Justia Communications Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in California Courts of Appeal
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The owners of Pine Meadow Golf Course in Martinez sold the property to a developer. The city approved construction of a 99-unit single-family home subdivision, with improvements. Objectors circulated a petition opposing the planned development, seeking a referendum to reverse the approval. The owners and developer alleged that objectors used the name Friends of Pine Meadow to deceive fellow citizens into believing they were friends with the golf course owners, and attempted to inform people “about the true nature of the Friends of Pine Meadow.” The owners and developers filed suit, alleging interference with prospective economic advantage and defamation and seeking damages and injunctive relief. The trial court granted the objectors’ special motion to strike plaintiffs’ complaint under Code of Civil Procedure section 425.16, the anti-SLAPP (Strategic Law Suit Against Public Participation) law. The court of appeal affirmed, rejecting an argument that the claims arose out of commercial speech, which is not protected activity under the anti-SLAPP law. The statute makes no reference to commercial speech. Every claim in the complaint seeks to punish and/or suppress speech that relates to an official proceeding about a public issue. View "Dean v. Friends of Pine Meadow" on Justia Law

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Area 51 used Alameda city property for events it planned for third-party companies. PM assisted the city with managing the license arrangements. Due to problems connected with Area 51 events, the city ceased doing business with it. Area 51 had committed to third-party entities based on PM’s previous confirmation of the city’s willingness to license space. Area 51 sued. Defendants (city, PM, and individuals) filed a demurrer and a motion to strike under Code of Civil Procedure section 425.16, the anti-SLAPP (strategic lawsuit against public participation) statute. The court denied that motion and granted the demurrer. The court of appeal reversed in part. While the thrust of the claims against the city is breach of contract, the individual defendants were not contracting parties; the sole basis for asserting liability against them is what they did on behalf of the city. That conduct is expressive in nature (emails confirming dates, and announcing termination of the leasing relationship), which qualify as “written or oral statement[s] . . . made in connection with an issue under consideration . . . by a[n] . . . executive . . . body,” under the anti-SLAPP law. Area 51 could not show a probability of prevailing on the merits. The case was remanded for consideration of an award of attorneys’ fees and costs. View "Area 51 Productions, Inc. v. City of Alameda" on Justia Law

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Area 51 used Alameda city property for events it planned for third-party companies. PM assisted the city with managing the license arrangements. Due to problems connected with Area 51 events, the city ceased doing business with it. Area 51 had committed to third-party entities based on PM’s previous confirmation of the city’s willingness to license space. Area 51 sued. Defendants (city, PM, and individuals) filed a demurrer and a motion to strike under Code of Civil Procedure section 425.16, the anti-SLAPP (strategic lawsuit against public participation) statute. The court denied that motion and granted the demurrer. The court of appeal reversed in part. While the thrust of the claims against the city is breach of contract, the individual defendants were not contracting parties; the sole basis for asserting liability against them is what they did on behalf of the city. That conduct is expressive in nature (emails confirming dates, and announcing termination of the leasing relationship), which qualify as “written or oral statement[s] . . . made in connection with an issue under consideration . . . by a[n] . . . executive . . . body,” under the anti-SLAPP law. Area 51 could not show a probability of prevailing on the merits. The case was remanded for consideration of an award of attorneys’ fees and costs. View "Area 51 Productions, Inc. v. City of Alameda" on Justia Law

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In the underlying operative complaint, plaintiff Dalia Rojas pleaded two causes of action against defendants HSBC Card Services Inc. and HSBC Technology & Services (USA) Inc. (together HSBC) based on HSBC's alleged violations of Rojas's right to privacy under the California Invasion of Privacy Act (Privacy Act). Rojas alleged that HSBC intentionally recorded certain of her confidential telephone conversations in violation of: section 632(a), which prohibited one party to a telephone call from intentionally recording a confidential communication without the knowledge or consent of the other party; and section 632.7(a), which prohibited the intentional recording of a communication using a cellular or cordless telephone. Rojas appealed the grant of summary judgment in favor of HSBC. The Court of Appeal agreed with Rojas that, because HSBC did not meet its initial burden under Code of Civil Procedure section 437c (p)(2), the trial court erred in granting HSBC's motion for summary judgment. Accordingly, that judgment was reversed and the matter was remanded with directions to enter an order denying HSBC's motion. View "Rojas v. HSBC Card Services" on Justia Law

