Justia Communications Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Civil Procedure
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In Section 9(e) of a settlement agreement between Cox Communications and Sprint Corporation (T-Mobile U.S., Inc.'s predecessor-in-interest, Cox agreed that, before it offered wireless mobile services to its customers, it would enter into a “definitive” exclusive provider agreement with Sprint “on terms to be mutually agreed upon between the parties for an initial period of 36 months[.]” Cox and Sprint never entered into such a partnership. After T-Mobile finalized a purchase of Sprint in April 2020, the combined entity bid for Cox’s business, but Cox decided to partner with Verizon. After hearing that it would not be Cox’s exclusive partner, T-Mobile accused Cox of breaching the Settlement Agreement. Cox sued T-Mobile in Delaware's Court of Chancery, seeking a declaration that Section 9(e) was either an unenforceable “agreement to agree” or a Type II preliminary agreement requiring Cox and T-Mobile to negotiate in good faith. According to Cox, it was free to partner with Verizon because these good-faith negotiations failed. Shortly before trial, Cox also suggested that whatever Section 9(e) means, T-Mobile could not enforce it because the Settlement Agreement was between Cox and Sprint, and Cox never consented to an assignment. T-Mobile filed a compulsory counterclaim for breach of contract. In support of this claim, T-Mobile offered that Section 9(e) meant that, although Cox was not obligated to provide wireless mobile services, if it wished to do so, it had to first enter into an exclusive provider agreement with T-Mobile as the conceded successor-in-interest to Sprint. For T-Mobile, the failure of the parties’ attempt to negotiate the definitive terms of the agreement meant that Cox could not enter the wireless mobile market at all. The Court of Chancery agreed with T-Mobile and permanently enjoined Cox from “partnering with any mobile network operator other than T-Mobile to provide Wireless Mobile Service before entering into an agreement with T-Mobile. The Delaware Supreme Court disagreed with the Court of Chancery, finding the Settlement Agreement was a Type II preliminary agreement that obligates the parties to negotiate open items in good faith. The judgment was reversed, the injunction vacated, and the matter remanded so that the Court of Chancery could determine whether Cox and T-Mobile discharged their obligations to negotiate in good faith. View "Cox Communications, Inc. v. T-Mobile US, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Association of American Physicians and Surgeons maintains a website and publishes the Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons, both of which host information concerning “important medical, economic, and legal issues about vaccines,” The Association, joined by an individual, sued a Member of Congress (Schiff) who wrote to several technology and social media companies before and during the COVID-19 pandemic expressing concern about vaccine-related misinformation on their platforms and inquiring about the companies’ policies for handling such misinformation. The Association alleged that the inquiries prompted the technology companies to disfavor and deprioritize its vaccine content, thereby reducing traffic to its web page and making the information more difficult to access.The D.C. Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the complaint for lack of Article III standing. The Association has not plausibly alleged injury-in-fact; it maintains that Schiff’s actions interfered with its “free negotiations” with the technology companies but never alleged that it has made any attempts at such negotiations, nor that it has concrete plans to do so in the future. The Association’s other claimed injuries, to its financial prospects and to its speech and associational interests, are not adequately supported by allegations that any injury is “fairly traceable” to Schiff’s actions. View "Association of American Physicians & Surgeons, Inc. v. Schiff" on Justia Law

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Alexander Hood, a Colorado resident, appealed the dismissal for lack of personal jurisdiction of his putative class-action claim against American Auto Care (AAC) in the United States District Court for the District of Colorado. AAC, a Florida limited liability company whose sole office was in Florida, sold vehicle service contracts that provided vehicle owners with extended warranties after the manufacturer’s warranty expires. Hood’s complaint alleged AAC violated the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) and invaded Hood’s and the putative class members’ privacy by directing unwanted automated calls to their cell phones without consent. Although he was then residing in Colorado, the calls came from numbers with a Vermont area code. He had previously lived in Vermont, and his cell phone number had a Vermont area code. Hood was able to trace one such call to AAC. Although it determined that Hood had alleged sufficient facts to establish that AAC purposefully directs telemarketing at Colorado, the trial court held that the call to Hood’s Vermont phone number did not arise out of, or relate to, AAC’s calls to Colorado phone numbers. In light of Ford Motor Co. v. Montana Eighth Judicial District Court, 141 S. Ct. 1017 (2021), the Tenth Circuit determined the trial court's dismissal could not stand. "The argument regarding 'purposeful direction' ... is implicitly rejected by Ford, and the argument regarding 'arise out of or relate to' ... is explicitly rejected. ... We also determine that AAC has not shown a violation of traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice." View "Hood v. American Auto Care, et al." on Justia Law

