Justia Communications Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Business Law
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The Supreme Court answered a question of law certified by the district court in the negative, holding that two video streaming services - Netflix, Inc. and Hulu, LLC - did not provide "video service" within the meaning of Tenn. Code Ann. 7-59-303(19) and thus did not qualify as "video service providers" required to pay franchise fees to localities under section 7-59-303(20).The City of Knoxville brought this action asserting that Netflix and Hulu were required to pay franchise fees because they used public rights-of-way to provide video service. Specifically, Knoxville argued that Netflix and Hulu were "video service providers" as defined in the Competitive Cable and Video Services Act, Tenn. Code Ann. 7-59-301 to -318, and were thus required to apply for a franchise and pay franchise fees to Knoxville. The district court certified a question of law to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court answered that Netflix and Hulu did not provide a "video service" within the meaning of section -303(19) and thus did not qualify as "video service providers" under section -303(20). View "City of Knoxville, Tenn. v. Netflix, Inc." on Justia Law

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Navient serviced the student loans of Matthew Panzarella. Matthew listed his mother (Elizabeth) and brother (Joshua) as references on student loan applications and promissory notes and provided their cell phone numbers. He became delinquent on his loans and failed to respond to Navient’s attempts to communicate with him. Call logs show that over five months, Navient called Elizabeth's phone number four times (three calls were unanswered) and Joshua's number 15 times (all unanswered), using “interaction dialer” telephone dialing software developed by ININ.The Panzarellas filed a putative class action, alleging violation of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, 47 U.S.C. 227, by calling their cellphones without their prior express consent using an automatic telephone dialing system (ATDS). Navient argued that its ININ System did not qualify as an ATDS because the system lacked the capacity to generate and call random or sequential telephone numbers. The Third Circuit affirmed summary judgment for Navient, without deciding whether Navient’s dialing equipment qualified as an ATDS. Despite the text’s lack of clarity, Section 227(b)(1)(A)’s context and legislative history establish it was intended to prohibit making calls that use an ATDS’s auto-dialing functionalities; the record establishes that Navient did not rely on random- or sequential number generation when it called the Panzarellas. View "Panzarella v. Navient Solutions Inc" on Justia Law

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Klayman founded Judicial Watch in 1994 and served as its Chairman and General Counsel until 2003. Klayman claims he left voluntarily. Judicial Watch (JW) claims it forced Klayman to resign based on misconduct. During negotiations over Klayman’s departure, JW prepared its newsletter, which was mailed to donors with a letter signed by Klayman as “Chairman and General Counsel.” While the newsletter was at the printer, the parties executed a severance agreement. Klayman resigned; the parties were prohibited from disparaging each other. Klayman was prohibited from access to donor lists and agreed to pay outstanding personal expenses. JW paid Klayman $600,000. Klayman ran to represent Florida in the U.S. Senate. His campaign used the vendor that JW used for its mailings and use the names of JW’s donors for campaign solicitations. Klayman lost the election, then launched “Saving Judicial Watch,” with a fundraising effort directed at JW donors using names obtained for his Senate run. In promotional materials, Klayman asserted that he resigned to run for Senate, that the JW leadership team had mismanaged and the organization, and that Klayman should be reinstated.Klayman filed a complaint against JW, asserting violations of the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. 1125(a)(1), by publishing a false endorsement when it sent the newsletter identifying him as “Chairman and General Counsel” after he had left JW. Klayman also alleged that JW breached the non-disparagement agreement by preventing him from making fair comments about JW and that JW defamed him. During the 15 years of ensuing litigation, Klayman lost several claims at summary judgment and lost the remaining claims at trial. The jury awarded JW $2.3 million. The D.C. Circuit rejected all of Klayman’s claims on appeal. View "Klayman v. Judicial Watch, Inc." on Justia Law

