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The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court's order granting summary judgment for USA Funds, holding that the district court incorrectly determined that a reasonable jury could not hold USA Funds vicariously liable for the debt collectors' alleged Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) violations. The panel held that USA Funds was not per se vicariously liable under FCC orders. However, the panel held that, under federal common law, there were genuine issues of material fact as to whether USA Funds ratified the debt collectors' calling practices and thus had a principal-agent relationship with the debt collectors. View "Henderson v. United Student Aid Funds, Inc." on Justia Law

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Ella Bell, a member of the Alabama State Board of Education ("ASBE"), appealed a circuit court's dismissal of her complaint asserting claims of defamation, invasion of privacy, the tort of outrage, negligence and wantonness, and conspiracy against Cameron Smith, Advance Local Media, LLC ("ALM"), and the R Street Institute ("R Street"). In June 2017, Bell attended a special-called meeting of the ASBE concerning elementary- and secondary-education matters. Among other matters, the ASBE decided during the meeting not to renew the Alabama State Department of Education's contract with ACT Spire Solutions, which provided ACT Spire Assessments for the purpose of tracking academic progress of Alabama's public-school students in kindergarten through 12th grade. In the course of the discussion between ASBE members about that contract, Bell made some comments regarding special-education students and their effect on the aggregate test scores of public-school students throughout the state. In August, AL.com published an article written by Cameron Smith in which he addressed some of Bell's comments in the June 2017, ASBE meeting. At the conclusion of the article, AL.com included the following tagline: "Cameron Smith is a regular columnist for AL.com and vice president for the R Street Institute, a think tank in Washington, D.C." Immediately after the tagline, AL.com included the following statement: "Ella Bell's contact information may be found on the [ASBE] website" and contained an embedded link to the Web site of the ASBE. Following that statement, AL.com embedded a video of the discussion by ASBE members, which included Bell's comments that Smith addressed in the article. Bell alleged Smith made statements that he knew were false about Bell's comments in the June 2017 ASBE meeting. The Alabama Supreme Court found a fair reading of Smith's article revealed it to be an expression of opinion that did not mislead readers about the content of Bell's actual statements, it was not necessary for the circuit court to wait until the summary-judgment stage to dispose of the claims against Smith, ALM, and R Street. Therefore, the circuit court did not err in dismissing Bell's defamation suit. View "Bell v. Smith" on Justia Law

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A student approached Professor Laker, claiming that the department chair, Aptekar, had harassed her. The student brought a formal Title IX complaint. An investigator concluded that Aptekar had sexually harassed the student. Aptekar was disciplined but was allowed to remain as department chair for several weeks. Aptekar was later placed on paid leave. Laker claims that the University and certain administrators, including McVey, covered up prior student complaints about Aptekar. In February 2016, various administrators received an e-mail from the student who had originally filed the Title IX complaint, stating she was experiencing stress from continuing to see Aptekar. The University then investigated Laker based on complaints of “inspiring students to come forward to report sexual and racial harassment by Aptekar.” Laker sued, alleging defamation and retaliation The defendants filed an anti-SLAPP (strategic lawsuit against public participation) motion to strike, Code of Civil Procedure 425.16. The court of appeal reversed the denial of the motion as to defamation. Statements Laker identified as defamatory were part of the protected activity of the Aptekar investigation. On remand, the trial court is directed to strike certain language and the claims it supports from the retaliation claim: “publishing false and defamatory statements about Laker to punish him for his ongoing efforts to protect SJSU students from sexual harassment by Aptekar, with the intent of scapegoating Laker as the person who had failed to report Aptekar’s misconduct.” View "Laker v. Board of Trustees of the California State University" on Justia Law

