Justia Communications Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in California Courts of Appeal
People v. Peterson
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
Bondgraham v. Superior Court of Alameda County
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
Liapes v. Facebook, Inc.
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
Kerman Telephone Co. v. Public Utilities Commission
This original proceeding involves a protracted legal battle between several rural telephone companies and the Public Utilities Commission (“Commission”). Petitioners are telephone corporations that provide telephone service in rural areas. After the Rural Telephone Bank (“RTB”) had just dissolved and redeemed all shares of stock it had issued. Many telephone companies, including Petitioners, owned RTB stock. The Commission had clarified in a 2006 decision that all gains on the sale of public utility company assets that were never in rate base accrue to company shareholders. Relying on this decision, the companies that never had stock in rate base so stated in the application and did not disclose any of their redemption proceeds. The Commission penalized the companies in the amount of $2,752,000 for violating Rule 1.1. The companies challenged the decision in an administrative appeal, but the Commission denied rehearing. The Fifth Appellate District annulled penalty decision and the decision denying rehearing. The court agreed that Petitioners lacked fair notice of their obligation to disclose their redemption proceeds in the 2007 application. The court explained that Petitioners’ redemption proceed amounts were irrelevant to a ratemaking determination because Petitioners’ shares were never in rate base. All gains or losses on the redemption accrued to Petitioners’ shareholders, not the ratepayers. No other allocation was legally allowed. The Commission should have instructed Petitioners to disclose their redemption proceeds in the Application if that is what the Commission wanted from Petitioners. But the Commission did not give fair notice to Petitioners of this disclosure requirement and penalized them for essentially failing to intuit the disclosure requirement. View "Kerman Telephone Co. v. Public Utilities Commission" on Justia Law
Rojas v. HSBC Card Services Inc.
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
Hastings College Conservation Committee v. Faigman
In January 2023, Assembly Bill 1936 changed the name of the former “Hastings College of the Law” to “College of the Law, San Francisco.” The plaintiffs challenged the constitutionality of AB 1936. The College’s Dean and Directors in their official capacities (College Defendants) filed a special motion to strike under the anti-SLAPP statute (Code Civ. Proc., 425.162), arguing that the complaint was replete with references to their public statements and resolutions regarding a new name and calling upon the Legislature to pass legislation adopting it. The trial court denied the motion, concluding that the causes of action were based on the Legislature’s enactment of AB 1936, not on the speech or petitioning activity that preceded it.On appeal, the College Defendants argued that the anti-SLAPP statute applied because AB 1936 “authorizes and requires” them to engage in particular speech—the new name by which they “represent the College’s identity and values to the public”—and because the claims, if successful, would prevent or interfere with that speech. The court of appeal upheld the denial of the anti-SLAPP motion. Even assuming that future speech in which the College Defendants use the new name is protected activity under the anti-SLAPP statute, it is not the reason the plaintiffs have sued them. The plaintiffs’ claims are not based on the College Defendants’ speech. View "Hastings College Conservation Committee v. Faigman" on Justia Law
Prager University v. Google LLC
YouTube, a video-sharing website, places “advertising restrictions” on certain videos to prevent the user who posted the video from realizing advertising revenues. Network administrators and individual subscribers can also elect to limit user access to YouTube videos using “Restricted Mode.” YouTube considers whether the content involves drugs, alcohol, sex, violence, tragedies, inappropriate language, and whether the content is "gratuitously incendiary, inflammatory, or demeaning towards an individual or group.” YouTube uses an “automated filtering algorithm.” Users whose videos have been restricted or demonetized may request human review. Prager has posted more than 250 YouTube videos and has been prohibited from monetizing over 50 of its videos. In some cases, other users have posted videos identical to Prager’s restricted videos; the copycat videos have not been restricted. Prager claims the restrictions are based on its political identity or viewpoints.After a district court dismissed its federal lawsuit, Prager sued in state court. The court of appeal affirmed the dismissal of the suit, citing immunity under the Communications Decency Act, 47 U.S.C. 230, for interactive computer service providers acting as “publishers or speakers” of content provided by others. The challenged conduct is the exercise of a publisher’s traditional editorial functions, The court rejected arguments that the defendants are themselves information content providers, that their terms of service and public pronouncements subjected them to liability notwithstanding the Act, and that the Act, in immunizing defendants from Prager’s state law claims, is unconstitutional. View "Prager University v. Google LLC" on Justia Law
International Union of Operating Engineers, Local 39 v. Macy’s, Inc.
