Justia Communications Law Opinion Summaries

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The Miller Trust is the successor owner of property previously owned by spouses Jack (now deceased) and Helen. The trustees sued previous owners including the Estate of Jack Miller and a lessee, DuBois, seeking redress for environmental contamination that originated from a dry cleaning business that operated on the property in 1956-1985. DuBois filed a counterclaim. Zurich determined it had a duty to defend and retained counsel to represent the Estate. The trustees tendered the Dubois counterclaim for defense, asserting that they were additional insureds under the Estate's Zurich policies. Zurich agreed subject to an extensive reservation of rights but denied the trustees' request for independent counsel based on conflicts of interest. The trustees sued Zurich in state court, alleging breach of the contract and of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing. Zurich unsuccessfully filed an "anti-SLAPP" (strategic lawsuit against public participation) special motion to dismiss, Code of Civil Procedure 425.16, asserting that the claims “arise from allegations about the conduct of attorneys representing Zurich’s insured in the” federal action and that the trustees could not demonstrate a probability of prevailing because that conduct was protected by the litigation privilege. The court of appeal affirmed, in favor of the trustees. Zurich met its burden of demonstrating the applicability of the anti-SLAPP statute but the trustees met their burden of demonstrating a probability of prevailing on the merits. A bad faith action can be subject to the anti-SLAPP statute where the basis for liability is judicial communications. View "Miller Marital Deduction Trust v. Zurich American Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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Defendant and Matthew lived together along with her children and shared an iCloud account. Matthew was aware of this data-sharing arrangement but did not disable it. Text messages between Matthew and the victim, who was a neighbor, appeared on defendant’s iPad. Some of the text messages included nude photographs of the victim. Matthew and the victim were aware that defendant had received the pictures and text messages. Defendant and Matthew broke up. Defendant wrote a letter detailing her version of the break-up and attached four of the naked pictures of the victim and copies of the text messages. Matthew’s cousin received the letter and informed Matthew., Matthew contacted the police. The victim stated that the pictures were private and only intended for Matthew but acknowledged that she was aware that Matthew had shared an iCloud account with defendant. Defendant was charged with nonconsensual dissemination of private sexual images, 720 ILCS 5/11-23.5(b). The circuit court found section 11-23.5(b) an unconstitutional content-based restriction. The Illinois Supreme Court reversed. The court declined to find “revenge porn” categorically exempt from First Amendment protection, concluded that the statute is a content-neutral time, place, and manner restriction, and applied intermediate scrutiny. Stating that First Amendment protections are less rigorous where matters of purely private significance are at issue, the court found that the statute serves a substantial governmental interest in protecting individual privacy rights and does not burden substantially more speech than necessary. View "People v. Austin" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals granting the writ of mandamus sought by Appellant concerning certain public records Appellant had requested but denied the writ concerning others, holding that because Appellant did not comply with Ohio Rev. Code 149.43(B)(8) Cleveland Police Forensic Laboratory (CPFL) had no clear legal duty to produce the records identified in the first part of Appellant's request. The court of appeals denied the writ as to the first part of Appellant's request, determining that Appellant had not obtained court approval before requesting public records concerning a criminal investigation or prosecution, as he was required to do under Ohio Rev. Code 149.43(B)(8). The court noted that section 149.43(B) did not apply to the second part of Appellant's request, which did not seek records concerning a criminal investigation or prosecution. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that because Appellant did not obtain court approval as required by section 149.43(B)(8), the court of appeals properly denied the first part of his request. View "State ex rel. Ellis v. Cleveland Police Forensic Laboratory" on Justia Law

