Justia Communications Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in California Courts of Appeal
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The case involves the City of Lancaster, California, and the companies Netflix, Inc. and Hulu, LLC. The City claimed that Netflix and Hulu were required under the Digital Infrastructure and Video Competition Act of 2006 to pay franchise fees to local governments for using public rights-of-way to provide video service in their jurisdictions. According to the City, the companies had been providing video service without paying these fees.However, the Superior Court of Los Angeles County dismissed the City's claims, and the City appealed. On appeal, the court affirmed the dismissal, finding that the Act does not authorize local governments to seek franchise fees from non-franchise holders. The Act allows local governments to sue franchise holders over unpaid or underpaid franchise fees, but it does not extend this right of action to companies that do not hold a state franchise. The court further noted that the Act empowers the state's public utilities commission to enforce franchise-related issues, including the issuance of franchises and the collection of associated fees.The court also rejected the City's claim for declaratory relief, which sought a court order compelling Netflix and Hulu to obtain state franchises and pay franchise fees going forward. The court found that this claim was "wholly derivative" of the City's claim for damages under the Act and that the enforcement of franchise-related issues is a matter for the public utilities commission, not the courts.The court's ruling means that local governments in California cannot sue video service providers like Netflix and Hulu for failing to pay franchise fees unless those companies hold a state franchise. View "City of Lancaster v. Netflix, Inc." on Justia Law

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Charles Ramsey, a subscriber to Comcast Cable Communications, LLC’s Xfinity services, filed a lawsuit against Comcast for violations of California’s consumer protection statutes. He alleged that Comcast engaged in unfair, unlawful, and deceptive business practices under the Consumers Legal Remedies Act (CLRA) and the unfair competition law (UCL). Ramsey’s complaint sought injunctive relief, not monetary damages. Comcast filed a petition to compel arbitration pursuant to the arbitration provision in the parties’ subscriber agreement which required the parties to arbitrate all disputes and permitted the arbitrator to grant only individual relief. The trial court denied the petition based on the Supreme Court’s decision in McGill v. Citibank, which held that a predispute arbitration provision that waives a plaintiff’s right to seek public injunctive relief in any forum is unenforceable under California law. On appeal, Comcast argued that the trial court erred in concluding that Ramsey was seeking public injunctive relief. Comcast further argued that the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA) preempts McGill. The Court of Appeal of the State of California Sixth Appellate District held that Ramsey’s complaint seeks public injunctive relief, and that McGill is not preempted, thus affirming the trial court’s order. View "Ramsey v. Comcast Cable Communications, LLC" on Justia Law

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This case involves a dispute over the use of electronic information evidence in a murder trial. The defendant, Christian Steve Campos, was charged with premeditated murder and convicted of second-degree murder. He argued that electronic evidence, obtained by the government from his Facebook account and cellphone records under the California Electronic Communications Privacy Act (CalECPA), should have been suppressed because he was not properly notified of its acquisition. The Court of Appeal of the State of California, Fifth Appellate District, agreed that the government did not properly notify the defendant pursuant to the CalECPA, but concluded that suppression of the evidence was unwarranted. The court also rejected a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel and affirmed the judgment. The court found that while the government did violate the CalECPA's notice provisions, the purpose of the CalECPA was achieved despite the notice error because the efforts of law enforcement to obtain the defendant's electronic information were eventually made known to him before trial began. As a result, the court concluded that suppression of the evidence was not the appropriate remedy for the notice violations. View "People v. Campos" on Justia Law

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In the case before the Court of Appeal of the State of California Second Appellate District Division Eight, the plaintiff, a construction company, sued the defendant, a homeowner, for defamation after the homeowner posted critical comments about the company online. The homeowner had hired the construction company to repair her home after it was damaged by a fallen tree. Dissatisfied with the work, the homeowner reported the company to the Contractors State License Board and began posting negative reviews of the company on her blog and Yelp. In response to the defamation lawsuit, the homeowner filed a special motion to strike, arguing that her comments were protected by the litigation privilege. The trial court denied the motion, and the homeowner appealed.The appellate court affirmed the lower court's decision, holding that the homeowner's online posts were not covered by the litigation privilege. The court explained that the litigation privilege applies only to communications made in judicial or quasi-judicial proceedings that have some connection to the litigation. The homeowner's posts were public criticisms of the construction company, some of which did not even mention the Contractors State License Board. Therefore, the court found that the posts were akin to press releases and lacked the necessary connection to the proceedings before the board. The court also rejected the homeowner's arguments that the construction company failed to plead that her statements were unprivileged, that her statements were true, and that her statements were merely her opinions. View "Paglia & Associates Construction v. Hamilton" on Justia Law

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Doe alleged that his ex-girlfriend and her friends, including Ledor, embarked upon a “vengeful smear campaign” to harass and defame him after his senior year of high school. In 2020, Ledor sent emails to Dartmouth College officials, stating essentially that Doe had committed voter fraud to win an election for student body president at Berkeley High School (BHS) and providing links to what she represented to be articles and a podcast about the incident. After receiving the emails, Dartmouth revoked Doe’s offer of admission. Ledor later sent Instagram messages to two of Doe's acquaintances, advising them to “avoid him” because “men like him grow up thinking it’s okay to disrespect women and be violent.”Doe sued for defamation, false light, invasion of privacy, civil harassment, civil stalking, and intentional infliction of emotional distress, with a claim for vicarious liability against Ledor’s parents. The Ledors filed a special motion to strike the complaint as a strategic lawsuit against public participation (SLAPP, Code Civ. Proc. 425.16). The trial court denied the motion. The court of appeal affirmed. The Ledors did not meet their burden of showing that the statements in the Dartmouth emails involve protected activity under section 425.16(e)(2) or (4), View "Doe v. Ledor" on Justia Law

