Justia Communications Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Health Law
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The Supreme Court held that the public records law's general prohibition on pre-release judicial review of decisions to provide access to public records barred the claims brought by Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce and two other trade associations (WMC) seeking to stop the release of certain records.After the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel made public records requests to the Department of Health Services (DHS) for documents related to the COVID-19 pandemic WMC learned that DHS planned to respond by releasing a list of all Wisconsin businesses with more than twenty-five employees that have had at least two employees test positive for COVID-19 or that have had close case contacts. WMC brought this action seeking declaratory and injunctive relief to stop the release. The circuit court granted a temporary injunction. The court of appeals reversed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that WMC's complaint failed to state a claim upon which relief may be granted because its claim was barred by Wis. Stat. 19.356(1). View "Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce v. Evers" on Justia Law

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Adopted in 2019, Ohio Revised Code 1349.05(B) states: No health care practitioner, with the intent to obtain professional employment for the health care practitioner, shall directly contact in person, by telephone, or by electronic means any party to a motor vehicle accident, any victim of a crime, or any witness to a motor vehicle accident or crime until thirty days after the date of the motor vehicle accident or crime. Any communication to obtain professional employment shall be sent via the United States postal service. Subsection (C) provides the same restrictions but with regard to the agents of health care practitioners. The plaintiffs provide chiropractic services; one plaintiff is a referral service that identifies and contacts prospective patients for health care providers. The plaintiffs claim that they “all rely upon advertising and marketing techniques that permit prompt contact with victims of motor vehicle and pedestrian accidents.” They alleged that the statute violates their constitutional rights to free speech and equal protection. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the district court in denying relief. The plaintiffs failed to show a substantial likelihood of succeeding on the merits of their free speech and equal protection claims; “strong” precedents foreclosed the plaintiffs’ challenges. View "First Choice Chiropractic, LLC v. DeWine" on Justia Law

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The California Reproductive Freedom, Accountability, Comprehensive Care, and Transparency Act (FACT Act) regulates pro-life centers that offer pregnancy-related services. Licensed clinics must notify women that California provides free or low-cost services, including abortions, and give them a phone number. The stated purpose is to ensure that state residents know their rights and what services are available. Unlicensed clinics must notify women that California has not licensed the clinics to provide medical services. Its stated purpose is to ensure that pregnant women know when they are receiving care from licensed professionals. In a case under the First Amendment, the Ninth Circuit affirmed the denial of a preliminary injunction.The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the licensed notice requirement likely violates the First Amendment. Content-based laws “are presumptively unconstitutional" and may be justified only if narrowly tailored to serve compelling state interests. The notice is a content-based regulation, requiring a particular message. Speech is not unprotected merely because it is uttered by professionals. The notice is not limited to “purely factual and uncontroversial information about" services. Nor is it a regulation of professional conduct that incidentally burdens speech; it applies to all interactions between a covered facility and its clients, regardless of whether a medical procedure is ever sought. Other facilities, including general clinics providing the same services, are not subject to the requirement. If states could choose the protection that speech receives simply by requiring a license, they would have a powerful tool to impose “invidious discrimination of disfavored subjects.” Assuming that California’s interest in providing low-income women with information about state-sponsored service is substantial, the licensed notice is not sufficiently drawn to promote it but is “wildly underinclusive,” applying only to clinics that have a “primary purpose” of “providing family planning or pregnancy-related services” while excluding other types clinics that also serve low-income women and could educate them about the state’s services. California could also inform the women about services “without burdening a speaker with unwanted speech,” most obviously through a public-information campaign.The unlicensed notice also unduly burdens protected speech. A disclosure requirement cannot be “unjustified or unduly burdensome,” must remedy a harm that is “potentially real not purely hypothetical,” and can extend “no broader than reasonably necessary.” California has not demonstrated any justification that is more than “purely hypothetical.” View "National Institute of Family and Life Advocates v. Becerra" on Justia Law

