Justia Communications Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Government & Administrative Law
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This original proceeding involves a protracted legal battle between several rural telephone companies and the Public Utilities Commission (“Commission”). Petitioners are telephone corporations that provide telephone service in rural areas. After the Rural Telephone Bank (“RTB”) had just dissolved and redeemed all shares of stock it had issued. Many telephone companies, including Petitioners, owned RTB stock. The Commission had clarified in a 2006 decision that all gains on the sale of public utility company assets that were never in rate base accrue to company shareholders. Relying on this decision, the companies that never had stock in rate base so stated in the application and did not disclose any of their redemption proceeds. The Commission penalized the companies in the amount of $2,752,000 for violating Rule 1.1. The companies challenged the decision in an administrative appeal, but the Commission denied rehearing.   The Fifth Appellate District annulled penalty decision and the decision denying rehearing. The court agreed that Petitioners lacked fair notice of their obligation to disclose their redemption proceeds in the 2007 application. The court explained that Petitioners’ redemption proceed amounts were irrelevant to a ratemaking determination because Petitioners’ shares were never in rate base. All gains or losses on the redemption accrued to Petitioners’ shareholders, not the ratepayers. No other allocation was legally allowed. The Commission should have instructed Petitioners to disclose their redemption proceeds in the Application if that is what the Commission wanted from Petitioners. But the Commission did not give fair notice to Petitioners of this disclosure requirement and penalized them for essentially failing to intuit the disclosure requirement. View "Kerman Telephone Co. v. Public Utilities Commission" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the judgment of the superior court awarding attorney fees to the Human Rights Defense Center (HRDC) based on the court's ruling after an evidentiary hearing that the Maine County Commissioners Association Self-Funded Risk Management Pool (Risk Pool) had refused in bad faith to comply with HRDC's lawful request for records, holding that the Risk Pool's response constituted a bad faith refusal.HRDC submitted to the Risk Pool a request for records pursuant to the Maine Freedom of Access Act (FOAA), Me. Rev. Stat. 1, 400-414. The Risk Pool never denied or explicitly refused to comply with HRDC's request. Pursuant to FOAA's appeal procedure, HRDC filed a complaint against, among others, the Risk Pool. The Risk Pool filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that HRDC had failed to meet the FOAA requirement that the appeal be filed within thirty calendar days of the agency's "refusal, denial, or failure" to comply with the FOAA request. The motion was denied, and the court entered judgment in favor of HRDC. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) HRDC's complaint was timely filed; and (2) the court did not err in awarding attorney fees based on the finding that the Risk Pool acted in bad faith in responding to HRDC's FOAA request. View "Human Rights Defense Center v. Maine County Commissioners Ass'n Self-Funded Risk Management Pool" on Justia Law

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Pacific Networks Corp. and ComNet (USA) LLC, which are companies owned by the People’s Republic of China, held authorizations to operate communication lines in the United States. The Federal Communications Commission revoked these authorizations based on concerns that the carriers posed national security risks and had proven themselves untrustworthy. The carriers argue that the FCC’s reasoning was substantively arbitrary and was rendered with inadequate process.   The DC Circuit denied the petition for review. The court held that the FCC adequately explained its decision to revoke Pacific Networks’ and ComNet’s authorizations, and it afforded adequate process to the carriers. The court explained that the carriers do not seriously contest the FCC’s factual determinations. Instead, they object that the Commission had never revoked a Section 214 authorization based solely on misrepresentations. The carriers cite past cases where concerns about candor or trustworthiness produced only a fine. But those cases did not involve national security risks, which plainly heighten any trustworthiness concerns. Moreover, the court wrote that the FCC reasonably explained why no realistic agreement could have worked given the carriers’ proven lack of trustworthiness. View "Pacific Networks Corp. v. FCC" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the summary judgment order of the district court requiring Memorial Hospital of Converse County (MHCC) to produce certain records requested under the Wyoming Public Records Act (WPRA) but also imposing a protective order on those documents, holding that the district court erred in finding that a certain document was not subject to disclosure under the WPRA.On appeal, Plaintiff challenged the denial of her motion for summary judgment related to the production of documents involving a settlement between MHCC and a patient (MB settlement), arguing that the MB settlement was subject to production under the WPRA. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the district court erred should have ordered MHCC to produce the MB settlement; and (2) the district court's entry of a protective order was contrary to the WPRA and without evidentiary support. View "Gates v. "Memorial Hospital of Converse County - Advanced Medicine. Hometown Care", ex rel. Board of Trustees of the Memorial Hospital of Converse County" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals granting a writ of mandamus ordering the Ohio Fair Plan Underwriting (OFP) to provide documents in response to a public records request brought by Fair Housing Opportunities of Northwest Ohio (Fair Housing) and denying Fair Housing statutory damages and attorney fees, holding that there was no error.After OFP provided information it argued was partially responsive to Fair Housing's public records request Fair Housing brought this action seeking a writ of mandamus ordering OFP to provide records responsive to the request. Fair Housing further sought statutory damages and attorney fees awards. The court of appeals found that OFP was a public office subject to the Public Records Act and granted a writ of mandamus. The court, however, denied statutory damages and attorney fees. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) OFP was subject to the Act; and (2) Fair Housing was not entitled to awards of statutory damages or attorney fees. View "State ex rel. Fair Housing Opportunities of Northwest Ohio v. Ohio Fair Plan" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court modified the judgment of the court of appeals dismissing Appellant's petition for a writ of mandamus seeking an order directing Appellees to produce unreacted invoices for certain legal services under the Public Records Act, Ohio Pub. Rec. Ohio Rev. Code 149.43, holding that the writ should have been denied.Appellant sought unreacted invoices for legal services provided to the Rootstown Township Board of Trustees by two entities. Appellant was provided with the invoices but redacted portions of them that contained information protected from disclosure by the attorney-client privilege. Appellant then filed his petition for a writ of mandamus. The court of appeals dismissed the petition, concluding that the information sought by Appellant was protected from disclosure under the attorney-client privilege. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded for an in camera inspection of the invoices. After an in camera inspection, the court of appeals dismissed the petition. The Supreme Court modified the judgment in part by denying, rather than dismissing, the petition, holding that the redacted invoices contained information protected from disclosure by the attorney-client privilege. View "State ex rel. Ames v. Baker, Dublikar, Beck, Wiley & Mathews" on Justia Law