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After a rally for then-presidential candidate Trump, the Chicago Tribune newspaper posted a photograph on Twitter of a woman at the rally, wearing a Trump T-shirt, and giving a Nazi salute. A Twitter user posted that photograph, with a photograph of Boulger, with the false statement, “The ‘Trump Nazi’ is Portia Boulger, who runs the Women for Bernie Sanders Twitter account. It’s another media plant.” The actor and producer James Woods tweeted the same pictures, adding: Woods had more than 350,000 Twitter followers. News outlets identified the woman in the Nazi salute photograph as Peterson. Woods instead tweeted a follow-up: “Various followers have stated that the Nazi Salute individual and the #Bernie campaign woman are NOT the same person.” Boulger requested a retraction. Woods deleted the tweet and posted: “I have an opportunity to clarify something I challenged immediately when it hit Twitter. Portia A. Boulger was NOT the ‘Nazi salute lady.’” and ” “Though she supports @BernieSanders, I am happy to defend her from abuse. I only wish his supporters would do the same.” Boulger “received hundreds of obscene and threatening messages, including death threats.” Boulger sued for defamation and invasion of privacy under Ohio law. The district court extended the service deadline to August 7, Woods filed an answer on June 7, asserting insufficient service of process. The district court found that Woods waived his jurisdictional defenses but granted Woods judgment on the pleadings. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, noting the ambiguity of Woods’s tweet. Because Woods’s tweet could reasonably be read to have an innocent meaning, under the innocent construction rule the tweet, as a matter of law, is not actionable. Woods’s actions waived the jurisdictional issue. View "Boulger v. Woods" on Justia Law

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In an action filed by the government to enjoin the vertical merger between AT&T and Time Warner under Section 7 of the Clayton Act, the DC Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of the government's request for a permanent injunction. At issue on appeal was the district court's findings on its increased leverage theory whereby costs for Turner Broadcasting System's content would increase after the merger, principally through threats of long-term "blackouts" during affiliate negotiations. The court held that the government failed to clear the first hurdle in meeting its burden of showing that the proposed merger was likely to increase Turner Broadcasting's bargaining leverage. Furthermore, the government's objections that the district court misunderstood and misapplied economic principles and clearly erred in rejecting the quantitative model were unpersuasive. In this case, the government offered no comparable analysis of data for prior vertical mergers in the industry that showed "no statistically significant effect on content prices" as defendants had. Additionally, the government's expert opinion and modeling predicting such increases failed to take into account Turner Broadcasting System's post-litigation irrevocable offers of no-blackout arbitration agreements, which a government expert acknowledged would require a new model. The court also held that the evidence indicated that the industry had become dynamic in recent years with the emergence of distributors of only on-demand content, such as Netflix and Hulu. View "United States v. AT&T, Inc." on Justia Law

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In 2011, Richmond issued the city's first medical marijuana collective permit to RCCC. Other permits were later issued to the defendants. The ordinance governing the permits was amended in 2014, to reduce the number of dispensary permits from six to three, and to provide that if a permitted dispensary did not open within six months after the issuance of a permit, the permit would become void. RCCC lost its permit. RCCC sued, claiming that defendants, acting in concert, encouraged and paid for community opposition to RCCC’s applications and purchased a favorably zoned property. Defendants filed an anti-SLAPP motion to strike, Code of Civil Procedure section 425.16, which provides that a claim 'arising from any act of that person in furtherance of the person’s right of petition or free speech ... in connection with a public issue shall be subject to a special motion to strike," unless the court determines that the plaintiff has established a probability of success on the merits. One defendant admitted: “Our group declared war on RCCC. We conspired to prevent RCCC from getting any property in Richmond.“ The court ultimately determined that the defendants failed to show how the allegations were protected activity and denied the anti-SLAPP motion. The court of appeal affirmed, stating that the appeal had no merit and will delay the plaintiff’s case and cause him to incur unnecessary attorney fees. View "Richmond Compassionate Care Collective v. 7 Stars Holistic Foundation, Inc." on Justia Law