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The DC Circuit declined to vacate the FCC's 2018 Order in its entirety, which classified broadband internet access services as an information service under Title I of the Communications Act of 1934, as amended by the Telecommunications Act of 1996. Specifically, the 2018 Order classified broadband internet as an "information service," and mobile broadband as a "private mobile service." In the Order, the Commission adopted transparency rules intended to ensure that consumers have adequate data about Internet Service Providers' network practices, and the Commission applied a cost-benefit analysis, concluding that the benefits of a market-based, "light-touch" regime for Internet governance outweighed those of common carrier regulation under Title II. The court held, under the guidance of National Cable & Telecomms. Ass'n v. Brand X Internet Servs., 545 U.S. 967, 980–981 (2005), that the Commission permissibly classified broadband Internet access as an "information service" by virtue of the functionalities afforded by DNS and caching. The court also held that, even though petitioners' reading of a functional equivalence in 47 U.S.C. 332(d)(3) was not foreclosed by the statute, the agency's interpretation of that term, and its application to mobile broadband, were reasonable and merit Chevron deference. Furthermore, the court held that the Commission's rationales in favor of its reading of Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act was reasonable, and agreed that the transparency rule was authorized by 47 U.S.C. 257. Therefore, the court upheld the 2018 Order with two exceptions. The court held that the Commission has not shown legal authority to issue its Preemption Directive, which would have barred states from imposing any rule or requirement that the Commission "repealed or decided to refrain from imposing" in the Order or that is "more stringent" than the Order. Accordingly, the court vacated that portion of the Order. The court also remanded the Order to the agency on three discrete issues regarding public safety, pole attachments, and the Lifeline Program. View "Mozilla Corp. v. FCC" on Justia Law

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The Teamsters Union represents skilled crafts employees at UCLA and UCSD and was campaigning to unionize University of California Davis (UCD) employees. Teamsters distributed a flyer making statements about the impact that unionizing had upon the skilled crafts employees at UCLA and UCSD. In response, Regents distributed an “HR Bulletin,” stating: “the University is neutral on the issue of unionization” and that UCLA and UCSD employees had been in extensive contract negotiations, which had the effect of freezing salaries for several years. The flier included favorable statements about UCD salaries, benefits, and grievance procedures. Teamsters filed suit, citing Government Code 16645.6, which prohibits a public employer from using state funds to “assist, promote, or deter union organizing.” Regents filed an "anti-SLAPP" special motion to strike (Code of Civil Procedure 425.16) arguing that the complaint arose from protected conduct: a statement made in a place open to the public in connection with an issue of public interest; that Teamsters could not demonstrate a probability of prevailing on its claim because the action was preempted by the exclusive jurisdiction of the Public Employment Relations’ Board (PERB); and that nothing in section 11645.6 prohibited noncoercive speech. The court of appeal affirmed the denial of the anti-SLAPP motion. PERB had exclusive jurisdiction over unfair labor practices. The bulletin was not alleged to be an unfair labor practice. The bulletin could be construed as an attempt to influence the employees, so Teamsters had a reasonable probability of prevailing on its section 16645.6 claim. View "Teamsters Local 2010 v. Regents of the University of California" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals concluding that the circuit court had jurisdiction in this matter and denying a writ of prohibition preventing the circuit court from adjudicating an action filed by the Lexington Herald-Leader, holding that, as a matter of law, the circuit court had subject-matter jurisdiction over the underlying action filed by the Herald-Leader. In the underlying action, the Herald-Leader sought judicial review of the determination of the Kentucky Legislative Research Commission (LRC) that certain records requested by the Herald-Leader were not subject to disclosure under Kentucky's Open Records Act. Appellants, acting co-directors of the LRC, sought a writ of prohibition preventing the circuit court from adjudicating the action, asserting that the General Assembly had not granted the circuit court subject-matter jurisdiction to hear the merits of Herald-Leader's claims. The court of appeals denied the writ. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the circuit court had subject-matter jurisdiction to adjudicate the underlying case arising from the Herald-Leader's legislative records request; and (2) the trial court did not lack jurisdiction based on the separation of powers doctrine. View "Harrison v. Hon. Phillip J. Shepherd" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court denied the Cincinnati Enquirer's request for a writ of mandamus but granted an award of attorney fees and court costs, holding that the City of Cincinnati's redactions to body-camera footage were proper but that the Enquirer was entitled to reasonable attorney fees and court costs. The Enquirer requested public records, including body-camera footage taken by police officers' body cameras during the arrest of two men. The City denied the records request, and the Enquirer filed this original action for a writ of mandamus. The Supreme Court granted an alternative writ of mandamus and ordered the City to submit the body-camera videos to the court under seal. The City complied with the directive. Thereafter, the City provided the body-camera footage to the Enquirer but redacted the videos to obscure the faces of plainclothes officers who appeared in the footage. The Supreme Court concluded that the Enquirer was not entitled to a writ of mandamus because the City provided the requested videos and because the redactions were proper. However, the Court granted the Enquirer's request for reasonable attorney fees and costs. View "State ex rel. Cincinnati Enquirer v. Cincinnati" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals denying Appellant's request for a writ of mandamus to compel the Toledo Correctional Institution (TCI) to produce "all interoffice communications and emails" related to Appellant's efforts to obtain size-12EEE boots, holding that the court of appeals correctly rejected Appellant's mandamus claim. In denying relief, the court of appeals determined that Appellant failed to plead facts with sufficient specificity to determine whether the issuance of a writ of mandamus was warranted. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Appellant failed to show that TCI possessed any records responsive to Appellant's request, and therefore, Appellant did not establish a legal right to the production of any records or show that TCI had a legal duty to produce any records. View "State ex rel. Alford v. Toledo Correctional Institution" on Justia Law

