Justia Communications Law Opinion Summaries

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Defendant entered a conditional guilty plea to possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, in violation of 18 U.S.C. Sections 922(g)(1), 924(a)(2). He appealed from the district court’s denial of his motion to suppress evidence of a firearm seized from his “fanny pack,” a small bag strapped around his waist. Defendant argued that the officers (1) lacked reasonable suspicion to stop him as he was walking at a fairground in Winston Salem, North Carolina, and (2) exceeded the scope of any permissible stop and frisk by placing him in handcuffs and by ultimately searching the fanny pack.   The Fourth Circuit affirmed, concluding that the district court did not err in denying the suppression motion. The officers had reasonable suspicion to think that Defendant, a convicted felon and gang member who had posted a recent incriminating statement on social media and whose residence had been the target of recent shootings, was engaged in criminal activity and was armed and dangerous. The court further concluded that the officers did not exceed the scope of the brief detention and frisk by handcuffing Defendant and, after feeling a hard object in his fanny pack, by opening the pack and seizing the firearm. Those actions were justified to ensure the safety of both the officers and other people nearby. View "US v. Chandler Gist-Davis" on Justia Law

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Golden Gate, which operates a Berkeley horse racing track, sued Action, an animal rights organization, and individuals who allegedly climbed over a fence surrounding the race track, lit incendiary devices that produced smoke, then lay down on the track with their arms connected using PVC to make removing them difficult. The trespassers prevented scheduled races. The complaint alleged trespass and intentional interference with prospective economic relations. The complaint alleged that “each of the defendants" was "the agent, co-conspirator, aider and abettor, employee, representative, co-venturer, and/or alter ego of each and every other defendant,” but did not specify the circumstances upon which Action’s alleged vicarious liability was based. Action responded by filing an anti-SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation, Code of Civil Procedure 425.16) motion, claiming it “had no involvement in the civil disobedience.”The trial court denied the anti-SLAPP motion, ruling that Action failed to show that the complaint challenged protected activity. The court of appeal affirmed. Claims alleging that an advocacy organization is vicariously liable for a third party’s illegal conduct may be subject to a demurrer or other summary challenge, but they cannot be stricken under the anti-SLAPP statute unless the organization’s alleged liability is premised on constitutionally protected activity. The only fair reading of the complaint is that the wrong on which the claims against Action are based was the organization’s alleged involvement in the illegal trespass, not its speech or petitioning activity. View "Golden Gate Land Holdings LLC v. Direct Action Everywhere" on Justia Law

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Petitioners, the National Association of Broadcasters, sought a review of an order (“the Order”) of the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”). The Order mandated that radio broadcasters check two federal sources to verify a sponsor’s identity.The DC Circuit vacated the Order holding that the FCC has no authority to impose that verification requirement. The court wrote that the FCC’s verification requirement ignores the limits that the statute places on broadcasters’ narrow duty of inquiry. It instead tells a broadcaster to seek information from two federal sources in addition to the two sources that the statute prescribes. That is not the law that Congress wrote. Here, Congress chose the means for broadcasters to obtain the information necessary to announce who paid for programming: Ask employees and sponsors. The FCC cannot alter Congress’s choice. View "National Association of Broadcasters v. FCC" on Justia Law

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Westfield amended its ordinance governing signs within city limits. Out of a stated concern for public safety and aesthetics, the ordinance requires those wishing to install a sign or billboard to apply for a permit. The ordinance exempts directional signs, scoreboards, particular flags, and notices on gas pumps and vending machines. It prohibits signs on poles and those advertising ideas, products, or services not offered on the same premises (off-premises signs). Those seeking to install a non-compliant sign may appeal the denial of a permit or, if necessary, request a variance. GEFT applied for a permit to build a large digital billboard on private property along U.S. Highway 31 in Westfield. Because of the proposed sign’s off-premises location and use of a pole, Westfield denied GEFT’s application and subsequent variance request.GEFT sued, 42 U.S.C. 1983. The Seventh Circuit previously upheld a restraining order compelling GEFT to cease all actions to install its proposed billboard pending the outcome of the litigation. The district court later granted GEFT summary judgment and permanently enjoined Westfield from enforcing many aspects of its ordinance. The Seventh Circuit remanded for consideration in light of the Supreme Court’s recent decision in “City of Austin v. Reagan National;” the fact that the city must read a sign to evaluate its conformity with regulations is not alone determinative of whether the regulation is content-based. View "GEFT Outdoors, LLC v. City of Westfield" on Justia Law

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In this public records case concerning attorneys fees, a majority of the Supreme Court adopted the principle that to "prevail in whole or insubstantial part" under Wis. Stat. 19.37(2)(a) means that the party must obtain a judicially sanctioned charge in the parties' legal relationship.In this case a records custodian voluntarily turned over a requested record. The court of appeals, which has previously employed a causal-nexus to determine the release of records was caused in some way by the litigation, recognized the limitations of a causation-based approach and considered instead whether the records were properly withheld. The Supreme Court held (1) to prevail in whole or in substantial part and thus to be entitled to attorney's fees means the party must obtain a judicially-sanctioned charge in the parties' legal relationship; and (2) even of the party that requests the records can pursue attorney's fees following release of the records at issue, an award of attorney's fees would not be appropriate in the instant case. View "Friends of Frame Park, U.A. v. City of Waukesha" on Justia Law