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Hardin suffered complete blindness and permanent, severe and painful scarring after she took Lamotrigine, the generic form of the medication Lamictal. Hardin sued the prescribing physician, the manufacturer, the store where she bought the prescription (Safeway), WKH, which produced the drug information pamphlet (monograph), and PDX, a software provider that distributes drug information to pharmacy customers. Unlike physician package inserts and patient medication guides, which are FDA-mandated, WKH monographs are not regulated or reviewed by the FDA, but are produced as part of a self-regulating action plan required under 110 Stat. 1593. The WKH monograph was the only information received by Hardin when she first filled her prescription for Lamictal. The abbreviated warning used by Safeway and provided to Hardin omitted the “Black Box” warning: “BEFORE USING THIS MEDICINE” that stated: “SERIOUS AND SOMETIMES FATAL RASHES HAVE OCCURRED RARELY WITH THE USE OF THIS MEDICINE. Hardin says that had she been provided this warning, she would not have taken the medication. WKH moved to strike Hardin’s claims against it under Code of Civil Procedure section 425.16, the “anti-SLAPP” (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation ) statute.. The trial court ruled that WKH’s production of drug monographs was protected speech concerning a public issue or an issue of public interest and that Hardin had no probability of prevailing because she could not establish that WKH owed her any duty. The court denied PDX’s motion to strike, finding that the activity underlying PDX’s alleged liability was the reprogramming of its software to permit Safeway to give customers an abbreviated, five-section monograph that omitted warnings instead of the full eight-section version that included those warnings. The court of appeal affirmed. View "Hardin v. PDX, Inc." on Justia Law

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Massachusetts amended its Reproductive Health Care Facilities Act to make it a crime to knowingly stand on a “public way or sidewalk” within 35 feet of an entrance or driveway to any “reproductive health care facility,” defined as “a place, other than within or upon the grounds of a hospital, where abortions are offered or performed.” Mass. Gen. Laws, 266, 120E½. Exemptions cover “employees or agents of such facility acting within the scope of their employment.” Another provision proscribes knowing obstruction of access to an abortion clinic. Abortion opponents who engage in “sidewalk counseling” sought an injunction, claiming that the amendment displaced them from their previous positions and hampered their counseling efforts; attempts to communicate with patients are also thwarted by clinic escorts, who accompany patients to clinic entrances. The district court denied the challenges. The First Circuit affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed, first noting the involvement of a traditional public forum. The Court employed “time, place, and manner” analysis, stating that the Act is neither content nor viewpoint based and need not be analyzed under strict scrutiny. Although it establishes buffer zones only at abortion clinics, violations depend not “on what they say,” but on where they say it. The Act is justified without reference to the content of speech; its purposes include protecting public safety, patient access to health care, and unobstructed use of public sidewalks and streets. There was a record of crowding, obstruction, and even violence outside Massachusetts abortion clinics but not at other facilities. The exemption for employees and agents acting within the scope of their employment was not an attempt to favor one viewpoint. Even if some escorts have expressed views on abortion inside the zones, there was no evidence that such speech was authorized by any clinic. The Act, however, burdens substantially more speech than necessary to further the government’s legitimate interests. It deprives objectors of their primary methods of communicating with patients: close, personal conversations and distribution of literature. While the Act allows “protest” outside buffer zones, these objectors are not protestors; they seek to engage in personal, caring, consensual conversations with women about alternatives. Another section of the Act already prohibits deliberate obstruction of clinic entrances. Massachusetts could also enact legislation similar to the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, 18 U.S.C. 248(a), which imposes sanctions for obstructing, intimidating, or interfering with persons obtaining or providing reproductive health services. Obstruction of driveways can be addressed by traffic ordinances. Crowding was a problem only at the Boston clinic, and only on Saturday mornings; the police are capable of ordering people to temporarily disperse and of singling out lawbreakers. View "McCullen v. Coakley" on Justia Law