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A Downers Grove ordinance limits the size and location of signs. Leibundguth claimed that it violated the First Amendment because its exceptions were unjustified content discrimination. The ordinance does not require permits for holiday decorations, temporary signs for personal events such as birthdays, “[n]oncommercial flags,” or political and noncommercial signs that do not exceed 12 square feet, “[m]emorial signs and tablets.” The Seventh Circuit upheld the ordinance. Leibundguth is not affected by the exceptions. Leibundguth’s problems come from the ordinance’s size and surface limits: One is painted on a wall, which is prohibited; another is too large; a third wall has two signs that vastly exceed the limit of 159 square feet for Leibundguth’s building. The signs would fare no better if they were flags or carried a political message. A limit on the size and presentation of signs is a standard time, place, and manner rule. The Supreme Court has upheld aesthetic limits that justified without reference to the content or viewpoint of speech, serve a significant government interest, and leave open ample channels for communication. The Village gathered evidence that signs painted on walls tend to deteriorate faster than other signs. Many people believe that smaller signs are preferable. Absent content or viewpoint discrimination, that aesthetic judgment supports the legislation, which leaves open ample ways to communicate. View "Leibundguth Storage & Van Service, Inc. v. Village of Downers Grove" on Justia Law

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Under the Communications Act of 1934, 47 U.S.C. 151, the Federal Communications Commission had rules governing ownership of broadcast media to promote “competition, diversity, and localism.” The 1996 Telecommunications Act, Section 202(h) requires the Commission to review those rules regularly to “determine whether any of such rules are necessary in the public interest.” The Third Circuit has ruled on previous reviews. Following a remand, the Commission failed to complete its 2010 review cycle before the start of the 2014 cycle. The Third Circuit found the FCC had unreasonably delayed action and remanded several issues concerning the broadcast ownership rules and diversity initiatives. The Commission then substantially changed its approach to regulation of broadcast media ownership, issuing an order that retained almost all of its existing rules, effectively abandoning its long-running efforts to change those rules since the first round of litigation. The Commission then changed course, granting petitions for rehearing and repealing or otherwise scaling back most of those same rules. It also created a new “incubator” program designed to help new entrants into the broadcast industry. The Third Circuit vacated and remanded most of the Commission’s actions. Although some of those actions, including the incubator program, were not unreasonable, the Commission did not adequately consider the effect its sweeping rule changes will have on ownership of broadcast media by women and racial minorities. View "Prometheus Radio Project v. Federal Communications Commission" on Justia Law