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In 2020, while wildfires swept through portions of Sonoma County, close to many homes, Sheriff Essick met with the County Board of Supervisors, fire officials, and members of the public in a streamed town hall meeting. Essick provided updates on an evacuation strategy and fielded questions from the public. When asked whether evacuated residents might be permitted to reenter mandatory evacuation zones to feed pets and animals left behind, Sheriff Essick refused to grant such permission, citing safety concerns. Sheriff Essick’s subsequent communications led to a harassment complaint. An independent investigator, Oppenheimer, conducted an inquiry and prepared a written report. A newspaper requested that the county release the complaint, the report, and various related documents) California Public Records Act (CPRA), Gov. Code 6250). The trial court denied Essick's request for a preliminary injunction barring the report's release. The court of appeal affirmed. The court rejected arguments that the Oppenheimer Report should be classified as confidential under CPRA exemptions for “peace officers” “personnel records,” or reports or findings relating to a complaint by a member of the public against a peace officer The county is not estopped from releasing the Oppenheimer Report nor bound to keep the results of the investigation confidential. Nothing in the Public Safety Officers Procedural Bill of Rights explicitly grants or mentions confidentiality from CPRA requests, Sonoma County is not Essick's “employing agency.” View "Essick v. County of Sonoma" on Justia Law

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In response to the Covid-19 pandemic, Port Authority, a municipal bus and light-rail operator, required its uniformed employees to wear face masks. Initially, Port Authority was unable to procure masks for all its employees, so they were required to provide their own. Some employees wore masks bearing political or social-protest messages. Port Authority has long prohibited its uniformed employees from wearing buttons “of a political or social protest nature.” Concerned that such masks would disrupt its workplace, Port Authority prohibited them in July 2020. When several employees wore masks expressing support for Black Lives Matter, Port Authority disciplined them. In September 2020, Port Authority imposed additional restrictions, confining employees to a narrow range of masks. The employees sued, alleging that Port Authority had violated their First Amendment rights.The district court entered a preliminary injunction rescinding discipline imposed under the July policy and preventing Port Authority from enforcing its policy against “Black Lives Matter” masks. The Third Circuit affirmed. The government may limit the speech of its employees more than it may limit the speech of the public, but those limits must still comport with the protections of the First Amendment. Port Authority bears the burden of showing that its policy is constitutional. It has not made that showing. View "Amalgamated Transit Union Local 85 v. Port Authority of Allegheny County" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court denied a writ of mandamus sought by Relator, a prison inmate, in this original action seeking to compel the warden of the Mansfield Correctional Institution to provide copies of electronic kites between Relator and a prison staff member, holding that the mandamus claim was moot.Relator submitted a request that the warden produce the subject kites under Ohio's Public Records Act, Ohio Rev. Code 149.43. When Relator did not immediately receive the requested documents he filed his writ of mandamus. Thereafter, the warden submitted all records responsive to Relator's request. The Supreme Court denied the writ of mandamus as moot but awarded statutory damages in the amount of $900, holding that because the warden did not timely comply with his obligations Relator was entitled to $900 in statutory damages. View "State ex rel. Suggs v. McConahay" on Justia Law

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Freed created a Facebook profile, limited to his “friends.” Eventually, he exceeded Facebook’s 5,000-friend limit on profiles and converted his profile to a “page,” which has unlimited “followers.” His page was public, anyone could “follow” it; for the page category, Freed chose “public figure.” Freed was appointed Port Huron’s city manager. He updated his Facebook page to reflect that title. In the “About” section, he described himself as “Daddy ... Husband ... and City Manager, Chief Administrative Officer for the citizens of Port Huron, MI.” Freed listed the Port Huron website as his page’s website, the city’s general email as his page’s contact information, and the City Hall address as his page’s address. Freed shared photos of family events, visits to local community events, and posts about administrative directives he issued as city manager. When the Covid-19 pandemic hit, he posted policies he initiated for Port Huron and news articles on public-health measures and statistics. Lindke responded with criticism. Freed deleted those comments and eventually “blocked” Lindke from the page.Lindke sued Freed under 42 U.S.C 1983, arguing that Freed violated his First Amendment rights. The Sixth Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of Freed. Freed’s Facebook activity was not state action. The page neither derives from the duties of his office nor depends on his state authority. View "Lindke v. Freed" on Justia Law

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Kennedy lost his job as a high school football coach after he knelt at midfield after games to offer a quiet personal prayer. The Ninth Circuit affirmed the summary judgment rejection of Kennedy’s claims against the school district. The Supreme Court reversed. The Constitution neither mandates nor permits the government to suppress such religious expression. The district acted on a mistaken view that it has a duty to suppress religious observances even as it allows comparable secular speech.A plaintiff may demonstrate a free exercise violation by showing that a government entity has burdened his sincere religious practice pursuant to a policy that is not “neutral” or “generally applicable,” triggering strict scrutiny. Kennedy seeks to engage in a sincerely motivated religious exercise that does not involve students; the district’s policies were neither neutral nor generally applicable. The district sought to restrict Kennedy’s actions at least in part because of their religious character.Kennedy established a Free Speech Clause violation. When an employee “speaks as a citizen addressing a matter of public concern,” courts should engage in “a delicate balancing of the competing interests surrounding the speech and its consequences.” Kennedy was not engaged in speech “ordinarily within the scope” of his coaching duties. His prayers occurred during the postgame period when coaches were free to attend to personal matters and students were engaged in other activities.In place of the “Lemon” and “endorsement” tests, courts should look “to historical practices and understandings.” A rule that the only acceptable government role models for students are those who eschew any visible religious expression would undermine a long constitutional tradition of tolerating diverse expressive activities. View "Kennedy v. Bremerton School District" on Justia Law