Justia Communications Law Opinion Summaries

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Oakland entered into agreements with OBOT for the development of the former Oakland Army Base. The project was to include a bulk commodity shipping terminal for products, including coal. When the subject of coal became public, it activated interest groups, ultimately leading to an ordinance banning coal handling and storage in the city and a resolution applying the ordinance to the terminal. A federal court held that the resolution was a breach of the OBOT agreements, and enjoined Oakland from relying on the resolution. Friction between OBOT and Oakland continued. OBOT sued, alleging breach of contract and tort claims.The city filed a demurrer, then a special motion to strike (SLAPP motion, Code of Civil Procedure 425.16) that sought to strike “in part” the complaint. The SLAPP motion was heard with other matters. The hearing dealt primarily with the demurrer, which the court overruled in most part, and sustained in part with leave to amend. Days later, the court “denied without prejudice” the SLAPP motion, describing it as “premature” in light of the amended complaint to come.The court of appeal determined that the SLAPP motion has no merit because the complaint is not based on protected activity and remanded with instructions to deny the motion on the merits. The essence of the complaint arose from Oaklands’s acts or omissions in breach of its agreements, its refusal to cooperate, and its tortious conduct. View "Oakland Bulk and Oversized Terminal, LLC v. City of Oakland" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court denied Relator's requested writ of mandamus seeking to compel Respondent to produce a document pursuant to a public records request and to pay statutory damages and court costs, holding that Respondent provided a complete response to Relator's public records request.In addition to Relator's mandamus petition and request for damages and court costs, Relator filed unopposed motions seeking leave to amend his complaint and leave to submit additional facts. The Supreme Court denied the writ, both motions, and the requests for statutory damages and court costs, holding (1) Relator did not show that Respondent failed to fulfill any of her obligations as a public-records custodian; (2) Defendant was not entitled to an award of court costs or statutory damages; and (3) both motions for leave are denied. View "State ex rel. McDougald v. Sehlmeyer" on Justia Law

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The Center for Investigative Reporting sought a permanent injunction that would require the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) to run an advertisement on the inside of SEPTA buses. The advertisement promotes the Center’s research on racial disparities in the home mortgage lending market. SEPTA rejected the advertisement under two provisions of its 2015 Advertising Standards, which prohibit advertisements that are political in nature or discuss matters of public debate.The Third Circuit reversed the district court and ordered injunctive and declaratory relief. The challenged provisions of the 2015 Standards violate the First Amendment; they are incapable of reasoned application. The court noted the absence of guidelines cabining SEPTA’s General Counsel’s discretion in determining what constitutes a political advertisement and that the Center had demonstrated at least some instances of arbitrary decision-making. View "Center for Investigative Reporting v. Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority" on Justia Law

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Royal employed Kraft and Matthews (Defendants) in its sales team. Royal’s employee handbook prohibited using company equipment for personal activities; unauthorized use, retention, or disclosure of any of Royal’s resources or property; and sending or posting trade secrets or proprietary information outside the organization. Royal’s “GPS Tracking Policy” stated, “[e]mployees may not disable or interfere with the GPS (or any other) functions on a company-issued cell phone,” nor may employees “remove any software, functions or apps.” The Defendants resigned to become employed with one of Royal’s competitors. Royal discovered that, shortly before his resignation, Kraft forwarded from his Royal email account to his personal one quotes for Royal customers and Royal paystubs; contacted a Royal customer through Royal’s email server to ask the customer to send “all the new vendor info” to Kraft’s personal email account; then deleted and reinstalled the operating system on his company-issued laptop, rendering its data unrecoverable. Matthews did much the same and announced her resignation on social media, sharing a link to the song, “You Can Take This Job and Shove It.”Royal sued, citing the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA), 18 U.S.C. 1030, which refers to one who “intentionally accesses a computer without authorization or exceeds authorized access, and thereby obtains . . . information from any protected computer.” The district court concluded that the Defendants did not “exceed[]” their “authorized access,” under CFAA. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. While their conduct might violate company policy, state law, perhaps another federal law, the employees were authorized to access the information in question. View "Royal Truck & Trailer Sales & Service, Inc. v. Kraft" on Justia Law

