Justia Communications Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Contracts
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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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Murphy, a journalist with approximately Twitter 25,000 followers, had a Twitter “verification badge,” which “lets people know that an account of public interest is authentic.” Murphy “writes primarily on feminist issues, including the Me Too movement, the sex industry, sex education, third-wave feminism, and gender identity politics.” Murphy argues “that there is a difference between acknowledging that transgender women see themselves as female and counting them as women in a legal or social sense.” Murphy posted several tweets critical of transgender women. Twitter removed her posts and informed her she had violated its hateful conduct rules. After she posted additional similar messages, Twitter permanently suspended her account.Murphy filed suit, alleging breach of contract, promissory estoppel, and violation of the unfair competition law. The trial court dismissed the complaint, concluding Murphy’s suit was barred by the Communications Decency Act of 1996, 47 U.S.C. 230, under which interactive computer service providers have broad immunity from liability for traditional editorial functions undertaken by publishers—such as decisions whether to publish, withdraw, postpone or alter content created by third parties. The court of appeal affirmed. Each of Murphy’s causes of action seeks to hold Twitter liable for its editorial decisions. Murphy also failed to state a cognizable claim under California law. The Hateful Conduct Policy was in place when Murphy began posting her deleted tweets; Twitter expressly reserved the right to remove content, and suspend or terminate accounts “for any or no reason.” View "Murphy v. Twitter, Inc." on Justia Law

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Oakland entered into agreements with OBOT for the development of the former Oakland Army Base. The project was to include a bulk commodity shipping terminal for products, including coal. When the subject of coal became public, it activated interest groups, ultimately leading to an ordinance banning coal handling and storage in the city and a resolution applying the ordinance to the terminal. A federal court held that the resolution was a breach of the OBOT agreements, and enjoined Oakland from relying on the resolution. Friction between OBOT and Oakland continued. OBOT sued, alleging breach of contract and tort claims.The city filed a demurrer, then a special motion to strike (SLAPP motion, Code of Civil Procedure 425.16) that sought to strike “in part” the complaint. The SLAPP motion was heard with other matters. The hearing dealt primarily with the demurrer, which the court overruled in most part, and sustained in part with leave to amend. Days later, the court “denied without prejudice” the SLAPP motion, describing it as “premature” in light of the amended complaint to come.The court of appeal determined that the SLAPP motion has no merit because the complaint is not based on protected activity and remanded with instructions to deny the motion on the merits. The essence of the complaint arose from Oaklands’s acts or omissions in breach of its agreements, its refusal to cooperate, and its tortious conduct. View "Oakland Bulk and Oversized Terminal, LLC v. City of Oakland" on Justia Law

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The Fourth Circuit vacated the district court's order denying DIRECTV's motion to compel arbitration in an action brought by plaintiff, alleging violations of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA). Plaintiff alleged that defendants called her cell phone to advertise DIRECTV products and services even though her telephone number is listed on the National Do Not Call Registry.Because plaintiff signed an acknowledgement expressly agreeing to the arbitration provision of the Wireless Customer Agreement with AT&T, which provision applies to her as an authorized user, the court rejected plaintiff's argument that she did not form an agreement to arbitrate. The court held that plaintiff formed an agreement to arbitrate with DIRECTV where the ordinary meaning of "affiliates" and the contractual context convinced the court that the term includes affiliates acquired after the agreement was signed. Furthermore, in light of the expansive text of the arbitration agreement, the categories of claims it specifically includes, and the parties' instruction to interpret its provisions broadly, the court must conclude that plaintiff's TCPA claims fall within the scope of the arbitration agreement. Therefore, the court remanded for further proceedings. View "Mey v. DIRECTV, LLC" on Justia Law

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T-Mobile customers can participate in “T-Mobile Tuesdays,” a promotional service, offering free items and discounts. Customers who no longer wish to receive marketing communications may opt-out by contacting T-Mobile’s customer service. T-Mobile user Warciak received a text message: This T-Mobile Tuesday, score a free 6” Oven Roasted Chicken sub at SUBWAY, just for being w/ T-Mobile. Ltd supply. Get app for details. The message came from T-Mobile. Warciak was not charged for the text. Warciak sued Subway claiming Subway engaged in a common-law agency relationship with T-Mobile, and that Subway’s conduct violated the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA). T-Mobile is not included in the lawsuit. The court dismissed the complaint as lacking sufficient support for claims of actual and apparent authority: control over the timing, content, or recipients of the text message. The court also found that the wireless carrier exemption applied so that no underlying TCPA violation exists ( 47 U.S.C. 227(b)(2)(C)). Prior written consent is not required for calls to a wireless customer by his wireless carrier if the customer is not charged. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The only alleged conduct by Subway is its contractual relationship with T-Mobile. Warciak’s complaint lacks sufficient facts showing Subway manifested to the public that T-Mobile was its agent. He relied on T-Mobile’s conduct. Statements by an agent are insufficient to create apparent authority without also tracing the statements to a principal’s manifestations or control. View "Warciak v. Subway Restaurants, Inc." on Justia Law

