Justia Communications Law Opinion Summaries

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Space Exploration Holdings (SpaceX) applied for a license from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to operate 29,988 low-altitude non-geostationary orbit satellites for its second-generation Starlink system. The FCC conditionally approved the license for 7,500 satellites, citing the public interest in improving broadband access. The approval was contingent on SpaceX obtaining a favorable finding from the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) regarding compliance with power flux-density limits to prevent signal interference.DISH Network Corporation and the International Dark-Sky Association opposed the license. DISH argued that SpaceX's satellites would cause unacceptable interference and that the FCC unlawfully delegated its authority to the ITU. The FCC dismissed DISH's evidence, relying on SpaceX's self-certification and the ITU's eventual verification. The FCC also granted an interim waiver allowing SpaceX to begin operations before the ITU's finding, citing public interest. The International Dark-Sky Association argued that the FCC failed to conduct an environmental review as required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The FCC concluded that its regulations did not require such a review and denied the request.The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit reviewed the case. The court held that the FCC's decision to license SpaceX's satellites was lawful and reasonably explained. The court found that the FCC was not required to independently verify SpaceX's self-certification and that the interim waiver was justified by public interest considerations. The court also determined that the FCC did not unlawfully delegate its authority to the ITU, as the ITU's role was limited to fact gathering and compliance verification. Regarding the environmental review, the court held that the FCC reasonably concluded that SpaceX's mitigation efforts and the FAA's environmental assessment of rocket launches were sufficient to avoid significant environmental impacts.The court affirmed the FCC's order licensing SpaceX's Gen2 Starlink satellites. View "International Dark-Sky Association, Inc. v. Federal Communications Commission" on Justia Law

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The case involves Okello Chatrie, who was convicted for robbing a credit union in Virginia. The police, unable to identify the suspect from security footage and witness interviews, obtained a geofence warrant to access Google's Location History data. This data revealed that Chatrie's phone was in the vicinity of the bank during the robbery. Chatrie was subsequently indicted and pleaded not guilty, moving to suppress the evidence obtained via the geofence warrant.The district court denied Chatrie's motion to suppress, citing the good-faith exception to the exclusionary rule. Chatrie entered a conditional guilty plea and was sentenced to 141 months' imprisonment and 3 years' supervised release. He appealed, arguing that the geofence warrant violated his Fourth Amendment rights and that the fruits of the warrant should be suppressed.The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision. The court held that Chatrie did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in the two hours’ worth of Location History data voluntarily exposed to Google. Therefore, the government did not conduct a Fourth Amendment search when it obtained this information from Google. The court rejected Chatrie's argument that the geofence warrant violated his Fourth Amendment rights, stating that he voluntarily exposed his location information to Google by opting into Location History. The court also noted that the information obtained was far less revealing than that obtained in previous cases involving long-term surveillance. View "United States v. Chatrie" on Justia Law

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The case involves Robert Haggerty, a first-time offender who was indicted on three counts of receiving a visual depiction of a minor engaging in sexually explicit conduct, as well as one count of possessing such depictions. Haggerty admitted to communicating with undercover detectives posing as underage girls using online messaging platforms. A search of Haggerty's house and truck yielded two tablets containing a total of 97 still images and 9 videos of child sexual abuse material.The District Court applied multiple Guideline enhancements at sentencing, including a five-level enhancement under U.S.S.G. § 2G2.2(b)(7), which provides for a graduated enhancement scheme based on the number of "images" involved in a child-exploitation offense. Haggerty objected to the application of a five-level, number-of-images enhancement, arguing that the Guideline is unambiguous and does not include videos. The District Court overruled Haggerty’s objection and applied the five-level enhancement, calculating a total offense level of 32, which yielded an advisory Guideline range of 121 to 151 months in prison.The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit held that "image," in the moving picture or video context, unambiguously means "frame." Deference to the Commentary’s 75-images rule is therefore unwarranted. Instead, the number of frames comprising a moving picture or video will determine the specific sentencing enhancement that a District Judge must apply. The court vacated the District Court’s sentencing order and remanded for resentencing in a manner consistent with its holding. View "United States v. Haggerty" on Justia Law