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In the underlying operative complaint, plaintiff Dalia Rojas pleaded two causes of action against defendants HSBC Card Services Inc. and HSBC Technology & Services (USA) Inc. (together HSBC) based on HSBC's alleged violations of Rojas's right to privacy under the California Invasion of Privacy Act (Privacy Act). Rojas alleged that HSBC intentionally recorded certain of her confidential telephone conversations in violation of: section 632(a), which prohibited one party to a telephone call from intentionally recording a confidential communication without the knowledge or consent of the other party; and section 632.7(a), which prohibited the intentional recording of a communication using a cellular or cordless telephone. Rojas appealed the grant of summary judgment in favor of HSBC. The Court of Appeal agreed with Rojas that, because HSBC did not meet its initial burden under Code of Civil Procedure section 437c (p)(2), the trial court erred in granting HSBC's motion for summary judgment. Accordingly, that judgment was reversed and the matter was remanded with directions to enter an order denying HSBC's motion. View "Rojas v. HSBC Card Services" on Justia Law

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Bartholomew publishes Christian ministry music and is a volunteer national spokesperson and the opening act for "Mission: PreBorn" concerts. Bartholomew wrote a pro-life song, “What Was Your Name,” produced a video for the song, and created an account with YouTube, agreeing to be bound by its terms of service. Bartholomew uploaded the video to YouTube, which assigned a URL so that it could be viewed on the internet. Bartholomew publicly shared the URL. By the time YouTube removed it, she claims, the video had been viewed over 30,000 times. The URL for Bartholomew’s video opened an internet page with the image of a distressed face and a statement: This video has been removed because its content violated YouTube’s Terms of Service.’ The screen did not refer to Bartholomew. It contained a hyperlink to a list of examples and tips, YouTube’s “Community Guideline Tips.” Bartholomew sued, claiming that the statement and the Guidelines harmed her reputation (libel per quod). The court of appeal affirmed dismissal, reasoning that, given the breadth of YouTube’s terms of service, and even taking into consideration Bartholomew’s profession, the statement cannot be deemed to subject her to “hatred, contempt, ridicule, or obloquy, or [cause her] to be shunned or avoided” or tend to “injure [her] in [her] occupation.” View "Bartholomew v. YouTube, LLC" on Justia Law

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The underlying suit involved a loan foreclosure. The borrowers filed a cross-complaint against MCC, alleging fraud, despite being advised MCC had no involvement in the transaction involved in the lawsuit. The borrowers mistakenly identified MCC as an agent of the lender and a loan servicer and continued the lawsuit despite being warned that it should be dismissed. After the borrowers settled the main lawsuit against them, they filed a voluntary dismissal in favor of MCC. MCC then sued the borrowers for malicious prosecution. The borrowers filed an anti-SLAPP motion (Code of Civil Procedure 425.16(b)(1)) to dismiss. The court of appeal affirmed the denial of the motion, concluding that MCC met its burden under step two of the anti-SLAPP analysis, demonstrating a probability of success on its claim for malicious prosecution. There was no evidence of any research done before filing the cross-complaint seeking $300 million in damages; the borrowers were notified no fewer than four different times that MCC was the wrong entity to sue. View "Medley Capital Corp. v. Security National Guaranty, Inc." on Justia Law