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Defendants solicited and obtained $180,000 from plaintiff produce a documentary on the Syrian refugee crisis. Plaintiff sued, alleging that no “significant” work on the documentary has occurred, that defendants never intended to make the documentary, and that a cinematographer has not been paid and claims the right to any footage he has shot, putting the project in jeopardy. Defendants filed an unsuccessful anti-SLAPP (strategic lawsuit against public participation (Code Civ. Proc. 425.16)) motion to strike, arguing the complaint arises out of acts in furtherance of their right of free speech in connection with an issue of public interest--their newsgathering related to the Syrian refugee crisis, and that plaintiff could not demonstrate minimal merit on his claims because the action is subject to an arbitration provision; plaintiff’s allegations are contradicted by the investor agreement; and the evidence establishes that substantial progress was made. The court found that plaintiff’s claims did not arise out of acts in furtherance of defendants’ protected speech but were “based on the failure to do acts in furtherance of the right of free speech."The court of appeal reversed. Defendants made a prima facie showing that the complaint targets conduct falling within the “catchall” provision of the anti-SLAPP law. Defendants’ solicitation of investments and their performance of allegedly unsatisfactory work on the documentary constituted activity in furtherance of their right of free speech in connection with an issue of public interest. The court erred in denying the motion at the first stage of the anti-SLAPP analysis. View "Ojjeh v. Brown" on Justia Law

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Jason Blanks, Peggy Manley, Kimberly Lee, Nancy Watkins, Randall Smith, Trenton Norton, Earl Kelly, Jennifer Scott, and Alyshia Kilgore (referred to collectively as "the customers") appealed the denial of a motion to compel arbitration and a declaratory judgment entered in an action brought by TDS Telecommunications LLC, and its two affiliates, Peoples Telephone Company, Inc., and Butler Telephone Company, Inc. (referred to collectively as "the Internet providers"). The customers subscribed to Internet service furnished by the Internet providers; their relationship was governed by a written "Terms of Service." The customers alleged that the Internet service they have received was slower than the Internet providers promised them. At the time the customers learned that their Internet service was allegedly deficient, the Terms of Service contained an arbitration clause providing that "any controversy or claim arising out of or relating to [the Terms of Service] shall be resolved by binding arbitration at the request of either party." In the declaratory-judgment action, the trial court ruled that the Internet providers were not required to arbitrate disputes with the customers. The Alabama Supreme Court determined the arbitration clause in the applicable version of the Terms of Service included an agreement between the Internet providers and the customers that an arbitrator was to decide issues of arbitrability, which included the issue whether an updated Terms of Service effectively excluded the customers' disputes from arbitration. Accordingly, the Supreme Court reversed the trial court's denial of the customers' motion to compel arbitration and its judgment declaring the updated Terms of Service "valid and enforceable," and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Blanks et al. v. TDS Telecommunications LLC" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial, on remand, of Qwest's unjust enrichment claim against FC. The court held that the district court did not abuse its discretion by concluding that it would not be inequitable for FC to retain the benefit conferred by Qwest. In this case, the district court explained that FC earned the benefit conferred by Qwest because it provided conference-calling services, 24-hour customer support, and access to a website in exchange for two cents per minute for calls placed to FC's conferencing bridges at Sancom. Furthermore, Qwest paid its own conference-calling vendor between two and four-and-a-half cents per minute. View "Qwest Communications Corp. v. Free Conferencing Corp." on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment to the City and ImOn in an action brought by Mediacom, seeking declarations that certain resolutions were void and that the City could not permit a potential cable provider to construct a "cable system" without acquiring a cable franchise. Mediacom also alleged contract violations, tortious interference, civil conspiracy, and Equal Protection violations, all depending on whether ImOn could lawfully build a fiber-optic network without a franchise. The court held that ImOn's fiber-optic network was not a "cable system," because ImOn has not provided or proposed to provide cable services. Therefore, the agreements at issue authorizing ImOn's construction of a fiber-optic network were not a de facto cable franchise. In regard to Mediacom's equal protection claim, the court also held that the district court properly concluded that ImOn and Mediacom were not similarly situated because only Mediacom was a cable provider in the City, and the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying Mediacom's motion for discovery. View "MCC Iowa v. Iowa City" 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