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Puma, a pharmaceutical company, created an investor presentation during a proxy contest with Eshelman, a Puma shareholder and the founder of PPD, another pharmaceutical company. Puma invited its shareholders to visit a link on its website where it had published the presentation, which indicated that, a decade earlier, while Eshelman was CEO of PPD, a clinical investigator falsified documents. The presentation was published at least 198 times. Puma also filed the presentation with the SEC, which made it permanently accessible on its website.Eshelman, a resident of North Carolina, initiated a diversity action with state-law claims of defamation. Puma is incorporated in Delaware and has its principal place of business in California; Auerbach, Puma’s CEO, resides in California. The court found defamatory per se Puma’s statements that Eshelman was “involved in clinical trial fraud” and that Eshelman was replaced as CEO after being forced to testify regarding fraud in 2008. A jury awarded Eshelman $15.85 million in compensatory damages and $6.5 million in punitive damages.The Fourth Circuit affirmed as to liability but vacated the award after finding that Puma waived its personal jurisdiction claim. Each of the statements at issue is capable of a singular, defamatory interpretation but “there is no evidence justifying such an enormous award.” View "Eshelman v. Puma Biotechnology, Inc." on Justia Law

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The recipients received unsolicited emails that advertised products sold by DMS. The emails were not sent by DMS itself, but by third-party “marketing partners” of DMS. The recipients sued DMS under Business and Professions Code section 17529.5, which makes it unlawful to advertise in commercial emails under specified circumstances. The subject line of the emails typically states: Username “please confirm your extended warranty plan” and allegedly falsely referenced a preexisting business relationship for the purpose of inducing the recipient to open the spam. The trial court dismissed the suit.The court of appeal affirmed in part. The court correctly dismissed the challenge to the emails’ subject lines, which are not covered by cited sections of the Act. The court erred by dismissing the challenge to the emails’ domain names. A recipient of a commercial email advertisement sent by a third party is not precluded as a matter of law from stating a cause of action under section 17529.5 against the advertiser for the third party’s failure to provide sufficient information disclosing or making traceable the third party’s own identity. Such a cause is not precluded simply because such an email sufficiently identifies the advertiser. View "Greenberg v. Digital Media Solutions, LLC" on Justia Law

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Next makes office equipment and refers potential customers to reviews that rate its products highly. Next's competitor, Beyond, published reviews critiquing Next’s standing desks. Instead of pursuing a claim under the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. 1125, Next sued in federal court under diversity jurisdiction, relying on Wisconsin’s common law of defamation. The district judge treated product reviews and political commentary as equivalent and cited the Constitution, holding that because Next is a “limited-purpose public figure”—made so by its own efforts to sell its wares—all criticism by a competitor is constitutionally protected unless the statements are knowingly false or made with reckless indifference to their truth. The court concluded that the standard was not met. The Seventh Circuit affirmed on other grounds, stating that it was “skeptical” about the trial court’s use of the Constitution. On the district court’s approach, few claims under the Lanham Act ever could succeed, and commercial advertising would be treated just like political campaigning. Next failed to state a claim under Wisconsin law. “Whatever one can say about whether both gray paint and polished metal should be called ‘silver,’ or whether two circuit boards are as good as one, these are not ‘false assertions of specific unfavorable facts.’” View "Next Technologies, Inc. v. Beyond the Office Door LLC" on Justia Law

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Curaden AG, a Swiss entity, manufactures toothbrushes. Curaden USA, an Ohio corporation headquartered in Arizona, is a Curaden AG subsidiary and promotes Curaden AG products throughout the U.S. The two companies had not executed the standard written distribution agreement that typically governs the practices of Curaden AG’s subsidiary distributors. Curaden USA never presented its advertising materials to Curaden AG for review. Curaden USA purchased a list of thousands of dental professionals’ fax numbers and created the fax advertisements at issue, which displayed Curaden USA’s contact information without mention of Curaden AG. Curaden USA hired companies to send the faxes and paid for the transmission. Lyngaas, a Livonia dentist who had received two Curaden USA faxes, filed a purported class action under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), 47 U.S.C. 227. The Sixth Circuit affirmed that Lyngaas could not pierce the corporate veil to hold Curaden AG liable for Curaden USA’s action, that faxes received by a computer over a telephone line violated the TCPA, that it had personal jurisdiction over both Curaden entities, that Curaden USA violated the TCPA but that Curaden AG was not liable as a “sender,” and that Lyngaas’s evidence and expert-witness testimony concerning the total number of faxes successfully sent were inadmissible due to unauthenticated fax records. A claims-administration process was established for class members to verify their receipt of the unsolicited fax advertisements. View "Lyngaas v. Curaden AG" on Justia Law