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International, an outdoor advertising company, sought to erect digital billboards in two separate locations within the City of Troy. International's permit and variance applications were denied. International filed suit (42 U.S.C. 1983), alleging that the ordinance granted unfettered discretion and contained unconstitutional content-based restrictions as it exempted from permit requirements certain categories of signs, such as flags and “temporary signs.” During the litigation, Troy amended the Ordinance.The Sixth Circuit remanded. The original Ordinance imposed a prior restraint because the right to display a sign that did not come within an exception as a flag or as a “temporary sign” depended on obtaining either a permit or a variance. The standards for granting a variance contained multiple vague, undefined criteria, such as “public interest,” “general purpose and intent,” “adversely affect[ing],” and “hardship.” Even meeting these criteria did not guarantee a variance; the Board retained discretion to deny it. The amendment, however, rendered the action for declaratory and injunctive relief moot. The severability of the variance provisions rendered moot its claim for damages. The court reinstated a claim that the ordinance imposed content-based restrictions without a compelling government interest for reconsideration under the correct standard. A regulation of commercial speech that is not content-neutral is still subject to strict scrutiny. View "International Outdoor, Inc. v. City of Troy" on Justia Law

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The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment against Shkelzen Berisha, the son of the former Prime Minister of Albania, who alleges that he was defamed in a book that accused him of being involved in an elaborate arms-dealing scandal in the early 2000s. Guy Lawson wrote the book at issue, called Arms and the Dudes: How Three Stoners from Miami Beach Became the Most Unlikely Gunrunners in History, which tells the supposedly true story of three young Miami, Florida, men who became international arms dealers. Lawson also sold the movie rights to Warner Brothers, which turned the story into the 2016 major motion picture War Dogs, starring Jonah Hill and Miles Teller.After determining that the district court correctly applied the heightened defamation standard for claims brought by public figures, the court held that the district court did not err in finding that there was insufficient evidence to support Berisha's claim that defendants acted with actual malice. The court also held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying Berisha's motion to compel where the employee-equivalent doctrine, which extends the attorney-client privilege beyond individuals who control the corporation to include other employees with whom the lawyer must consult in order to advise the company, would likely shield from discovery the communications between Lawson and Simon & Schuster's attorneys. Finally, the court held that Berisha presents no grounds upon which the court could conclude that the district court abused its discretion in denying him an additional and last-minute extension of the discovery deadline. View "Berisha v. Lawson" on Justia Law

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The defendants immigrated to the U.S. from Somalia years ago and lived in Southern California. They were convicted of sending or conspiring to send, $10,900 to Somalia to support a foreign terrorist organization, 18 U.S.C. 2339, and money laundering.The Ninth Circuit affirmed the convictions. The government may have violated the Fourth Amendment and did violate the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), 50 U.S.C. 1861, when it collected the telephony metadata of millions of Americans, including at least one of the defendants, but suppression was not warranted in this case because the metadata collection did not taint the evidence introduced at trial. The court’s review of the classified record confirmed that the metadata did not and was not necessary to support the probable cause showing for the FISA warrant application. The Fourth Amendment requires notice to a criminal defendant when the prosecution intends to enter into evidence or otherwise use or disclose information obtained or derived from surveillance of that defendant conducted pursuant to the government’s foreign intelligence authorities, but in this case, any lack of notice did not prejudice the defendants. Evidentiary rulings challenged by the defendants did not, individually or cumulatively, impermissibly prejudice the defense and sufficient evidence supported the convictions. View "United States v. Moalin" on Justia Law