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Massachusetts amended its Reproductive Health Care Facilities Act to make it a crime to knowingly stand on a “public way or sidewalk” within 35 feet of an entrance or driveway to any “reproductive health care facility,” defined as “a place, other than within or upon the grounds of a hospital, where abortions are offered or performed.” Mass. Gen. Laws, 266, 120E½. Exemptions cover “employees or agents of such facility acting within the scope of their employment.” Another provision proscribes knowing obstruction of access to an abortion clinic. Abortion opponents who engage in “sidewalk counseling” sought an injunction, claiming that the amendment displaced them from their previous positions and hampered their counseling efforts; attempts to communicate with patients are also thwarted by clinic escorts, who accompany patients to clinic entrances. The district court denied the challenges. The First Circuit affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed, first noting the involvement of a traditional public forum. The Court employed “time, place, and manner” analysis, stating that the Act is neither content nor viewpoint based and need not be analyzed under strict scrutiny. Although it establishes buffer zones only at abortion clinics, violations depend not “on what they say,” but on where they say it. The Act is justified without reference to the content of speech; its purposes include protecting public safety, patient access to health care, and unobstructed use of public sidewalks and streets. There was a record of crowding, obstruction, and even violence outside Massachusetts abortion clinics but not at other facilities. The exemption for employees and agents acting within the scope of their employment was not an attempt to favor one viewpoint. Even if some escorts have expressed views on abortion inside the zones, there was no evidence that such speech was authorized by any clinic. The Act, however, burdens substantially more speech than necessary to further the government’s legitimate interests. It deprives objectors of their primary methods of communicating with patients: close, personal conversations and distribution of literature. While the Act allows “protest” outside buffer zones, these objectors are not protestors; they seek to engage in personal, caring, consensual conversations with women about alternatives. Another section of the Act already prohibits deliberate obstruction of clinic entrances. Massachusetts could also enact legislation similar to the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, 18 U.S.C. 248(a), which imposes sanctions for obstructing, intimidating, or interfering with persons obtaining or providing reproductive health services. Obstruction of driveways can be addressed by traffic ordinances. Crowding was a problem only at the Boston clinic, and only on Saturday mornings; the police are capable of ordering people to temporarily disperse and of singling out lawbreakers. View "McCullen v. Coakley" on Justia Law

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In 2009, the Board of Health of the City of New York adopted a resolution requiring all tobacco retailers to display signs bearing graphic images showing certain adverse health effects of smoking. The district court held that the resolution is preempted by federal labeling laws. The Second Circuit affirmed, citing the Federal Cigarette Labeling and Advertising Act, 15 U.S.C. 1331-41, a comprehensive program to deal with cigarette labeling and advertising, which includes a preemption provision, limiting the extent to which states may regulate the labeling, advertising, and promotion of cigarettes. View "23-34 94th St. Grocery Corp. v. NY City Bd. of Health" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, manufacturers and sellers of tobacco products, alleged that provisions of the 2009 Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act violated their First Amendment rights. The district court granted partial summary judgment upholding the law and partial summary judgment to plaintiffs. The Seventh Circuit affirmed and ruled in favor of the government on most issues, declining to apply strict scrutiny and finding that warnings required by the Act reasonably related to the government's interest in preventing deception of consumers. The court upheld bans on event sponsorship, branding non- tobacco merchandise, and free sampling (loyalty and continuity programs); a requirement that tobacco manufacturers reserve significant packaging space for textual health warnings; the restriction of tobacco advertising to black and white text; and the constitutionality of the Act's color graphic and non-graphic warning label requirement. Reversing the district court, the court upheld the Act's restriction on claims that tobacco products are "safe or less harmful by virtue of” FDA regulation, inspection or compliance" 21 U.S.C. 331(tt)(4).View "Disc. Tobacco City & Lottery, Inc. v. United States" on Justia Law