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The Second Circuit denied a petition for review challenging an FCC order removing the Solicited Fax Rule from the Code of Federal Regulations. The order was issued in response to the D.C. Circuit's decision holding that the Solicited Fax Rule was unlawful, and vacating a 2014 order of the FCC that affirmed the validity of the Rule. The court concluded that it is bound by the D.C. Circuit's decision and that the agency did not err by repealing the Rule following the D.C. Circuit's ruling. Pursuant to the Hobbs Act's channeling mechanism, the court explained that the D.C. Circuit became the sole forum for addressing the validity of the Rule. Therefore, once the D.C. Circuit invalidated the 2014 Order and the Rule, that holding became binding in effect on every circuit in which the regulation's validity is challenged. Accordingly, the FCC was bound to comply with the D.C. Circuit's mandate and could not pursue a policy of nonacquiescence. View "Gorss Motels, Inc. v. Federal Communications Commission" on Justia Law

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Robert filed a petition, alleging that Dae violated a “no contest” clause in a family trust by filing a previous petition challenging Robert’s actions as trustee. Dae’s subsequently moved to strike Robert’s petition under the anti-SLAPP (strategic lawsuit against public participation) statute (Code Civ. Proc. 425.16.)The court of appeal affirmed the denial of the anti-SLAPP motion. Robert’s No Contest Petition arose from protected petitioning activity under Code of Civil Procedure 425.16(e)(1); to defeat Dae’s motion, Robert was required to show a probability that he would prevail on that Petition. Robert made such a showing. Dae’s petition broadly challenged Robert’s conduct in setting up a financial structure that Robert claimed was designed to avoid estate taxes. If Robert’s claim is true, Dae’s petition would implicate the no-contest provision by seeking to “impair” trust provisions giving Robert the authority to manage trust assets. Dae also challenged his own removal as a beneficiary. Whether that more specific challenge amounts to a “contest” for purposes of the no-contest clause depends upon the trustors’ intent. Robert provided sufficient evidence of the trustors’ intent to allow a change of beneficiary to make a prima facie showing of probability of prevailing on Robert’s contention that Dae’s claims are a “contest.” The court expressed no opinion on the outcome of Robert’s petition. View "Dae v. Traver" on Justia Law

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Eringer is a writer of espionage-themed books and an "intelligence operative." Eringer, working for Prince Albert II of Monaco, hired Berlin to investigate the Chandler brothers, businessmen operating in Monaco. In 2003, Berlin delivered to Eringer a report that included allegations that the brothers were engaged in money laundering on behalf of high-level Russian officials and Russian organized crime. In the following years, Eringer made claims about the Chandlers in various fora, including a suit against the Prince in California, a 2014 self-published book, "The Spymaster of Monte Carlo," and an online article. Eringer did not reference Berlin or the 2003 Report. Chandler learned of Eringer’s accusations by 2010. Claims regarding the Chandlers became a source of public controversy in 2017, when a British newspaper published a story about their "links to Russia.” In 2018, Chandler sued Berlin for libel per se.The district court granted Berlin summary judgment. The D.C. Circuit reversed in part. The evidence does not establish as a matter of law that a reasonably diligent plaintiff would have sued Berlin more than a year earlier. Berlin and Eringer are not so closely connected that Chandler’s knowledge of Eringer’s pre-2017 defamatory statements caused accrual of Chandler’s action against Berlin. Reasonable jurors could differ as to whether facts available to Chandler before 2017 put him on inquiry notice of any claim against Berlin. Berlin cannot be held liable for the nonparty client’s republication of Berlin’s statements, which was not reasonably foreseeable. View "Chandler v. Berlin" on Justia Law