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Herman regularly attends Los Angeles and Pasadena city meetings and has been removed more than 100 times. Herman At a public hearing on April 17, 2019, Herman said, “Fuck" Los Angeles Deputy City Attorney Fauble and gave Fauble’s address. At an April 29 meeting, Herman, in a threatening manner, again disclosed Fauble’s Pasadena address. Herman also submitted speaker cards; one had a swastika drawn on it, another had a drawing of a Ku Klux Klan hood with figures that were either an “SS” or lightning bolts above Fauble’s name. On May 1, Herman attended another meeting and stated, “I’m going back to Pasadena and fuck with you.”The city sought a workplace violence restraining order under Code of Civil Procedure 527.8, precluding Herman from harassing, threatening, contacting, or stalking Fauble or disclosing his address, and requiring Herman to stay at least 10 yards away from Fauble while attending meetings. At a hearing, Herman explained that he made the statements because he was upset about a change in the council rules and with his own homelessness. He denied intending to threaten Fauble. The court of appeal affirmed the entry of a restraining order, rejecting a First Amendment challenge. There was substantial evidence that Herman’s threatening conduct was reasonably likely to recur and that Herman’s statements would have placed a reasonable person in fear for his safety, regardless of Herman’s subjective intent. The credible threats of violence were not constitutionally protected. View "City of Los Angeles v. Herman" on Justia Law

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After unfavorable comments were posted about Test Prep, the company and its owner filed suit against several defendants, including Allnurses and its founder and a user. Test Prep alleged claims sounding in defamation, contract, and fraud, as well as other theories of liability asserting that Allnurses had induced users to post negative comments. The district court granted Allnurses' motion for judgment on the pleadings and dismissed the suit against the user for lack of personal jurisdiction.The court held that Allnurses was immunized under Section 203 of the Communications Decency Act from liability arising from the posts on the message board. The court held that Test Prep failed to plausibly allege that Allnurses was the "information content provider" of the posts at issue. In this case, the sum total of the complaint's factual allegations pleaded no more than a "sheer possibility" that Allnurses was wholly or partly responsible for creating or developing the posts made by the message board users. Furthermore, in the absence of any contractual relationship between Test Prep and Allnurses, there is no basis for the complaint's allegation that Allnurses had certain obligations to Test Prep including to take down defamatory or libelous posts. The court also held that an individual user plaintiff failed to plead facts sufficient to establish a breach of the terms of the service contract; the district court properly granted judgment in favor of Allnurses on the promissory estoppel claim; claims of fraud and claims based on other theories of liability rejected; the district court did not err in granting the user's motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction; and the district court did not err in granting Test Prep's motion to transfer the case. View "East Coast Test Prep LLC v. Allnurses.com, Inc." on Justia Law

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Federal law does not facially preempt California law governing universal service contributions from prepaid wireless providers. Federal law requires telecommunications providers, including wireless providers such as MetroPCS, to contribute to the federal Universal Service Fund, which helps provide affordable telecommunications access. California requires its own universal service contributions, adopting the Prepaid Mobile Telephony Services Surcharge Collection Act in 2014, which (prior to its recent expiration) governed the collection of surcharges from prepaid wireless customers. The CPUC issued resolutions implementing the Prepaid Act that required providers of prepaid services to use a method other than the three FCC recognized methods to determine the revenues generated by intrastate traffic that were subject to surcharge. MetroPCS filed suit challenging the CPUC's resolutions.The panel held that the expiration of the Prepaid Act did not cause this case to become moot and that the panel therefore has jurisdiction to reach the merits of MetroPCS's preemption claim. On the merits, the panel held that preemption is disfavored because there was a dual federal-state regulatory scheme and a history of state regulation in the area of intrastate telecommunications. In this case, the CPUC resolutions are not facially preempted by the Telecommunications Act and related FCC decisions. The panel rejected MetroPCS's argument that the resolutions conflict with the requirement of competitive neutrality by depriving prepaid providers (but not postpaid providers) of the "right" to calculate intrastate revenues in a way that avoids assessing the same revenues as federal contribution requirements. Furthermore, the panel rejected MetroPCS's argument that because prepaid providers are deprived of that "right," the resolutions are preempted regardless of the treatment of competing providers. Therefore, the panel reversed the district court's ruling in favor of MetroPCS and remanded for the district court to consider in the first instance MetroPCS's other challenges to the resolution. View "MetroPCS California, LLC v. Picker" on Justia Law