Justia Communications Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Communications Law
by
New Jersey permits candidates running in primary elections to include beside their name a slogan of up to six words to help distinguish them from others on the ballot but requires that candidates obtain consent from individuals or incorporated associations before naming them in their slogans. Candidates challenged this requirement after their desired slogans were rejected for failure to obtain consent. They argued that ballot slogans are, in effect, part of the campaign and that the consent requirement should be subject to traditional First Amendment scrutiny.The district court disagreed, holding that, though the ballot slogans had an expressive function, the consent requirement regulates the mechanics of the electoral process. The court applied the Anderson-Burdick test. The Third Circuit affirmed. The line separating core political speech from the mechanics of the electoral process “has proven difficult to ascertain.“ The court surveyed the election laws to which the Supreme Court and appellate courts have applied the Anderson-Burdick test, as opposed to a traditional First Amendment analysis, and derived criteria to help distinguish which test is applicable. New Jersey’s consent requirement is subject to Anderson-Burdick’s balancing test; because New Jersey’s interests in ensuring election integrity and preventing voter confusion outweigh the minimal burden imposed on candidates’ speech, the requirement passes that test. View "Mazo v. New Jersey Secretary of State" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court answered a question of law certified by the district court in the negative, holding that two video streaming services - Netflix, Inc. and Hulu, LLC - did not provide "video service" within the meaning of Tenn. Code Ann. 7-59-303(19) and thus did not qualify as "video service providers" required to pay franchise fees to localities under section 7-59-303(20).The City of Knoxville brought this action asserting that Netflix and Hulu were required to pay franchise fees because they used public rights-of-way to provide video service. Specifically, Knoxville argued that Netflix and Hulu were "video service providers" as defined in the Competitive Cable and Video Services Act, Tenn. Code Ann. 7-59-301 to -318, and were thus required to apply for a franchise and pay franchise fees to Knoxville. The district court certified a question of law to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court answered that Netflix and Hulu did not provide a "video service" within the meaning of section -303(19) and thus did not qualify as "video service providers" under section -303(20). View "City of Knoxville, Tenn. v. Netflix, Inc." on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals dismissing Appellant's petition for a writ of mandamus against Baker, Dublikar, Beck, Wiley & Mathews (the Baker firm), Public Entity Risk Services of Ohio (PERSO), and the Ohio Township Association Risk Management Authority (OTARMA) seeking to obtain unreacted copies of invoices that the Baker firm had prepared for PERSO, holding that the court of appeals did not properly apply the standard of review in dismissing Appellant's petition.Appellant brought this action under Ohio's Public Records Act, Ohio Rev. Code 149.43, seeking a writ of mandamus ordering Appellees to produce unreacted copies of the requested records. The court of appeals determined that Appellees were subject to the Act despite their private-party status but dismissed the petition on the ground that the records were protected by the attorney-client privilege. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) PERSO was not immune from suit; and (2) the court of appeals department from the Civ.R. 12(B)(6) standard. View "State ex rel. Ames v. Dublikar, Beck, Wiley & Mathews" on Justia Law

by
The Cincinnati Citizen Complaint Authority investigates alleged police misconduct and usually interviews the relevant officers, complainants, and other witnesses. Officers are required to participate in such investigations. An officer may bring a union representative to the interview. The Authority video records the interviews. Sergeant Hils, the President of the Union, claims that Authority Investigator Ekeke, in recording an officer’s interview, selectively turned off the recording when the officer made exculpatory statements. Another time, he alleges, Ekeke “threatened” an officer before the interview. Hils tried to record an interview of Officer Knapp, whom he represented. The Authority instituted a policy, prohibiting officers or their representatives from recording the interviews.Hils and affected officers sued, alleging violations of their free-speech rights, 42 U.S.C. 1983. The union filed an unfair labor practices charge, which led to a partial settlement agreement. The city agreed to record all future interviews. The district court held that the settlement agreement mooted the selective-recording claims and that the First Amendment does not include a right to record a government investigation. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. The policy satisfies rational-basis review. The Authority has legitimate interests in maintaining order and fairness during its interviews by ensuring the ongoing interviews are not selectively broadcasted, by ensuring the integrity of the investigation, by protecting the subjects of the investigation from unfair and precipitous public criticism, and by trying to prevent other subjects of the investigation from hearing prior interviews. View "Hils v. Davis" on Justia Law

by
The First Circuit affirmed the judgment of the district court granting Defendants' motion to dismiss this action for defamation, false light invasion of privacy, and intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress, holding that Plaintiffs did not plausibly allege defamation under principles of the First Amendment and that there was otherwise no error.Dana Cheng and Epoch Group sued Dan Neumann and Maine People's Alliance in Maine federal court alleging defamation based on statements in an article written by Neumann and published by Maine People's Alliance entitled "Maine GOP hosts speaker present at Jan. 6 Capitol assault." The district court granted Defendants' motion to dismiss under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) and New York's anti-SLAPP statute. The First Circuit affirmed, holding that the challenged statements were non-actionable opinions and that Plaintiffs' remaining challenges were waived. View "Cheng v. Neumann" on Justia Law

