Justia Communications Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Communications Law
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In this case, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit was asked to consider an appeal brought by BuzzFeed, Inc. and one of its journalists, Jason Leopold, against a decision of the District Court granting summary judgment to the Department of Justice (DOJ). The appellants sought the release of a partially redacted report on HSBC Bank's conduct under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The District Court had ruled that the report was entirely exempt from disclosure under FOIA Exemption 8 which protects reports related to the regulation or supervision of financial institutions.The Court of Appeals held that the case must be remanded to the District Court to determine whether the DOJ can demonstrate that the release of any part of the report could foreseeably harm an interest protected by Exemption 8. The Court stressed the requirement for a sequential inquiry: first, whether an exemption applies to a document; and second, whether releasing the information would foreseeably harm an interest protected by the exemption. The Court found that the District Court had not sufficiently conducted this sequential inquiry, and the DOJ had not adequately demonstrated how the release of the report would cause foreseeable harm to an interest protected by Exemption 8.The Court noted that the FOIA requires agencies to release any reasonably segregable portion of a record, even if an exemption covers an entire agency record. The Court determined that the DOJ had not satisfactorily explained why the release of a redacted version of the report would cause foreseeable harm to an interest protected by Exemption 8. Therefore, the Court vacated the District Court's grant of summary judgment to the DOJ and remanded the case for further consideration. View "Leopold v. DOJ" on Justia Law

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In the case before the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, the Borough of Longport and the Township of Irvington, two New Jersey municipalities, sued Netflix, Inc. and Hulu, LLC, two popular video streaming companies. The municipalities sought to enforce a provision of the New Jersey Cable Television Act (CTA), which requires cable television entities to pay franchise fees to municipalities. The CTA, however, does not provide an express right of action for municipalities to enforce its provisions. The court had to determine whether the CTA implies such a right. The court concluded that it does not and affirmed the judgment of the District Court. The court found that the CTA expressly vests all enforcement authority in the Board of Public Utilities (BPU) and that it would be inconsistent with the purposes of the CTA to infer the existence of a private right of action for municipalities. The court rejected the municipalities' argument that the New Jersey Constitution recognizes that municipalities have powers of "necessary or fair implication", stating that this cannot change the plain meaning of statutes or provide municipalities with statutory enforcement authority that would directly conflict with the statute. View "Borough of Longport v. Netflix Inc" on Justia Law

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In the case before the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, the defendant, Randall Crater, was convicted of wire fraud, unlawful monetary transactions, and operating an unlicensed money transmitting business based on his involvement in a cryptocurrency scheme. The trial lasted eight days and was based on Crater's management of My Big Coin (MBC), a cryptocurrency company that allegedly misrepresented itself as a gold-backed digital currency and claimed a partnership with MasterCard. The defendant appealed two of the district court's rulings.Firstly, Crater argued that the district court violated his Sixth Amendment right to compulsory process by refusing to enforce subpoenas against three federal agency witnesses due to Crater's non-compliance with the agencies' Touhy regulations. Secondly, Crater contended that the district court did not perform its gatekeeping duty by admitting testimony from the government's cryptocurrency expert without holding a Daubert hearing.However, the Court of Appeals affirmed the district court's decision, stating that Crater's arguments could not be reconciled with controlling precedent or the record in the case. The court found that Crater's failure to show how the excluded testimony of the federal agents would have been both material and favorable to his defense invalidated his Sixth Amendment claim. Furthermore, the court held that Crater's objections to the expert witness's qualifications and methodology were insufficient to necessitate a Daubert hearing. View "US v. Crater" on Justia Law

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In this case, Chad Michael Rider was convicted of three counts of producing or attempting to produce child pornography in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2251(a) and was sentenced to 720 months’ imprisonment. The evidence presented included numerous videos that Rider had taken of minors, in various stages of undress, in places where they expected privacy such as bathrooms. Rider appealed his conviction and sentence on several bases, including arguing that his conversation with police officers, where he admitted to setting up cameras, should have been suppressed, that expert testimony about his lack of pedophilic tendencies should have been admitted, that there was insufficient evidence to support his convictions, that the jury instructions constructively amended the indictment, and that his sentence was unreasonable.The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit rejected all of Rider's arguments and affirmed his conviction and sentence. The court found that Rider was not in custody when he spoke to the officers, and so his statements were not involuntary. The court also found that there was no error in excluding the expert testimony, as it was not relevant to any element of the charges that the government had to prove. The court also found that there was sufficient evidence to support the convictions, as there was ample evidence that Rider had the intent and took the necessary steps to produce child pornography. The court also ruled that the jury instructions did not constructively amend the indictment. Finally, the court found that the sentence was not unreasonable, given the uniquely disturbing facts of the case and Rider's lack of remorse. View "United States v. Rider" on Justia Law

