Justia Communications Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Consumer 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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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

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Charles Ramsey, a subscriber to Comcast Cable Communications, LLC’s Xfinity services, filed a lawsuit against Comcast for violations of California’s consumer protection statutes. He alleged that Comcast engaged in unfair, unlawful, and deceptive business practices under the Consumers Legal Remedies Act (CLRA) and the unfair competition law (UCL). Ramsey’s complaint sought injunctive relief, not monetary damages. Comcast filed a petition to compel arbitration pursuant to the arbitration provision in the parties’ subscriber agreement which required the parties to arbitrate all disputes and permitted the arbitrator to grant only individual relief. The trial court denied the petition based on the Supreme Court’s decision in McGill v. Citibank, which held that a predispute arbitration provision that waives a plaintiff’s right to seek public injunctive relief in any forum is unenforceable under California law. On appeal, Comcast argued that the trial court erred in concluding that Ramsey was seeking public injunctive relief. Comcast further argued that the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA) preempts McGill. The Court of Appeal of the State of California Sixth Appellate District held that Ramsey’s complaint seeks public injunctive relief, and that McGill is not preempted, thus affirming the trial court’s order. View "Ramsey v. Comcast Cable Communications, LLC" on Justia Law

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FSSolutions faxed Dr. Thalman several times to ask him to join its network of preferred medical providers and administer various employment screening and testing services to its clients. Thalman declined the invitation and instead invoked the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, 7 U.S.C. 227(b)(1)(C), to sue FSSolutions for sending him unsolicited advertisements. The district court dismissed the complaint after finding that the faxes were not “unsolicited advertisements” within the meaning of the TCPA because they merely asked to purchase Thalman’s own services rather than inviting him to buy something from FSSolutions.The Seventh Circuit reversed. While a fax must directly or indirectly encourage recipients to buy goods, services, or property to qualify as an unsolicited advertisement, Thalman plausibly alleged that FSSolutions’s faxes did just that by promoting the company’s network of preferred medical providers, a network that would bring Thalman new business in exchange for a portion of the underlying client fees. “[M]indful that many plaintiffs’ attorneys view the TCPA opportunistically, the court cautioned against overreading its opinion, which applies to unsolicited faxes that an objective recipient would construe as urging the purchase of a good, service, or property by emphasizing its availability or desirability. View "Smith v. First Hospital Laboratories, Inc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff appealed from the district court’s partial judgment granting a motion to dismiss in favor of Defendant, Reward Zone USA, LLC (Reward Zone), in a putative class action lawsuit brought under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA). In Plaintiff’s second cause of action, which is the subject of this opinion, Plaintiff alleged a violation of the TCPA because she received at least three mass marketing text messages from Reward Zone which utilized “prerecorded voices.”   The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s dismissal. The court held the text messages did not use prerecorded voices under the Act because they did not include audible components. The panel relied on the statutory context of the Act and the ordinary meaning of voice, which showed that Congress used the word voice to include only an audible sound, and not a more symbolic definition such as an instrument or medium of expression. The panel addressed Plaintiff’s appeal of the district court’s dismissal of another cause of action under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act in a simultaneously-filed memorandum disposition. View "LUCINE TRIM V. REWARD ZONE USA LLC, ET AL" on Justia Law

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This case is part of the battle between telecommunications providers that are attempting to expand next-generation wireless services (commonly called 5G) and municipalities that are resisting that expansion. The City of Pasadena used another method: aesthetic design standards incorporating spacing and undergrounding requirements The city invoked those requirements to block Crown Castle’s ability to develop a 5G network in the region, and Crown Castle sued for relief. Congress and the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”) anticipated those strategies and previously had passed the Federal Telecommunications Act (“FTA”) and responsive regulations. As a result, the district court decided in favor of Crown Castle, primarily basing its decision on the expansive language of the FTA and an FCC ruling interpreting the Act in light of 5G technology and associated challenges.The Fifth Circuit affirmed. The court held that the FTA preempts the city’s spacing and undergrounding requirements, and the city forfeited its arguments relating to the safe-harbor provision in the FTA. Nor did the district court abuse its discretion in ordering a permanent injunction. The court explained that, as the court found, the regulations affect only small cell nodes that would permit T-Mobile to offer extensive 5G service in Pasadena. Moreover, the court wrote that a party seeking a permanent injunction must establish (1) actual success on the merits; (2) that it is likely to suffer irreparable harm in the absence of injunctive relief; (3) that the balance of equities tips in that party’s favor; and (4) that an injunction is in the public interest. All those factors weigh in Crown Castle’s favor. View "Crown Castle Fiber v. City of Pasadena" on Justia Law