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In regulating the practice of engineering, Mississippi restricts the use of the term “engineer.” Express operates automotive service centers in Mississippi and other states under the Tire Engineers mark. The Mississippi Board of Licensure for Professional Engineers & Surveyors informed Express that the name Tire Engineers violated Miss. Code 73-13-39 and requested that it change its company advertisement name. Express sought a declaratory judgment, citing Express’s “rights of commercial free speech guaranteed by the First Amendment”; and “rights under preemptive federal trademark law” under 15 U.S.C. 1051–1127. The district court granted the Board summary judgment. The Fifth Circuit reversed. The Board’s decision violates the First Amendment’s commercial speech protections. Because its essential character is not deceptive, Tire Engineers is not inherently misleading. The name, trademarked since 1948, apparently refers to the work of mechanics using their skills “not usu[ally] considered to fall within the scope of engineering” to solve “technical problems” related to selecting, rotating, balancing, and aligning tires. Nor is the name actually misleading. Because the name is potentially misleading, the Board’s asserted interests are substantial but the record does not support the need for a total ban on the name. Other states with similar statutes have not challenged the use of the trademark and the Board did not address why less-restrictive means, such as a disclaimer, would not accomplish its goal. View "Express Oil Change, L.L.C. v. Mississippi Board of Licensure for Professional Engineers & Surveyors" on Justia Law

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Cobb and Gwinnett Counties, Georgia, sued telephone companies for their failure to collect and remit to the Counties a charge imposed on subscribers to offset the cost of 911 services. The telephone companies raised various defenses to the Counties’ suits, including that the 911 charge was a tax that the Counties were not allowed to collect by a lawsuit like this one. The trial court rejected that argument and allowed the cases to proceed, but the Court of Appeals vacated that aspect of the trial court’s ruling and remanded because further development of the record was needed to determine whether the charge was a tax. The Georgia Supreme Court concluded the charge was indeed a tax regardless of more factual development, and the Counties lacked legal authority to collect that tax in this lawsuit. View "BellSouth Telecommunications, LLC v. Cobb County et al." on Justia Law

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Scabby the Rat is a giant, inflatable balloon that is associated with labor disputes. After the Union learned that a masonry company working at Kolosso Toyota in Grand Chute, was not paying area standard wages, it engaged in informational picketing and to set up a 12-foot Scabby in the median across from the dealer, along the frontage road for a major local thoroughfare. The Code Enforcement Officer required that the Union remove Scabby as violating the Sign Ordinance. The Union filed suit, arguing that the ordinance distinguished among signs based on content. The district court rejected the suit on summary judgment. The Town amended its Code. On remand, the district court held that the case was not moot because the Union was seeking damages for having to use greater resources to maintain the protest. The court noted that the likelihood of recurrence theory was not available because of the Code amendment and rejected the claims on the merits. The Seventh Circuit agreed that claims based on the former ordinance were not moot, despite the fact that construction was complete and that ordinance did not discriminate on the basis of content. It was narrowly tailored to meet its stated purpose—banning anything on the public right-of-way that might obstruct vision or distract passing drivers. Whatever dispute may exist over the new law is not ripe. View "Construction and General Laborers' Union Number 330 v. Town of Grand Chute" on Justia Law

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Petitioners challenged the FCC's adoption of two limitations to programs that make voice and broadband services more available and affordable for low-income consumers. Petitioners argued that the limitations limited the enhanced Tribal Lifeline subsidy to services provided by eligible telecommunications carriers that utilize their own fixed or mobile wireless facilities, excluding carriers that resell services provided over other carriers' facilities (Tribal Facilities Requirement). Second, it limited the enhanced Tribal Lifeline subsidy to residents of "rural" areas on Tribal lands (Tribal Rural Limitation). The DC Circuit granted the petition for review, holding that the Commission's adoption of these two limitations was arbitrary and capricious by not providing a reasoned explanation for its change of policy that is supported by record evidence. In this case, by adopting the Tribal Facilities Requirement, the Commission's decision failed to consider the exodus of facilities-based providers; did not point to evidence that banning resellers from the Tribal Lifeline program would promote network buildout; failed to analyze the impact of the facilities requirement on Tribal residents who currently rely on wireless resellers; and ignored that the Commission's decision was a fundamental change that adversely affects the access and affordability of service for residents of Tribal lands. Likewise, by adopting the Tribal Rural Limitation, the Commission failed to consider the impact on service access and affordability. Finally, the court held that non-harmless procedural defects also existed. View "National Lifeline Association v. FCC" on Justia Law