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Yelp publishes crowdsourced business reviews and allows businesses to advertise on its Website and mobile app. Yelp employs over 2,000 sales representatives to solicit advertising sales. Gruber, a solo attorney practitioner, was contacted by phone several times by Yelp sales representatives. During these calls, in which the sales representatives’ voices were recorded, Gruber discussed confidential and financial information regarding his law firm. When conversing with one representative, who happened to be his friend, Gruber sometimes joked, discussed private topics, and used profanity. Gruber did not recall that any Yelp sales representative notified him that the conversations were being recorded. Gruber sued under the California Invasion of Privacy Act (CIPA) Pen. Code 630, alleging unlawful recording and intercepting of communications; unlawful recording of and eavesdropping upon confidential communications; and unlawful wiretapping.The trial court granted Yelp summary judgment. The court of appeal reversed. While Gruber was not recorded during any calls (only Yelp’s representatives were recorded), CIPA is violated if a defendant records any portion of a conversation between two or more individuals. When the Yelp salespeople spoke during the one-sided recordings of their conversations with Gruber, the recordings revealed firsthand and in real-time their understanding of or reaction to Gruber’s words. Yelp failed to meet its burden of production regarding whether its use of VoIP technology precludes CIPA's application. View "Gruber v. Yelp Inc." on Justia Law

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At issue in this appeal was the computation of the broadband credit limits that a taxpayer may use against its franchise-tax and income-tax liabilities. During the tax periods at issue, AT&T Mobility II, LLC, and BellSouth Telecommunications operated telecommunications enterprises and made significant investments in broadband technology developments throughout Mississippi, generating Broadband Investment Credits (Broadband Credits) under Mississippi Code Section 57-87-5. BellSouth Mobile Data, SBC Alloy Holdings, New BellSouth Cannular Holdings, New Cingular Wireless Services, SBC Telecom, and Centennial were all direct or indirect corporate owners of AT&T Mobility II. The taxpayers here each filed a separate franchise-tax return and were included as affiliated group members in the combined corporate income-tax return filed on behalf of the affiliated group. The Mississippi Department of Revenue (MDOR) determined that the broadband credits the taxpayers had claimed had been improperly applied to an amount greater than the credit cap of 50 percent of the taxpayers’ tax liabilities according to Mississippi Code Section 57-87- 5(3) (Rev. 2014). The MDR disallowed portions of the broadband credits claimed by the taxpayers and assessed additional franchise taxes, interest and penalties to the taxpayers separately on several dates between December 22, 2014, and May 20, 2015. The taxpayers argue that each taxpayer is jointly and severally liable for the total combined income-tax liability of the affiliated group, therefore making the income-tax liability of each taxpayer the same as the total combined income-tax liability of the affiliated group. The chancellor granted summary judgment in favor of the taxpayers and ruled that the taxpayer’s tax liabilities under Chapters 7 and 13 of Title 271 of the Mississippi Code was the aggregate of the taxpayer’s separate franchise-tax liability and the total combined income-tax liability of the affiliated group. The Mississippi Supreme Court affirmed the chancellor's ruling on the credit-computation issue. "The plain and unambiguous language of Section 57-87-5 clearly limits broadband credits that a taxpayer may take in any given year to 50 percent of the aggregate of the taxpayers’ franchise-tax liability and the total combined income-tax liability of the affiliated group." View "Mississippi Dept. of Revenue v. SBC Telecom, Inc. et al." on Justia Law

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The district courts dismissed two cases, concluding that faxes soliciting participation by the recipients in market research surveys in exchange for monetary payments are not advertisements within the meaning of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, 47 U.S.C. 227 (b)(1)(C) (TCPA), which prohibits the transmission of unsolicited fax advertisements. In a consolidated appeal, the Third Circuit reversed.. Solicitations to buy products, goods, or services can be advertisements under the TCPA. The solicitations for participation in the surveys in exchange for $200.00 by one sender and $150.00 by the other sender were for services within the TCPA. An offer of payment in exchange for participation in a market survey is a commercial transaction, so a fax highlighting the availability of that transaction is an advertisement under the TCPA. View "Fischbein v. Olson Research Group Inc" on Justia Law