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The case revolves around a dispute between Stanley Dickson, owner of several businesses, and Conlan Abu, a company that purchased the assets of one of Dickson's businesses, the Epicurean Group. After the sale, the relationship between the parties soured and they attempted to unwind the deal. During this period, Dickson's IT administrator, John Massey, preserved some emails from the accounts associated with the Epicurean Group for potential litigation. Conlan Abu filed a lawsuit alleging that Dickson and his accounting firm violated the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act and the Stored Communications Act by accessing these emails.The district court had previously ruled in favor of Dickson and his associates. It found that Massey, as the IT administrator, did not intentionally act without authorization or exceed his authorization when he accessed the email accounts using his own credentials. The court also found that Massey did not intentionally exceed his authorization under the Act, as he had no reason to know that his conduct was unauthorized.The United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision. The court held that Massey did not intentionally access the emails without authorization or exceed his authorization under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. The court also found that Massey did not intentionally exceed his authorization under the Stored Communications Act. The court concluded that Conlan Abu failed to show that Massey acted without authorization or intentionally exceeded his authorization, and therefore could not recover under either Act. View "Conlan Abu v. Dickson" on Justia Law

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In 2021, Florida and Texas enacted statutes regulating large social-media companies and other internet platforms. The laws curtailed the platforms' ability to engage in content moderation and required them to provide reasons to a user if they removed or altered her posts. NetChoice LLC, a trade association whose members include Facebook and YouTube, brought First Amendment challenges against the two laws. District courts in both states entered preliminary injunctions.The Eleventh Circuit upheld the injunction of Florida’s law, holding that the state's restrictions on content moderation trigger First Amendment scrutiny. The court concluded that the content-moderation provisions are unlikely to survive heightened scrutiny. The Fifth Circuit, however, disagreed and reversed the preliminary injunction of the Texas law. The court held that the platforms’ content-moderation activities are “not speech” at all, and so do not implicate the First Amendment.The Supreme Court of the United States vacated the judgments and remanded the cases, stating that neither the Eleventh Circuit nor the Fifth Circuit conducted a proper analysis of the facial First Amendment challenges to Florida and Texas laws regulating large internet platforms. The Court held that the laws interfere with protected speech, as they prevent the platforms from compiling the third-party speech they want in the way they want, thus producing their own distinctive compilations of expression. The Court also held that Texas's asserted interest in correcting the mix of viewpoints that major platforms present is not valid under the First Amendment. View "Moody v. NetChoice, LLC" on Justia Law

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The case involves XMission, a Utah-based internet service provider, and PureHealth Research, a Wyoming LLC that sells nutritional supplements online. XMission sued PureHealth in federal district court in Utah, alleging that PureHealth sent thousands of unwanted promotional emails to XMission’s customers in Utah, violating state and federal law. This resulted in increased server maintenance costs and customer complaints for XMission. PureHealth moved to dismiss the case for lack of specific personal jurisdiction, arguing it lacked sufficient contacts with Utah and the lawsuit did not “arise out of or relate to” its forum conduct. The district court granted the motion.The United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit reversed the district court's decision. The court found that PureHealth knowingly sent marketing emails to XMission’s customers in Utah, which constituted purposeful direction of its activities at residents of the forum state. The court also found that XMission’s claims arose out of or related to those activities. Therefore, the court concluded that Utah had specific personal jurisdiction over PureHealth. The case was remanded for further proceedings. View "XMission, LC v. PureHealth Research" on Justia Law

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Family Health Physical Medicine, LLC, an Ohio-based company, filed a lawsuit against Pulse8, LLC and Pulse8, Inc., Maryland-based companies. The dispute arose when Pulse8 sent a fax to Family Health inviting it to a free webinar on medical coding technology, a product that Pulse8 sells. Family Health claimed that this fax was an unsolicited advertisement and thus violated the federal Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA). Pulse8 argued that the fax did not qualify as an advertisement under the TCPA because the webinar was free.The United States District Court for the District of Maryland granted Pulse8's motion to dismiss the case, agreeing with Pulse8's argument that the fax did not qualify as an advertisement under the TCPA. Family Health appealed this decision to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.The Fourth Circuit Court disagreed with the lower court's decision. The court found that the fax did have a commercial component, as it was sent by a company that sells a product related to the subject of the webinar. The court concluded that the fax was being used to market Pulse8's product. The court also found that Family Health had plausibly alleged that accepting the invitation to the webinar would trigger future advertising. However, the court rejected Family Health's argument that the fax was an advertisement because it offered a chance to win a gift card in exchange for completing a survey. The court reversed the district court's judgment and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Family Health Physical Medicine, LLC v. Pulse8, LLC" on Justia Law

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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