Justia Communications Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Business Law
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BioCorRx, Inc. (BioCorRx) was a publicly traded company primarily engaged in the business of providing addiction treatment services and related medication. It issued several press releases that allegedly made misrepresentations and improperly disclosed confidential information about a treatment it was developing for opioid overdose. VDM Biochemicals, Inc. (VDM) specializes in the synthesis and distribution of chemicals, reagents, and other specialty products for life science research. It owned a patent (the patent) for VDM-001, a compound with potential use as a treatment for opioid overdose. In September 2018, VDM and BioCorRx entered into a Mutual Nondisclosure & Confidentiality Agreement (the NDA), which restricted each party’s disclosure of confidential information as they discussed forming a business relationship. A month later, VDM and BioCorRx signed a Letter of Intent to Enter Definitive Agreement to Acquire Stake in Intellectual Property (the letter of intent). The letter of intent memorialized the parties’ shared desire whereby BioCorRx would partner with VDM to develop and commercialize VDM-001. BioCorRx and VDM never signed a formal contract concerning VDM-001. Their relationship eventually soured. BioCorRx filed a complaint (the complaint) against VDM; VDM cross-complained. In response, BioCorRx filed the anti-SLAPP motion at issue here, seeking to strike all the allegations from the cross-complaint concerning the press releases. The Court of Appeal found these statements fell within the commercial speech exemption of California's Code of Civil Procedure section 425.16 (the anti-SLAPP statute) because they were representations about BioCorRx’s business operations that were made to investors to promote its goods and services through the sale of its securities. Since these statements were not protected by the anti-SLAPP statute, the Court reversed the part of the trial court’s order granting the anti-SLAPP motion as to the press releases. The Court affirmed the unchallenged portion of the order striking unrelated allegations. View "BioCorRx, Inc. v. VDM Biochemicals, Inc." on Justia Law

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Liapes filed a class action against Facebook, alleging it does not provide women and older people equal access to insurance ads. The Unruh Civil Rights Act prohibits businesses from discriminating against people with protected characteristics (Civ. Code 51, 51.5, 52(a)). Liapes alleged Facebook requires all advertisers to choose the age and gender of users who will receive ads; companies offering insurance products routinely tell it to not send their ads to women or older people. She further alleged Facebook’s ad-delivery algorithm discriminates against women and older people.The trial court dismissed, finding Facebook’s tools neutral on their face and concluding that Facebook was immune under the Communications Decency Act, 47 U.S.C. 230. The court of appeal reversed. Liapes has stated an Unruh Act claim. Facebook, a business establishment, does not dispute women and older people were categorically excluded from receiving various insurance ads. Facebook, not the advertisers, classifies users based on their age and gender via the algorithm. The complaint also stated a claim under an aiding and abetting theory of liability An interactive computer service provider only has immunity if it is not also the content provider. That advertisers are the content providers does not preclude Facebook from also being a content provider by helping develop at least part of the information at issue. View "Liapes v. Facebook, Inc." on Justia Law

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StreetMedia and Turnpike Media were companies that are in the sign business: owners of billboards and other advertising signs. They contended that Colorado’s regulatory scheme violated the First Amendment because it treated billboards, so-called “advertising devices,” differently depending on whether the message was paid for or not. The district court disagreed and dismissed the case. Applying recent Supreme Court precedent, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed: Colorado’s signage act was a constitutionally permissible policy choice—it furthered Colorado’s objectives of promoting roadside safety and aesthetics. View "StreetMediaGroup, et al. v. Stockinger, et al." on Justia Law

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Elanco Animal Health sent Ambassador Animal Hospital two unsolicited faxes inviting Ambassador’s veterinarians and its owner to RSVP for two free dinner programs: one titled “Canine and Feline Disease Prevention Hot Topics” and the other “Rethinking Management of Osteoarthritis.” The faxes indicated that both programs had been approved for continuing education credits and provided the names of the programs’ presenters. The corners of each invitation included the trademarked “Elanco” logo, and the bottom of each fax contained a notice encouraging recipients to consult their state or federal regulations or ethics laws about restrictions on accepting industry-provided educational and food items.Ambassador filed suit, alleging violations of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, 47 U.S.C. 227 (TCPA), and arguing that the faxes were unsolicited advertisements because the free dinner programs were used to market or sell Elanco’s animal health goods and services. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the complaint. The text of the TCPA creates an objective standard narrowly focused on the content of the faxed document. The faxes do not indicate—directly or indirectly—to a reasonable recipient that Elanco was promoting or selling some good, service, or property as required by the TCPA. The court rejected a “pretext” argument. View "Ambassador Animal Hospital, Ltd. v. Elanco Animal Health Inc." on Justia Law