After its collective bargaining agreement with Macy’s expired, the parties were unable to agree on a new agreement. Local 39 called a strike and began picketing at Macy’s store. Macy’s filed suit, alleging that Local 39 had engaged in continuing and escalating unlawful misconduct at the store and sought injunctions preventing Local 39 from picketing at the store’s entrances, blocking ingress or egress, disturbing the public, threatening public safety, or damaging property. Macy’s also asked for damages.Local 39 filed an anti-SLAPP (strategic lawsuit against public participation) Code of Civil Procedure section 425.16, motion, arguing that the complaint alleged acts in furtherance of its right to free speech on a public issue and that Macy’s could not establish a probability of prevailing on the merits because the complaint did not satisfy Labor Code section 1138’s heightened standard of proof for claims arising out of labor disputes. The trial court granted Local 39’s motion in part. The court of appeal held that the trial court should have granted its first anti-SLAPP motion in full and ordered the entire complaint stricken. A labor organization cannot be held responsible or liable for the unlawful acts of individual officers, members, or agents, "except upon clear proof of actual participation in, or actual authorization of those acts.” Macy’s did not provide such proof. View "International Union of Operating Engineers, Local 39 v. Macy's, Inc." on Justia Law
Doe v. McLaughlin
In 2016, McLaughlin, the head of a business, was arrested based on an alleged domestic dispute with his former girlfriend, Olivia. In 2018, an Illinois court ordered all records in that case expunged, and the destruction of McLaughlin’s arrest records and photographs. McLaughlin sought an order of protection against Olivia. The terms of the parties’ subsequent settlement were incorporated in a judgment, which was sealed. Doe nonetheless posted multiple Twitter messages about McLaughlin’s arrest with McLaughlin’s mugshot, tagging McLaughlin’s business contacts and clients, and media outlets. Twitter suspended Doe’s accounts. The Illinois court issued a subpoena requiring the production of documents related to Doe’s Twitter accounts and issued “letters rogatory” to the San Francisco County Superior Court. Under the authority of that court, McLaughlin's subpoena was to be served on Twitter in San Francisco, requesting information personally identifying the account holders. In a motion to quash, Doe argued he had a First Amendment right to engage in anonymous speech and a right to privacy under the California Constitution. Doe sought attorney fees, (Code of Civil Procedure1987.2(c))The court of appeal affirmed orders in favor of McLaughlin. No sanctions were awarded. Doe failed to establish he prevailed on his motion to quash or that “the underlying action arises from [his] exercise of free speech rights on the Internet.” Doe presented no legally cognizable argument that McLaughlin failed to make a prima facie showing of breach of the settlement agreement. View "Doe v. McLaughlin" on Justia Law
Li v. Jin
Yaning was president of the Alumni Association; Jin was the executive vice president, and Fuzu was the vice president. To incorporate the Association as a nonprofit, Jin filed documents, listing himself as Secretary and CFO, and Yaning as CEO. This information was hidden from Fuzu. Association members elected a new board of directors. Fuzu was elected as secretary. Fuzu did not attend the meeting and was not informed of his election. Jin filed the Association’s IRS application for tax-exempt status, listing Fuzu as a director. No notice was given to Fuzu. Months later, Fuzu learned that he had been listed on the IRS application and was upset that his personal information had been used without his consent and that he had not been told he was on the board. Fuzu posted a message in the Association Wechat group telling alumni about Jin's actions.Jin sued Fuzu, alleging defamation and false light. Fuzu filed a cross-complaint, alleging breach of charitable trust, constructive fraud, fraud, and intentional deceit, civil conspiracy, commercial misappropriation of likeness, common law misappropriation of likeness, and negligent infliction of emotional distress. Each party filed a special motion to strike under Code of Civil Procedure 425.16. The court of appeal reversed the denial of the anti-SLAPP motion with respect to Jin’s submission to the IRS application; that application is a protected activity. The trial court must whether Fuzu can demonstrate that his claims relating to the submission have minimal merit. View "Li v. Jin" on Justia Law