BIPA when it created a "face signature" from photos of him uploaded by his friends and failed to publish a written policy outlining its retention schedule for collected biometric data.The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Meta on Zellmer's claim under Section 15(b) of BIPA. The court reasoned that it would be practically impossible for Meta to comply with BIPA if it had to obtain consent from everyone whose photo was uploaded to Facebook before it could use its Tag Suggestions feature. The court also dismissed Zellmer's claim under Section 15(a) of BIPA for lack of standing, holding that Zellmer did not suffer a particularized injury.The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's decisions but on different grounds. The appellate court rejected the district court's reasoning for granting summary judgment, stating that BIPA's plain text applies to everyone whose biometric identifiers or information is held by Facebook. However, the court concluded that there was no material dispute of fact as to whether Meta violated BIPA's plain terms. The court found that face signatures, which are created from uploaded photos, cannot identify and therefore are not biometric identifiers or information as defined by BIPA. The court also affirmed the dismissal of Zellmer's claim under Section 15(a) of BIPA for lack of standing, agreeing with the district court that Zellmer did not suffer a particularized injury. View "ZELLMER V. META PLATFORMS, INC." on Justia Law

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John M. Burkman and Jacob A. Wohl were charged with bribing or intimidating voters, conspiracy to bribe or intimidate voters, and two counts of using a computer to commit a crime. The charges stemmed from a robocall they designed and financed in 2020, which targeted voters in Michigan areas with significant Black populations. The robocall claimed that voting by mail would result in the voter’s personal information becoming part of a public database used by the police to track down old warrants, by credit card companies to collect debt, and potentially by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to track people for mandatory vaccines. The district court found probable cause to believe that the defendants had committed the charged offenses and bound them over for trial. The defendants moved to quash the bindovers, arguing that the robocall was not a “menace” or “other corrupt means or device” under the relevant statute and that the statute was unconstitutional. The circuit court denied the motions.The Michigan Supreme Court held that the Court of Appeals erred in determining that the defendants’ conduct fell within the term “menace” as used in the relevant statute. However, the Court of Appeals correctly concluded that the defendants’ conduct fell within the statutory catchall term “other corrupt means or device.” The Supreme Court also held that the defendants’ conduct was not excluded from constitutional free-speech protections under the true-threat exception, but erred by holding that the defendants’ conduct was excluded from constitutional free-speech protections under the speech-integral-to-criminal-conduct exception. The Supreme Court adopted a limiting construction of the statute’s catchall provision and remanded the case to the Court of Appeals for further proceedings. View "People v. Burkman" on Justia Law

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A graphic designer, Cynthia Foss, filed a lawsuit against Marvic, Inc., Brady-Built, Inc., and Charter Communications, alleging copyright infringement. Foss claimed that Marvic and Brady-Built used a marketing brochure she created without her permission. She also sought a declaratory judgment that Charter Communications was not eligible for the Digital Millennium Copyright Act's safe-harbor defense.Previously, Foss had filed a similar lawsuit against Marvic alone, which was dismissed because she had not registered her copyright before filing the suit. This dismissal was affirmed by the First Circuit Court of Appeals. In the current case, the District Court dismissed Foss's copyright infringement claim against Marvic and Brady-Built on the grounds of claim preclusion, citing the dismissal of her earlier lawsuit. The court also dismissed her claim against Charter Communications for lack of jurisdiction and failure to state a plausible claim.The United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit vacated the dismissal of the copyright infringement claim against Marvic and Brady-Built. The court found that the dismissal of Foss's earlier lawsuit was not a "final judgment on the merits" for claim preclusion purposes. However, the court affirmed the dismissal of Foss's claim against Charter Communications for lack of jurisdiction. The court also vacated the District Court's alternative merits-based dismissal of Foss's claim against Charter Communications. The case was remanded for further proceedings. View "Foss v. Marvic" on Justia Law

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The case involves plaintiffs Christopher Calise and Anastasia Groschen, who alleged that they were harmed by fraudulent third-party advertisements posted on Meta Platforms, Inc.'s (commonly known as Facebook) website, in violation of Meta's terms of service. Meta claimed immunity from liability under § 230(c)(1) of the Communications Decency Act (CDA), which applies to a provider or user of an interactive computer service that a plaintiff seeks to treat, under a state law cause of action, as a publisher or speaker of information provided by another information content provider.The district court dismissed the plaintiffs' non-contract claims, ruling that they were barred by § 230(c)(1) of the CDA. The court also dismissed the plaintiffs' contract-related claims, holding that Meta's duty arising from its promise to moderate third-party advertisements was related to Meta's status as a "publisher or speaker" of third-party advertisements, and therefore § 230(c)(1) barred the plaintiffs' contract claims.On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of the plaintiffs' non-contract claims, agreeing that these claims derived from Meta's status as a "publisher or speaker" of third-party advertisements. However, the appellate court vacated the dismissal of the plaintiffs' contract-related claims, holding that Meta's duty arising from its promise to moderate third-party advertisements was unrelated to Meta's status as a "publisher or speaker" of third-party advertisements, and therefore § 230(c)(1) did not bar the plaintiffs' contract claims. The case was remanded for further proceedings. View "Calise v. Meta Platforms, Inc." on Justia Law