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This case was the second round of appeals arising from Dalia Rojas’s lawsuit against HSBC Card Services, Inc. and HSBC Technology & Services (USA) Inc. (together, HSBC) for violations of the California Invasion of Privacy Act . Rojas received hundreds of personal calls from her daughter Alejandra, an employee at an HSBC call center, which were recorded by HSBC’s full-time recording system. Rojas alleged HSBC intentionally recorded confidential calls without her consent. She also alleged HSBC intentionally recorded calls to her cellular and cordless phones without her consent. The trial court granted summary judgment to HSBC, and Rojas appealed. The Court of Appeal reversed, concluding HSBC had not met its initial burden to show there was no triable issue of material fact on intent. On remand, HSBC made a Code of Civil Procedure section 998 offer, which Rojas did not accept. The case proceeded to a bench trial, where HSBC relied, in part, on workplace policies that purportedly barred call center agents from making personal calls at their desks to show it did not intend to record the calls. The trial court ultimately entered judgment for HSBC. Pertinent here, the court found Rojas did not prove HSBC’s intent to record. The court also found Rojas impliedly consented to being recorded, and did not prove lack of consent. Rojas appealed that judgment, contending the trial court made several errors in determining she did not prove her Privacy Act claims and that the evidence did not support its findings. The Court of Appeal concluded the trial court applied correct legal standards in assessing lack of consent and substantial evidence supports its finding that Rojas impliedly consented to being recorded. Although the Court determined the record did not support the court’s finding that HSBC did not intend to record the calls between Rojas and her daughter, that determination did not require reversal. "What it underscores, however, is that a business’s full-time recording of calls without adequate notice creates conditions ripe for potential liability under the Privacy Act, and workplace policies prohibiting personal calls may not mitigate that risk." View "Rojas v. HSBC Card Services Inc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Hughes Communications India Private Limited (“Hughes India”) appealed from a district court judgment dismissing its indemnification claims against The DirecTV Group, Inc. (“DirecTV”). The case arises out of an asset purchase agreement in which DirecTV spun off fourteen subsidiaries, including Hughes India (the “Agreement”). The Agreement requires DirecTV to indemnify Hughes India for certain contractually defined “Taxes” that accrued before the closing of the spin-off transaction and “Proceedings” that were initiated prior to the closing date. Hughes India sought a declaration that DirecTV must indemnify it for unpaid license fees, interest, and penalties imposed by India’s Department of Telecommunications (the “DOT”). The district court granted summary judgment for DirecTV, concluding that the license fees were not subject to indemnification because they were neither Taxes nor the result of Proceedings against Hughes India as defined by the Agreement. Hughes India appealed.   The Second Circuit vacated the district court’s judgment and remanded the case to the district court for further proceedings. The court agreed with Hughes India that under the plain terms of the Agreement, the license fees are Taxes, and the Provisional License Fee Assessment (the “Provisional Assessment”) issued by the DOT initiated a Proceeding against Hughes India. The court concluded that DirecTV is obligated to indemnify Hughes India for license fees, interest, and penalties accrued for tax periods ending on or before closing and for those amounts related to the Provisional Assessment issued for fiscal years 2001 to 2003, which was the only Proceeding initiated before closing. View "Hughes Communications India Private Limited v. The DirecTV Group, Inc." on Justia Law

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Two California hardware stores (Craftwood) are part of the Do It Best (DIB) hardware industry cooperative and wholesaler. Generac supplies goods to DIB for purchase by hardware retailers in the cooperative. Generac had an agreement with CMI, an independent sales and marketing representative, for assistance with promotion and marketing. CMI sent out faxes to DIB-member hardware stores advertising deals on Generac products, including three sent to Craftwood.The Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), 47 U.S.C. 227, forbids using “any telephone facsimile machine, computer, or other device to send, to a telephone facsimile machine, an unsolicited advertisement” except where the recipient gave “prior express invitation or permission.” Generac cited the agreement that Craftwood signed when it joined the DIB cooperative, which refers to the provision of advertising and includes Craftwood’s fax number. Craftwood also opted to purchase advertising materials to send to its customers.The district court granted Generac summary judgment, finding that the contract between Craftwood and DIB evinced an agreement by Craftwood to receive faxes, including from vendors. The Seventh Circuit reversed, finding a material dispute of fact as to consent. The court noted the need to enforce the Act as written, although fax machines are now rare, and the common view that these suits are fueled primarily by plaintiffs’ attorneys looking for large fee awards that often come at the expense of small businesses. View "Craftwood II, Inc. v. Generac Power Systems, Inc." on Justia Law

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Millennium's laboratory provides drug testing to healthcare professionals. Mauthe, a private practice MD, used Millennium’s services. On May 2, 2017, Millennium faxed all of its customers a single-page flyer promoting a free educational seminar to “highlight national trends in opioid misuse and abuse . . . and discuss the role of medication monitoring ... during the care of injured workers.” Although Millennium offered urine testing to detect opioids, the fax did not mention that service nor provide any pricing information, discounts, or product images. The seminar did not promote any goods or services for sale but described statistics on opioid abuse and the role of such drugs in chronic pain management. It explained that drug testing could help detect or monitor opioid abuse, and assessed the efficacy of several testing methods. The seminar did not identify providers or prices for any of the drug testing methods it reviewed. After the seminar, Millennium did not follow up with any registrants or attendees.Mauthe who has sued fax senders in more than 10 lawsuits since 2015, seeking damages under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, 47 U.S.C. 227, (b)(3), filed a putative class action against Millennium. The Third Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit. Liability under the TCPA extends only to “unsolicited advertisement[s],” meaning communications that promote the sale of goods, services, or property. Under an objective standard, no reasonable recipient could construe the seminar fax as such an unsolicited advertisement. View "Robert W Mauthe MD PC v. Millennium Health LLC" on Justia 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