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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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SmartEnergy Holdings, LLC, a retail electricity supplier, was found to have violated various provisions of Maryland law governing retail electricity suppliers, including engaging in deceptive, misleading, and unfair trade practices. The Supreme Court of Maryland upheld the decisions of lower courts and the Maryland Public Service Commission, affirming that the Commission has the authority to determine whether electricity suppliers under its jurisdiction have violated Maryland’s consumer protection laws, including the Maryland Telephone Solicitations Act (MTSA). The court also determined that the MTSA applies to SmartEnergy’s business practices, as it applies to sales made over the telephone where the consumer places the telephone call to the merchant in response to a merchant’s marketing materials. The court found substantial evidence in the record to support the Commission's factual findings and determined that the remedies imposed by the Commission were within its discretion and not arbitrary or capricious. View "In the Matter of SmartEnergy" on Justia Law

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In a case before the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, six men affiliated with the transnational criminal organization MS-13 were convicted of sex trafficking a thirteen-year-old girl by force, fraud, or coercion, and conspiracy to do the same. The accused appealed the district court’s denial of their motions to suppress evidence obtained from Facebook warrants, arguing the warrants failed the probable cause and particularity requirements of the Fourth Amendment. One of the accused also appealed the district court’s denial of his motion for acquittal, contending that the evidence presented at trial was insufficient to sustain his conviction.The court held that the Facebook warrants were supported by probable cause, as they were based on substantial evidence linking the accused’s use of Facebook to their criminal activities. The court also held that the warrants were sufficiently particular as they identified the items to be seized by reference to the suspected criminal offenses and confined the officers’ discretion by restricting them from rummaging through the accused’s social media data in search of unrelated criminal activities. However, the court noted that future warrants enhance their claims to particularity by requesting data only from the period of time during which the defendant was suspected of taking part in the criminal conspiracy.The court rejected one appellant's sufficiency challenge to his conviction and affirmed his convictions, finding that substantial evidence supported the jury’s conclusion that he was guilty of conspiracy to engage in sex trafficking of a minor under fourteen or of a minor by force, fraud, or coercion, and of conspiracy to transport a minor in interstate commerce with intent for the minor to engage in prostitution or illegal sexual activity.Therefore, the court affirmed the judgment of the district court in all respects. View "United States v. Zelaya-Veliz" on Justia Law

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The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit affirmed the district court's decision that the General Services Administration (GSA) properly redacted the names of several low-level team members from spreadsheets of salary and benefits costs for outgoing transition teams of President Trump and Vice President Pence. The news organization Insider, Inc. had requested these documents under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The court found that the transition team members had a strong privacy interest in their personal information, which outweighed the public interest in disclosure. The court rejected Insider's argument that disclosure would reveal possible ethical concerns and facilitate interviews that would illuminate the transition process. The court held that these interests were not cognizable under FOIA, as they related to activities of private actors and former executive officials, not current government actors. The court concluded that, given the information already disclosed by the GSA, the incremental value served by disclosing the names of low-level transition team members did not outweigh their privacy interests. View "Insider Inc. v. GSA" on Justia Law

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In this case, the plaintiff, a victim of sex trafficking, brought a putative class action against various entities, including foreign-based defendants who operated websites on which videos of her abuse were uploaded and viewed. The district court dismissed the claims against the foreign-based defendants for lack of personal jurisdiction. On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed and vacated in part, holding that the district court erred in its conclusion.The Ninth Circuit found that the plaintiff had established a prima facie case for the exercise of specific personal jurisdiction over two foreign defendants, WebGroup Czech Republic, a.s. ("WGCZ") and NKL Associates, s.r.o. ("NKL"), which operated the websites. The court concluded that the plaintiff had shown that these defendants had purposefully directed their activities toward the United States, that her claims arose from these forum-related activities, and that the exercise of jurisdiction would be reasonable.The court based its decision on several factors. WGCZ and NKL had contracted with U.S.-based content delivery network services to ensure faster website loading times and a more seamless viewing experience for U.S. users, demonstrating that they had actively targeted the U.S. market. They also profited significantly from U.S. web traffic. Furthermore, the harm the plaintiff suffered—namely, the publication of videos of her abuse on the defendants' websites—had occurred in the U.S., and a substantial volume of the widespread publication of the videos occurred in the U.S.As for the remaining foreign defendants, the court vacated the district court's dismissal of them because it was based solely on the incorrect assumption that there was no personal jurisdiction over WGCZ and NKL. The court remanded the case for further proceedings to determine whether personal jurisdiction could be asserted against these additional defendants. View "DOE V. WEBGROUP CZECH REPUBLIC, A.S." on Justia Law

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The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed the lower court's order to compel arbitration and dismiss without prejudice a series of lawsuits against several sports goods e-commerce companies (the defendants). The lawsuits were brought by several plaintiffs, who were consumers that purchased goods online from the defendants and had their personal information stolen during a data breach on the defendants' websites. The defendants moved to compel arbitration based on the arbitration provision in their terms of use. The appellate court held that the plaintiffs had sufficient notice of the arbitration provision and that the arbitration clause was not invalid under California law, was not unconscionable, and did not prohibit public injunctive relief. Furthermore, the parties agreed to delegate the question of arbitrability to an arbitrator according to the commercial rules and procedures of JAMS, a private alternative dispute resolution provider. View "PATRICK V. RUNNING WAREHOUSE, LLC" on Justia Law