Justia Communications Law Opinion Summaries

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Hepp hosts FOX 29’s Good Day Philadelphia. In 2018, Hepp was told by coworkers that her photograph was making its way around the internet. The image depicts Hepp in a convenience store, smiling, and was taken without Hepp’s knowledge or consent. She never authorized the image to be used in online advertisements. Hepp alleged each use violated her right of publicity under Pennsylvania law. A dating app advertisement featuring the picture appeared on Facebook. A Reddit thread linked to an Imgur post of the photo. Hepp sued, citing 42 PA. CONS. STAT. 8316, and common law. The district court dismissed Hepp’s case, holding that the companies were entitled to immunity under the Communications Decency Act of 1996, which bars many claims against internet service providers, 47 U.S.C. 230(c). The Third Circuit reversed, citing an exclusion in 230(e)(2) limitation for “any law pertaining to intellectual property.” Hepp’s claims are encompassed within the intellectual property exclusion. View "Hepp v. Facebook" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the circuit court mandating the release of certain records, holding that the Uniform Information Practices Act (UIPA) required the release of the requested records.UIPA mandates disclosure of public records but furnishes an exception for government records which, if disclosed, would constitute a clear unwarranted invasion of personal privacy. Plaintiff, the State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers (SHOPO), sued under UIPA to prevent the disclosure of certain police misconduct records, claiming that they were subject to the privacy exception. The circuit court dismissed the complaint to the extent SHOPO's claim was based on a violation of the UIPA and denied the motion in all other respects, concluding that SHOPO had no private cause of action for disclosure of government records under the UIPA. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) there is no private cause of action to prevent, as opposed to compel, the release of public records under UIPA; and (2) UIPA required the release of the records. View "State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers v. City & County of Honolulu" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the circuit court denying Appellant's petition for a writ of mandamus that sought to compel the disclosure of documents under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), Ark. Code Ann. 25-19-105 to -110, holding that the circuit court did not err in denying the petition.Appellant was convicted of capital murder and aggravated robbery and sentenced to life imprisonment without parole. The Supreme Court affirmed. In his FOIA petition, Appellant argued that he was entitled to materials from the prosecutor and the Hot Springs Police Department connected to his criminal conviction. The circuit court denied the petition. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Appellant failed to show that he had an established legal right to access investigative materials from local authorities. View "Burgie v. State" on Justia Law

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Every Saturday morning since 2003, six-12 protesters have picketed Ann Arbor’s Beth Israel Synagogue, displaying signs on the grass by the sidewalk in front of the synagogue and across the street. The signs state: “Resist Jewish Power,” “Jewish Power Corrupts,” “Stop Funding Israel,” “End the Palestinian Holocaust.” The protests coincide with the arrival of the congregants to their worship service but the protesters have never prevented them from entering the building, have never trespassed on synagogue property, and have never disrupted their services. The signs, the congregants allege, inflict extreme emotional distress on congregants: one sometimes forgoes attending services or visits a different synagogue to avoid the signs; a Holocaust survivor, feels extreme distress when she sees the signs.The Sixth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of a suit that alleged that the protests (and the city’s failure to enforce a city sign ordinance against the protesters) violated the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, 42 U.S.C. 2000bb – 2000cc-5, civil rights statutes, and the congregants’ substantive due process and free exercise rights. While the plaintiffs have alleged a concrete and particularized harm to a legally protected interest, the First Amendment affords “robust protections” to nonviolent protests on matters of public concern. View "Gerber v. Herskovitz" on Justia Law

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Devin Nunes, a Member of Congress from California, appeals the district court's dismissal of his complaint alleging defamation and conspiracy claims against defendant and Hearst based on an article published in Esquire magazine about his parents' farm and the use of undocumented immigrants.The Eighth Circuit agreed with the district court that the complaint fails to state a claim for express defamation based on the statements at issue in the article regarding Nunes' alleged improper use of his position as Chairman of the House of Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and adopted the district court's conclusions. In regard to a statement regarding Nunes' attempt to undermine the Russia investigation, the court concluded that Nunes failed to identify that statement as allegedly defamatory in his complaint, and the court declined to consider the issue for the first time on appeal.However, in regard to Nunes' claim for defamation by implication, the court concluded that Nunes has plausibly alleged that defendant and Hearst intended or endorsed the implication that Nunes conspired to cover up his parents' farm's use of undocumented labor. The court explained that the manner in which the article presents the discussion of the farm's use of undocumented labor permits a plausible inference that defendant and Hearst intended or endorsed the implication. Finally, in regard to actual malice, the court concluded that the pleaded facts are suggestive enough to render it plausible that defendant engaged in the purposeful avoidance of the truth. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Nunes v. Lizza" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals dismissing Appellant's mandamus petition against Judge Steven Beathard as moot on the ground that Judge Beathard had already performed the requested act, holding that the court of appeals properly dismissed this action as moot.While incarcerated, Appellant filed a mandamus action seeking an order directing Judge Beathard to provide him with a free copy of the transcript from his criminal trial. Appellant subsequently received a copy of the transcript. The court of appeals dismissed Appellant's petition in mandamus as moot based on his admitted receipt of the trial transcript. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the court of appeals did not err in dismissing this case as moot. View "State ex rel. Davidson v. Beathard" on Justia Law