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Believing nonpublic content of the victim's Facebook account might provide exculpatory evidence helpful in preparing for trial, real-party-in-interest Lance Touchstone served petitioner Facebook with a subpoena for the subscriber records and contents of the victim's Facebook account, including timeline posts, messages, phone calls, photos, videos, location information and user-input information from account inception to the present date. Touchtone was awaiting trial for attempted murder. On the public portion of his Facebook page, the victim posted updates of court hearings in this case, asking his friends to attend the preliminary hearing. In public posts the victim also discussed his personal use of guns and drugs, and described his desire to rob and kill people. Facebook filed a motion to quash the subpoena on the ground the Stored Communications Act (SCA) prohibited disclosure of the victim's account contents. In an accompanying declaration, counsel for Facebook stated that Touchstone could obtain the requested contents directly from the victim or by working with the prosecutor to obtain a search warrant based on probable cause. The trial court denied the motion to quash and ordered Facebook to produce the contents of the victim's account for in camera inspection by a certain date. Facebook seeks a writ directing the trial court to vacate its order denying the motion to quash the subpoena and to enter a new order granting the motion to quash. Facebook contends the trial court abused its discretion by denying the motion to quash and ordering production of documents for in camera inspection because the SCA prohibits Facebook from disclosing the content of its users' accounts in response to a subpoena. Facebook further contends that compelling it to disclose the contents of the victim's account is not necessary to preserve Touchstone's constitutional right to a fair trial because Touchstone can obtain the contents directly from the victim or through the prosecutor via a search warrant. The Court of Appeal granted Facebook’s application and granted a writ of mandate, vacating the trial court’s order and effectively quashing the subpoena duces tecum. View "Facebook v. Superior Court" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs are Cross, also known as Mikel Knight, a country rap artist, and his businesses. Two vans, carrying independent contractors promoting Knight’s music, were involved in accidents that resulted in two deaths. “Families Against Mikel Knight,” apparently created by relatives of the accident victims, posted a Facebook page, which, plaintiffs claimed, incited violence and generated death threats against Knight. Plaintiffs sought to have the page removed. Facebook refused. Facebook filed a special motion to dismiss Plaintiffs’ subsequent suit, which alleged breach of written contract; negligent misrepresentation; negligent interference with prospective economic relations; breach of Civil Code section 3344; violation of common law right of publicity; and unlawful and unfair business practices. The trial court held that the complaint was based on protected activity, that plaintiffs could not prevail on the first three causes of action, and granted the anti-SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation, Code of Civil Procedure 425.16) motion as to them but denied the motion as to the three other causes of action. The court of appeal ruled in favor of Facebook and ordered that the complaint be stricken, noting that Facebook derived no benefit from any use of Knight’s name or likeness. View "Cross v. Facebook, Inc." on Justia Law

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ZL provides email archiving, eDiscovery, and compliance support to businesses nationwide. Glassdoor operates a website on which people may anonymously express opinions regarding employers. Individuals representing themselves as current or former ZL employees posted anonymous reviews on Glassdoor‘s website criticizing ZL‘s management and work environment. ZL filed a complaint against those individuals, naming them as Doe defendants and alleging libel per se (Civil Code 45) and online impersonation (Penal Code 528.5) to the extent any of them was not a ZL employee. ZL served a subpoena on Glassdoor, requesting identification and contact information for defendants. Glassdoor objected, arguing: violation of the First Amendment and California Constitution privacy rights; the posted statements were “protected opinion, patently hyperbolic, not harmful to reputation,” or uncontested statements of fact; Glassdoor‘s reputation would be harmed by disclosure; and, ZL was obligated to make a prima facie showing the statements were libelous before it could compel disclosure. The court denied ZL’s motion to compel. More than a year later, the court dismissed the action because of ZL‘s failure to serve the defendants. The court of appeal reversed. While an author‘s decision to remain anonymous is protected by the Constitution, a reasonable fact finder could conclude all of the reviews contained statements that declared or implied provably false assertions of fact, providing a legally sufficient basis for a defamation cause of action. View "ZL Technologies v. Doe" on Justia Law