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A group of media organizations and reporters sought copies of law enforcement recordings of a march in Graham, North Carolina. The Superior Court granted their petition, but the Court of Appeals vacated the order, arguing that the trial court failed to determine the petitioners' eligibility to request copies of the recordings under the statute. The Court of Appeals also held that the trial court did not understand that it could place conditions or restrictions on the release of the recordings.The Supreme Court of North Carolina disagreed with the Court of Appeals' interpretation of the statute, stating that anyone may seek copies of law enforcement recordings under the provision invoked by the petitioners, so the trial court had no reason to question their eligibility. However, the Supreme Court agreed with the Court of Appeals that the trial court erroneously believed that it could not condition or restrict the release of the recordings.The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the decision of the Court of Appeals and remanded the case for further proceedings. The Supreme Court concluded that the trial court did not need to determine the petitioners' eligibility to request the recordings, but it did err in believing it could not place conditions or restrictions on the release of the recordings. View "In re The McClatchy Company, LLC" on Justia Law

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Tammy and James Rutledge filed a lawsuit against Pamela Menard and Randall Nappi, seeking to recover personal property. The Rutledges followed the instructions on Form CV-218, which was available on the Maine Judicial Branch's website, to serve the defendants. This form was created during the COVID-19 pandemic and instructed plaintiffs to prepare for a telephonic status conference as the first court event. However, by the time the Rutledges filed their lawsuit, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court had rescinded most of the pandemic management orders, and court proceedings had returned to an in-person format.The District Court (Bridgton, Malia, J.) dismissed the Rutledges' complaint with prejudice due to their failure to appear in person for a hearing. The Rutledges had mistakenly believed that the initial court proceeding would be a telephonic status conference, as per the instructions on Form CV-218. They appealed the decision, arguing that the court erred in dismissing their case with prejudice and denying their post-judgment motion to reopen the case or amend the judgment to a dismissal without prejudice.The Maine Supreme Judicial Court found that the District Court did not err in finding that the Rutledges failed to appear. However, it held that the dismissal with prejudice was too drastic a sanction given the circumstances. The court noted that the Judicial Branch's website continued to direct parties to Form CV-218, which no longer reflected current court practices, contributing to the Rutledges' mistaken belief. The court also noted that the Rutledges' nonappearance was neither deliberate nor the result of misconduct, and they made a sustained effort to remedy their error. The court vacated the judgment and remanded the case to the District Court for entry of a judgment of dismissal without prejudice. View "Rutledge v. Menard" on Justia Law

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The case revolves around an accident where the plaintiff, Daniel Bennett, was injured when his vehicle abruptly stopped after driving over a downed telecommunications line owned by Cox Communications of Louisiana (“Cox”). Bennett filed a lawsuit against several defendants, including Cox and Cable Man, Inc., a company contracted by Cox to maintain the line. Bennett alleged that both Cox and Cable Man were negligent in their handling of the line and their failure to properly train their employees.Cox, in response, invoked an indemnification agreement under their contract with Cable Man, requiring Cable Man to indemnify and defend Cox against any claims related to Cable Man's work. Cable Man refused the tender and filed an Exception of Prematurity, arguing that without a finding of liability or a judgment, the claim for indemnity was premature. The trial court denied the exception, but the Court of Appeal, First Circuit, reversed the trial court's ruling, finding Cox’s claim for indemnity to be premature.The Supreme Court of Louisiana, however, reversed the Court of Appeal's decision. The court held that a claim for indemnity raised during the pendency of the litigation and before a finding of liability is not premature. The court reasoned that this finding aligns with principles of judicial economy and efficiency, and the relevant Code of Civil Procedure articles pertaining to third party practice. The court clarified that while the right to collect on an indemnity agreement is determined upon judgment or finding of liability or loss, there is no prohibition on asserting a claim for indemnity in the same proceeding. The case was remanded for further proceedings. View "Bennett v. Demco Energy Services, LLC" on Justia Law

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The plaintiff, Marina Soliman, filed a lawsuit against Subway Franchisee Advertising Fund Trust, Ltd. ("Subway"), alleging that a marketing text message she received on her cell phone violated the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA). The text message was sent by an automated system using a pre-existing list of telephone numbers. Soliman argued that the text message constituted a call made using an automatic telephone dialing system or an artificial or prerecorded voice, both of which are prohibited under the TCPA.The United States District Court for the District of Connecticut dismissed Soliman's complaint. The court concluded that the TCPA only bars the use of a dialing system that randomly or sequentially generates telephone numbers, not a system that relies on a stored list of pre-existing telephone numbers. The court also held that the TCPA's prohibition on the use of an "artificial or prerecorded voice" did not apply to text messages.On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed the district court's decision. The appellate court agreed that the TCPA does not apply to a system that dials numbers from a pre-existing list, as such a system does not generate telephone numbers. The court also agreed that a text message does not constitute an "artificial voice" under the TCPA. The court's decision was based on the text of the TCPA, the context in which the words appear, and the Supreme Court's decision in Facebook, Inc. v. Duguid. View "Soliman v. Subway Franchisee Advertising Fund Trust, Ltd." on Justia Law