by
Broadband Voice, LLC, d/b/a Fuse.Cloud, LLC (Fuse), appealed a Mississippi circuit court's dismissal of its complaint with prejudice. Fuse entered into four contracts with Jefferson County for telephone and internet installation and services. In January 2020, an entirely new board of supervisors took office. The County notified Fuse on November 3, 2020, that it would be terminating the contracts entered into by the 2019 board of supervisors. The termination was to take effect on November 16, 2020. Fuse notified the new board of supervisors that an early-termination fee of $116,984.02 would be imposed if the County terminated the contracts. Fuse disconnected the County’s service before the November 16, 2020 termination date, and sued when the County refused to pay the fee. On August 23, 2021, the circuit court dismissed Fuse’s complaint with prejudice, finding that there were no triable issues. Fuse argued on appeal to the Mississippi Supreme Court that it was entitled to $116,984.02 in early-termination fees from the four contracts. Finding that the early-termination-fee provision was negotiated by the prior board, and that prior board could not limit the ability of a subsequent board to terminate that provision or any other provision of the four contracts, the Supreme Court held the early-termination fee was not enforceable. The circuit court's dismissal was affirmed. View "Broadband Voice, LLC d/b/a Fuse.Cloud, LLC v. Jefferson County, Mississippi" on Justia Law

by
In September 2022, the Kentucky Judicial Conduct Commission sent letters to Fischer, who is running for the Kentucky Supreme Court, and Winter, who is running for the Court of Appeals, stating that unidentified individuals had filed complaints, alleging they had “engaged in political or campaign activity inconsistent with the independence, integrity, or impartiality of the judiciary," including references to the Republican Party and “pledges, promises or commitments in connection with cases, controversies, or issues likely to come before the Court—specifically the issue of abortion.” The candidates requested additional information, identifying statements that might have prompted the complaints and explaining why the First Amendment protected the statements. They sought declaratory and injunctive relief, raising facial and as-applied challenges to Kentucky's Judicial Conduct Rules. They sought an emergency injunction pending appeal, justifying their request based on “the passage of 12 days without a ruling in the middle of an election cycle,” and the “specter of … self-censorship.”That day, the district court denied the request for a preliminary injunction on standing grounds. The Sixth Circuit granted a preliminary injunction, protecting specific campaign statements. The candidates have standing and have demonstrated a likely constitutional violation. There is a credible threat of enforcement of the Rules. The candidates have guessed which of their statements might have violated the rules; the First Amendment protects each. “When a judicial commission sends vague and threatening letters to candidates on the eve of election, it puts the candidates to a choice between self-censorship and uncertain sanctions.” View "Fischer v. Thomas" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals denying a writ of mandamus compelling the city of Cleveland to disclose use-of-force (UOF) reports on the grounds that UOF reports are exempt from disclosure under the Public Records Act, Ohio Rev. Code 149.43, as confidential law-enforcement investigatory records (CLEIR), holding that the court of appeals erred.UOF reports are prepared whenever a Cleveland police officer uses force in the course of the officer's duties. Appellants brought this mandamus action against Cleveland seeking disclosure of the reports. The court of appeals denied the requested writ, holding that the reports were exempt as CLEIR. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that Cleveland did not meet its burden to prove that the exception at issue applied to the specific information contained in the reports. View "State ex rel. Standifer v. Cleveland" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court reversed three rulings by the trial court in a pending criminal case in these consolidated appeals, holding that the trial court erred in barring public access to a pretrial bail hearing, by keeping certain motions and exhibits under seal, and by finding that the City of Newport News lacked standing to oppose any public access to sealed documents that the City had previously produced in response to a subpoena.The underlying case involved a murder indictment and ancillary charges against a Newport News police officer. Two newspaper publishers and a reporter filed an appeal challenging rulings barring access to the pretrial bail hearing and keeping motions and exhibits under seal. The City challenged the ruling that the City lacked standing to oppose public access to the sealed documents it produced in response to the subpoena. The Supreme Court reversed all three holdings, holding that the trial court erred as to all three rulings. View "Daily Press, LLC v. Commonwealth" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the circuit court partially denying Appellant's petition for a writ of mandamus and purportedly denying his request for attorney's fees and costs, holding that the circuit court misapplied a definition of "personnel information."In his mandamus petition, Appellant requested documents related to employment disputes in the Town of South Hill, as well as attorney's fees and costs. The circuit court denied the petition in part after applying definitions of "personnel record" from a previous version of the Virginia Freedom of Information Act (VFOIA) instead of "personnel information." The court further refused to award attorney's fees and costs. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded the case for further proceedings, holding that the circuit court erred in its interpretation and application of the personnel information exemption under VFOIA. View "Hawkins v. Town of South Hill" on Justia Law