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The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) provides subsidies to encourage telecommunication companies to expand high-speed broadband internet services in rural areas where customer revenues would otherwise be insufficient to justify the cost of doing business. Venture Communications Cooperative (“Venture”) provides broadband services to rural South Dakota customers. James Valley Cooperative Telephone Company and its wholly owned subsidiary, Northern Valley Communications (collectively, “Northern Valley”), is a competing provider. Venture filed this lawsuit against Northern Valley. The primary claim is that Northern Valley violated 47 U.S.C. Section 220(e) by filing a Form 477 that “intentionally, deliberately, fraudulently, and maliciously misrepresented” information “for the sole unlawful purpose of harming [Venture]” by depriving Venture of FCC subsidies in census blocks where Northern Valley was deemed to be an unsubsidized competitor. The district court granted Northern Valley summary judgment, concluding “there is no evidence that Northern Valley willfully overreported its broadband capabilities.”   The Eighth Circuit affirmed. The court explained that Venture’s claim of intent to injure is belied by Northern Valley helping Venture by filing a letter with the FCC clarifying that Northern Valley did not offer voice service in the Overlap Area. The court likewise affirmed the dismissal of Venture’s tortious interference and civil conspiracy claims under South Dakota law. The court agreed with the district court that Venture proffered no evidence of an “intentional and unjustified act of interference” because Northern Valley complied with all FCC reporting requirements. As Northern Valley complied with the Telecommunications Act in filing Form 477 at issue, there is no plausible underlying tort alleged. Summary judgment is warranted on this claim. View "Venture Comm. Co-Op, Inc. v. James Valley Co-Op Telephone Co." on Justia Law

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After receiving a flood of telemarketing phone calls concerning debt relief through lower interest rates on credit cards, Appellee brought suit pursuant to the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (“TCPA”), and the West Virginia Consumer Credit and Protection Act (“WVCCPA”), against several defendants. Throughout the course of the litigation, Appellants failed to respond fulsomely and accurately to discovery requests and to comply with court orders pertaining to those requests. As a sanction for their repeated discovery violations, the district court entered a default judgment against Appellants.   The Fourth Circuit affirmed, concluding that the district court did not abuse its discretion by finding that Appellants acted in bad faith and entered a default judgment against them. The court explained that because the damages consisted strictly of statutory penalties, the amount of which was readily discernable on the basis of undisputed evidence in the record, the district court did not abuse its discretion by entering judgment in favor of Appellee and awarding statutory damages without a trial. Further, because penalties under the TCPA and WVCCPA are not exclusive and the statutes separately penalize different violative conduct, damages under the WVCCPA may be awarded in addition to those under the TCPA for a single communication that violates both statutes. View "Diana Mey v. Judson Phillips" on Justia Law

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The Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”) has long monitored local telephone companies’ “access stimulation.” In 2011, the FCC issued rules to address this phenomenon, defining when carriers engage in access stimulation and restricting the rates that they could charge. After local carriers found loopholes in this regulatory system, the FCC revisited and updated these rules, issuing the Updating the Intercarrier Compensation Regime to Eliminate Access Arbitrage (“Access Arbitrage Order”), 34 FCC Rcd. 9035 (2019). Wide Voice, LLC (“Wide Voice”), rearranged its business model and call traffic path in coordination with closely related entities, HD Carrier and Free Conferencing. Wide Voice petitions for review of the FCC’s order, specifically arguing that the FCC unreasonably concluded that it violated Section 201(b) by restructuring its business operations to continue imposing charges that were otherwise prohibited.   The Ninth Circuit denied the petition for review. The panel held that the FCC properly exercised its authority under § 201(b) to hold Wide Voice liable for circumventing its newly adopted rule in the Access Arbitrage Order when the company devised a workaround. Contrary to Wide Voice’s assertions, the FCC need not establish new rules prohibiting the evasion of its existing rules to find a Section 201(b) violation. The panel rejected Wide Voice’s contention that it restructured its business to comply with, rather than evade, the FCC’s new rules. Finally, the panel rejected Wide Voice’s contention that even if the FCC was permitted to find its conduct “unjust and unreasonable,” it did not have fair notice that its practices were unlawful, and therefore the FCC violated its right to due process. View "WIDE VOICE, LLC V. FCC, ET AL" on Justia Law

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DirecTV and Dish Network (“Defendants”) provide video services in part through the Internet. The City of Creve Coeur filed this class action in Missouri state court on behalf of local government authorities, seeking a declaratory judgment that Defendants are liable under the Video Services Providers Act (“VSPA”) and implementing local ordinances, plus injunctive relief, an accounting of unpaid fees, and damages. Defendants removed the action based on diversity jurisdiction and the Class Action Fairness Act (CAFA). After the state court entered an interlocutory order declaring that VSPA payments are fees, rather than taxes, DirecTV filed a second notice of removal, arguing this order established the required federal jurisdiction. The district court granted Creve Coeur’s motion to remand.   The Eleventh Circuit affirmed on different grounds. The court explained that the district court’s remand order plainly stated that the remand was based on comity principles as articulated in Levin, not on “state-tax based comity concerns.” Comity as a basis to remand was raised and fully argued in the first remand proceeding. Federal courts have long precluded two bites at this apple. Second, the Supreme Court in Levin emphatically stated that the century-old comity doctrine is not limited to the state-tax-interference concerns that later led Congress to enact the TIA. Third, the state court’s December 2020 Order addressed, preliminarily, only the VSPA fee-or-tax issue under state law. It did not address the broader considerations comity addresses. The state court order in no way overruled or undermined the basis for the district court’s first remand order. Therefore, DirecTV failed to establish the essential basis for a second removal. View "City of Creve Coeur v. DirecTV LLC" on Justia Law