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The issue before the Washington Supreme Court’s in this case was whether an individual’s YouTube channel qualified as “news media” for requests for certain records under the Washington Public Records Act (PRA). In 2014, Brian Green and Peter Auvil went to the County-City Building in Tacoma to file a document and pay a parking ticket. As they went through security, the guard asked to search Auvil’s bag. Auvil refused. A Pierce County deputy sheriff came to assist, and Auvil began to record a video of the interaction on his phone. Auvil continued to refuse to allow the security guard to search the bag, arguing that the security checkpoint was a violation of his privacy rights. The conversation escalated, and the deputy asked the men to leave. When Green stood too close to him, the deputy shoved Green and caused him to fall backward onto the floor. The deputy arrested Green for criminal obstruction and took him to jail. He was released approximately 24 hours later. The prosecuting attorney’s office dismissed the charge. In December 2017, Green e-mailed a PRA request to the Pierce County Sheriff’s public records office requesting “[a]ny and all records of official photos and/or birth date and/or rank and/or position and/or badge number and/or date hired and/or ID Badge for all detention center and/or jail personnel and/or deputies on duty November 26 & 27 2014.” A representative of the Sheriff’s “Public Disclosure Unit” sent 11 pages of records, but did not include photographs or dates of birth as requested, explaining that the information was exempt under the PRA. Green said he was “working on a story concerning the Pierce County Jail” and again signed his e-mail with the title, “Investigative Journalist.” Green claimed his 6,000-subscriber YouTube channel met the definition of “news media” under the PRA. The Supreme Court concluded the statutory definition of “news media” required an entity with a legal identity separate from the individual. Green did not prove that he or the Libertys Champion YouTube channel met the statutory definition of “news media,” and, thus, he was not entitled to the exempt records. Therefore, the trial court was reversed in part. The Court affirmed the trial court’s denial of Pierce County’s motion to compel discovery. View "Green v. Pierce County" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs-Appellants Santa Fe Alliance for Public Health & Safety, Arthur Firstenberg, and Monika Steinhoff (collectively the “Alliance”) brought a number of claims under Section 704 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 (“TCA”), New Mexico’s Wireless Consumer Advanced Infrastructure Investment Act (“WCAIIA”), the Amendments to Chapter 27 of the Santa Fe City City Code, and Santa Fe mayor proclamations. The Alliance alleged the statutes and proclamations violated due process, the Takings Clause, and the First Amendment. Through its amended complaint, the Alliance contended the installation of telecommunications facilities, primarily cellular towers and antennas, on public rights-of-way exposed its members to dangerous levels of radiation. The Alliance further contended these legislative and executive acts prevented it from effectively speaking out against the installation of new telecommunications facilities. The United States moved to dismiss under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1), and (b)(6), and the City of Santa Fe moved to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6). The district court concluded that while the Alliance pled sufficient facts to establish standing to assert its constitutional claims, the Alliance failed to allege facts stating any constitutional claim upon which relief could be granted, thus dismissing claims against all defendants, including New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas. The Tenth Circuit affirmed dismissal of the Alliance's constitutional claims, finding apart from the district court, that the Alliance lacked standing to raise its takings and due process claims not premised on an alleged denial of notice. Furthermore, the Court held that while the Alliance satisfied the threshold for standing as to its First Amendment and procedural due process claims (premised on the WCAIIA and Chapter 27 Amendments), the district court properly dismissed these claims under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). View "Santa Fe Alliance v. City of Santa Fe" on Justia Law

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Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism’s “Innocence Project” sought to exonerate Porter for two 1982 murders. Ciolino, a private investigator working with the Project, obtained a videotaped confession from Simon. Porter’s conviction was vacated. Simon pleaded guilty to the murders and was sentenced to 37 years in prison. Porter’s exoneration is regarded as the impetus for the Illinois death penalty moratorium. The tactics Ciolino used to obtain Simon’s confession came under scrutiny. It was alleged that Ciolino promised Simon that he would secure an attorney, Rimland, to represent him. Rimland shared office space with Ciolino and did not challenge Simon’s confession or present other evidence to the court. Ekl began representing Simon and filed a successive post-conviction petition asserting actual innocence. Two witnesses recanted their statements, indicating that those statements were induced by promises made by the Project. The circuit court vacated Simon’s convictions after Simon had served 15 years in prison. In 2015, Crawford published a book, Justice Perverted: How the Innocence Project … Sent an Innocent Man to Prison, which inspired the documentary at issue—Murder in the Park, in which Ekl allegedly made defamatory statements concerning Ciolino. Ciolino’s suit, alleging defamation, false light invasion of privacy, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and civil conspiracy, was dismissed as barred by the one-year statute of limitations. Except as against one defendant, the appellate court reversed. The Illinois Supreme Court affirmed the reinstatement of the claims against Ekl. Because the screenings of the documentary each constituted a separate publication of the allegedly defamatory material, the single-publication rule does not apply. Following the documentary's Chicago screening, Ciolino timely filed his complaint. View "Ciolino v. Simon" on Justia Law

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Rio Vista Officer Collondrez responded to a hit-and-run accident. According to an internal affairs investigation, Collondrez falsified his report, arrested a suspect without probable cause, used excessive force, applied a carotid control hold on the suspect, and failed to request medical assistance. After hearings, the city agreed to pay Collondrez $35,000. Collondrez resigned. The agreement provides that Collondrez's disciplinary reports will only be released as required by law or upon legal process issued by a court of competent jurisdiction, after written notice to Collondrez. Penal Code section 832.71 was subsequently amended to require the disclosure of police officer personnel records concerning sustained findings of dishonesty or making false reports. The city responded to media requests under the Public Records Act for records, giving Collondrez prior notice of only some of the disclosures. Media outlets reported the misconduct allegations. His then-employer, Uber, fired Collondrez. Collondrez sued.The trial court partially granted the city’s to strike the complaint under California’s anti-SLAPP statute, Code of Civil Procedure 425.16, finding that Collondrez had shown a probability of prevailing on his claims for breach of contract and invasion of privacy but not on claims for interference with prospective economic advantage and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The court of appeal reversed in part, in favor of the city. The complaint arises from speech protected by the anti-SLAPP statute, but the trial court erred in finding Collondrez established a likelihood of prevailing two counts. View "Collondrez v. City of Rio Vista" on Justia Law