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Petitioner TruConnect Communications, Inc., sought designation from the Vermont Public Utility Commission as an eligible telecommunications carrier (ETC) to provide affordable telecommunications service to qualifying Vermonters under the Federal Lifeline program. The Commission granted TruConnect’s application subject to certain conditions, including a condition that required TruConnect to provide a free cellular handset to its customers. TruConnect appealed, arguing that the condition was imposed on clearly erroneous grounds. After review, the Vermont Supreme Court agreed and reversed and remanded for the Commission to revise its order. View "In re Petition of TruConnect Communications, Inc." on Justia Law

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Jamal Khashoggi, a prominent Saudi journalist, was murdered in a Saudi consulate in 2018, apparently on orders of the Saudi Crown Prince. Under the Freedom of Information Act, 5 U.S.C. 552(a)(3)(A), the plaintiffs sought records about whether four U.S. intelligence agencies knew, before the murder, of an impending threat to Khashoggi. The agencies refused to confirm or deny whether they have any responsive records, on the ground that the existence or nonexistence of such records is classified information. FOIA Exemption 1 covers matters that are “specifically authorized under criteria established by an Executive order to be kept secret in the interest of national defense or foreign policy.” To claim a FOIA exemption, an agency ordinarily must “acknowledge the existence of information responsive to a FOIA request” but if “the fact of the existence or nonexistence of agency records” itself falls within a FOIA exemption, the agency may “refuse to confirm or deny the existence” of the requested records, a “Glomar” response.The D.C. Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the agencies. Statements made by a State Department spokesman soon after the murder do not foreclose the intelligence agencies from asserting their Glomar responses; the intelligence agencies have logically and plausibly explained why the existence or nonexistence of responsive records is classified information. View "Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University v. Central Intelligence Agency" on Justia Law

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Protect Democracy challenged the National Security Agency’s decision to withhold from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act a memorandum the NSA Deputy Director wrote in 2017, memorializing what was said on a phone call he participated in between then-president Trump and the NSA Director soon after it occurred. According to an account of the phone call in Special Counsel Mueller’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 election, Trump asked the NSA Director whether he could do anything to refute news stories connecting Trump to the Russian government. The NSA cited a FOIA exemption that incorporates privileges available to the government in civil litigation, claiming executive privilege for presidential communications.The district court sustained the privilege claim and denied a request to examine the memo for any segregable passages subject to release under FOIA. The D.C. Circuit affirmed. The government did not waive the privilege when it published in the Mueller Report a description of the conversation. Based on an “in camera” review, the memo falls squarely within the scope of the presidential communications privilege, which applies to the memo in its entirety. “Protect Democracy cannot shrink the scope of the privilege by invoking FOIA’s segregability requirement, even if its FOIA request raises credible allegations of governmental misconduct.” The Mueller Report’s description of the phone call did not waive the privilege, as not all the information in the memo specifically matches the information released in the report. View "Protect Democracy Project, Inc. v. National Security Agency" on Justia Law

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Cause, a nonprofit organization committed to government transparency and openness, submitted a FOIA request, 5 U.S.C. 552(a)(3)(A), for the internet browsing histories of several senior agency officials over a specified period of approximately six months. The requests included two officials by name—Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Director Mulvaney and USDA Secretary Perdue—and two by position. OMB acknowledged receiving the request but never processed it. USDA denied the request, explaining that the browsing histories were not integrated into its record system, so the Department did not have sufficient control over the browsing histories such that they constituted “agency records” under FOIA. Cause filed suit. The district court granted the agencies summary judgment.The D.C. Circuit affirmed. The term “agency records” extends only to those documents that an agency both creates or obtains and controls at the time of the FOIA request. The agencies did not “control” the requested documents to the extent required for them to constitute agency records because agency personnel did not read or rely upon the browsing histories. OMB and USDA employees have significant control over the browsing histories, which they could freely delete; the agencies did not use the officials’ browsing histories for any purpose, much less a purpose connected to decision-making. View "Cause of Action Institute v. Office of Management and Budget" on Justia Law