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The 1996 E-Rate program (Schools and Libraries Universal Service Support program, Telecommunications Act 110 Stat. 56), is intended to keep telecommunications services affordable for schools and libraries in rural and economically disadvantaged areas. The program subsidizes services and requires providers to charge these customers rates less than or equal to the lowest rates they charge to similarly situated customers. Heath brought a qui tam action under the False Claims Act, 31 U.S.C. 3729, alleging that Wisconsin Bell charged schools and libraries more than was allowed under the program, causing the federal government to pay more than it should have. The district court granted Wisconsin Bell summary judgment.The Seventh Circuit reversed. While Heath’s briefing and evidence focused more on which party bore the burden of proving violations than on identifying specific violations in his voluminous exhibits and lengthy expert report, Heath identified enough specific evidence of discriminatory pricing to allow a reasonable jury to find that Wisconsin Bell, acting with the required scienter, charged specific schools and libraries more than it charged similarly situated customers. It is reasonable to infer that government funds were involved and that if the government knew of actual overcharges, it would not approve claims. View "Heath v. Wisconsin Bell, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals granting Appellant's petition for a writ of mandamus but denying his requests for statutory damages and court costs, holding that there was no error.Appellant, an inmate, sent a public-records request to Appellee, an employee of a private company that contracts with the state of Ohio to house state prisoners. Dissatisfied with the ultimate response, Appellant filed the current action asking for a writ of mandamus ordering Appellee to produce the records requested. The court of appeals granted the writ to a limited extent and denied Appellant's request for statutory damages and court costs. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the court of appeals did not err in denying Appellant's request for statutory damages and court costs. View "State ex rel. Atakpu v. Shuler" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the decision of the district court to deny Appellant's petition for a writ of mandamus pursuant to the Nevada Public Records Act (NPRA) challenging the failure of the Reno Police Department (RPD) to disclose certain records, holding that the district court erred in part.At issue on appeal was RPD's refusal to disclose an investigative report to Appellant, who owned and operated an online news website, and RPD's redaction to officers' faces before disclosing body-worn camera footage. The district court denied Appellant's mandamus petition as to both issues. The Supreme Court (1) reversed in part regarding the investigative report, holding that the district court abused its discretion by denying Appellant's petition with respect to the report without individualized findings regarding the redacted material; and (2) affirmed the district court's decision regarding the redactions to the body-worn camera footage, holding that the district court correctly denied this portion of the petition. View "Conrad v. Reno Police Dep't" on Justia Law

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In January 2023, Assembly Bill 1936 changed the name of the former “Hastings College of the Law” to “College of the Law, San Francisco.” The plaintiffs challenged the constitutionality of AB 1936. The College’s Dean and Directors in their official capacities (College Defendants) filed a special motion to strike under the anti-SLAPP statute (Code Civ. Proc., 425.162), arguing that the complaint was replete with references to their public statements and resolutions regarding a new name and calling upon the Legislature to pass legislation adopting it. The trial court denied the motion, concluding that the causes of action were based on the Legislature’s enactment of AB 1936, not on the speech or petitioning activity that preceded it.On appeal, the College Defendants argued that the anti-SLAPP statute applied because AB 1936 “authorizes and requires” them to engage in particular speech—the new name by which they “represent the College’s identity and values to the public”—and because the claims, if successful, would prevent or interfere with that speech. The court of appeal upheld the denial of the anti-SLAPP motion. Even assuming that future speech in which the College Defendants use the new name is protected activity under the anti-SLAPP statute, it is not the reason the plaintiffs have sued them. The plaintiffs’ claims are not based on the College Defendants’ speech. View "Hastings College Conservation Committee v. Faigman" on Justia Law