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Gilroy Police Department (GPD) receives complaints about homeless encampments, including on the property of the Santa Clara Valley Water District. When requested by the Water District, GPD assists with the cleanup of homeless encampments (sweeps) on Water District property. The Water District is responsible for collecting belongings left at the site. GPD collects and stores some items, such as identification cards. GPD officers assisting with homeless encampment cleanups have body-worn cameras, which they activate during “criminal investigation or enforcement" actions. Bodycam video footage is retained for one year, then automatically deleted by a computer system unless flagged for preservation.After receiving complaints from homeless persons that their personal property was being destroyed during sweeps, Law Foundation made numerous public record requests and sought declaratory relief under the California Public Records Act (CPRA; Gov. Code, 7920.000).The court of appeal held that the trial court erred in granting declaratory relief on the basis that Gilroy’s past conduct in responding to Law Foundation’s public records requests violated the CPRA. The trial court did not err by denying Law Foundation’s request for a declaration that Gilroy violated the CPRA by failing to preserve responsive records it claimed were exempt while the records requests were pending. CPRA is not a records retention statute. View "City of Gilroy v. Superior Court of Santa Clara County" on Justia 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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Western requested records “about or related to” the “Strada Verde Project.” including: “all Public Records Act requests sent by anyone concerning” the Project; “[a]ll writings received by the County concerning the Project”; “[a]ll writings sent by the County to anyone” concerning the Project; “[a]ll writings concerning” two individuals; “[a]ll text messages sent or received by” two individuals relating to the Project; “[a]ll writings" concerning procedures relating to the consideration of general plan amendments; and “[a]ll writings concerning potential offsite consequences.” Western later requested documents “concerning or discussing” a presentation titled “San Benito Public Records Reveal Deception and Misconduct” and investigations into said deception and misconduct.Western sued to compel the County to produce the documents for both requests and sought a declaration that the County’s policies and procedures were unlawful. In the litigation, Western’s requests for production of documents included a request for “[a]ll documents responsive to the [public records] request.”The court of appeal modified the discovery order, citing the California Public Records Act (Gov. Code 7921.000) the "court must determine whether the discovery sought is necessary to resolve whether the agency has a duty to disclose, and … consider whether the request is justified given the need for an expeditious resolution.” Although most of Western’s discovery requests were proper, the request to produce the same documents ultimately at issue in the proceeding and the interrogatories seeking a new narrative justification for the County’s past decisions were improper. View "County of San Benito v. Superior Court of San Benito County" on Justia Law

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In 2020, Lafayette City Councilmember and former Mayor, Burks, and his wife, Ackley, hosted an open house in their home in support of a school bond measure. The invitation stated Burks was “hosting this event as an individual resident of Lafayette and a father of school-aged children.” Peterson attended and had an “odd” and “stilted” conversation with Ackley in which Peterson referred to Ackley's birthday. Peterson later reposted on his Facebook page a family photo from Ackley’s public Facebook page. In the comments, Peterson wondered where they hid the girls during the open house. He mused, “They live near Burton Valley School … Burks, has a different name than his wife, I wonder what their daughters’ last name is?” Burks felt Peterson “could be a threat” to his wife and daughters. Later, Ackley received a “confusing” letter and check in the mail from Peterson, again mentioning the daughters. The rambling letter was a screed against local politics.Peterson was convicted of stalking and sentenced to two years of probation, with one year of home confinement. The court of appeal reversed. Peterson’s speech acts were constitutionally protected activities. A reasonable listener would not have found Peterson’s speech or speech-related acts a true threat of violence. View "People v. Peterson" on Justia Law

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In 2019, two Oakland journalists filed requests with the Oakland Police Department under the California Public Records Act (CPRA) (previously Gov. Code 6250, now 7921.000), including for information regarding the “Celeste Guap” scandal, which involved several Oakland police officers who had sex with Guap while she was underage. The trial court ordered Oakland to produce documents responsive to those requests. Oakland produced a redacted version of the internal affairs investigation report.The court of appeal agreed that some of the challenged redactions were not permitted under the statute. In 2018 Senate Bill 1421 amended Penal Code section 832.7 to require public access to certain records of police misconduct and use of force. The trial court improperly permitted Oakland to redact certain information under section 832.7(b)(4) and (b)(5), including the Guap report’s training and policy recommendations; witness statements containing general information about Guap and her social-media use (without any information about allegations of misconduct against any officer); screenshots of Guap’s Facebook profile; and large portions of her statements to investigators. Redaction of witness-officer’s names or other identifying information from the interview summaries is not appropriate under section 832.7(b)(6)(B) in order to “preserve the anonymity of . . . witnesses.” View "Bondgraham v. Superior Court of Alameda County" on Justia Law