Justia Communications Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in U.S. 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals
United States v. Stock
Stock was indicted for transmitting a threat in interstate commerce 18 U.S.C. 875(c) after he posted a notice on Craig‟s List: i went home loaded in my truck and spend the past 3 hours looking for this douche with the expressed intent of crushing him in that little piece of shit under cover gray impala hooking up my tow chains and dragging his stupid ass down to creek hills and just drowning him in the falls. but alas i can’t fine that bastard anywhere . . . i really wish he would die, just like the rest of these stupid fucking asshole cops. so J.K.P. if you read this i hope you burn in hell. i only wish i could have been the one to send you there.” The Third Circuit affirmed the district court’s denial of a motion to dismiss, stating that it was satisfied that the government included sufficient context in the indictment that a reasonable jury could find that Stock’s statement expressed intent to injure in the present or future. View "United States v. Stock" on Justia Law
Gager v. Dell Fin. Servs. LLC
In 2007, Gager applied for a line of credit to purchase computer equipment. The application required that she provide her home phone number. Gager listed her cellular phone number without stating that the number was for a cellular phone, or indicating that Dell should not use an automated telephone dialing system to call her at that number. Gager defaulted on the loan Dell granted. Dell began using an automated telephone dialing system to call Gager’s cell phone, leaving pre-recorded messages concerning the debt. In 2010, Gager sent a letter, listing her phone number and asking Dell to stop calling it regarding her account. The letter did not indicate that the number was for a cellular phone. Dell continued to call, using an automated telephone dialing system. Gager filed suit, alleging that Dell violated the Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991, 47 U.S.C. 227(b)(1)(A)(iii). The district court dismissed on the theory that she could not revoke her consent once it was given. The Third Circuit reversed. The fact that Gager entered into a contract with Dell does not exempt Dell from the TCPA. Dell will still be able to call Gager about her delinquent account, but not using an automated dialing system. View "Gager v. Dell Fin. Servs. LLC" on Justia Law
Hart v. Electronic Arts, Inc.
Hart was a quarterback, player number 13, with the Rutgers University NCAA Men’s Division I Football team, 2002 through 2005, and was required to adhere to the NCAA amateurism rules. These rules state that a collegiate athlete loses his or her “amateur” status if the athlete uses his or her athletics skill (directly or indirectly) for pay in any form in that sport or accepts any remuneration or permits the use of his or her name or picture to advertise, recommend or promote directly the sale or use of a commercial product or service of any kind. Hart was very successful and was included in EA’s successful NCAA Football videogame franchise. In the game NCAA Football 2006, for example, Rutgers’ quarterback, player number 13, is 6’2” tall, weighs 197 pounds and resembles Hart; it shares his home town, team, and class year. Hart sued EA, alleging violation of his right of publicity by appropriating his likeness for use in the NCAA Football series of videogames. The district court dismissed on First Amendment grounds. The Third Circuit reversed, holding that the games did not sufficiently transform Hart’s identity to escape the right of publicity claim. . View "Hart v. Electronic Arts, Inc." on Justia Law
In Re: Kendall
Former Superior Court Judge Kendall enforced an oral plea agreement that the prosecution had attempted to withdraw; Kendall believed that the defendants could not obtain a fair trial, due to prosecutorial misconduct. The Virgin Islands Supreme Court reversed and issued a writ of mandamus. Kendall published an opinion chastising the mandamus decision and recusing himself from the case due to alleged prosecutorial misconduct. The Justices cited Kendall for criminal contempt and found him guilty because his opinion, in their view, obstructed the administration of justice and because his recusal was a pretextual effort to avoid complying with the writ of mandamus. The Third Circuit reversed the judgment and vacated the contempt conviction, finding that the First Amendment protects a sitting judge from being criminally punished for his opinion unless that opinion presents a clear and present danger of prejudicing ongoing proceedings. Kendall’s opinion did not pose such a threat. There was insufficient evidence that his recusal was pretextual. View "In Re: Kendall" on Justia Law
K. A. v. Pocono Mountain Sch. Dist.
K.A., a fifth-grade student, attempted to distribute, before the start of class, an invitation to a children’s Christmas party at her church. Students were normally allowed to distribute invitations to birthday parties, Halloween parties, and similar events during non-instructional time. The teacher told K.A. that the principal would have to approve the flyer. The principal later notified K.A.’s father that the superintendent had not approved the flyer, based on a policy concerning events not related to the school. Her father filed suit, alleging that the school district had violated K.A.’s First and Fourteenth Amendment rights. The district court, applying the Supreme Court’s reasoning in Tinker v. Des Moines (1969), and finding no evidence that distribution of the invitations would threaten a “substantial disruption‖ of the school environment or interfere with the rights of others,” granted preliminary injunctive relief. The Third Circuit affirmed, stating that the original policy and subsequent revisions were broader than allowed under Tinker and its progeny, which state that student expression can be regulated only if it causes disruption or interferes with the rights of others, or if it falls into a narrow exception. View "K. A. v. Pocono Mountain Sch. Dist." on Justia Law
Kendall v. Daily News Publ’g Co.
Judge Kendall contends that the Daily News and Blackburn defamed him while reporting on his decision to grant bail to Castillo, who subsequently murdered a child; his decision to use house arrest for Williams, who was subsequently involved in a police standoff; and his decision to retire. After a jury verdict awarded $240,000, the trial court awarded the defendants judgment notwithstanding the verdict. The Virgin Island Supreme court affirmed after denying Kendall’s motion for recusal based on its previous contempt proceedings against him. The Third Circuit affirmed without reaching the issue of recusal. Judge Kendall could not establish actual malice as necessary in a public-figure libel action. View "Kendall v. Daily News Publ'g Co." on Justia Law
Interstate Outdoor Advertising, L.P. v. Zoning Bd., Twp of Mount Laurel
Interstate requested approval for nine outdoor advertising signs along U.S. Interstate-295, a major transportation corridor. The township then adopted an ordinance prohibiting billboards. The district court dismissed a constitutional challenge. The Third Circuit affirmed. A reasonable fact-finder could not conclude that there was an insufficient basis for the township’s conclusion that its billboard ban would directly advance its stated goal of improving the aesthetics of the community. The fact that Interstate will not be able to reach the distinct audience of travelers that it desires to target does not mean that adequate alternative means of communication do not exist. The Supreme Court has acknowledged that complete billboard bans may be the only reasonable means by which a legislature can advance its interests in traffic safety and aesthetics. View "Interstate Outdoor Advertising, L.P. v. Zoning Bd., Twp of Mount Laurel" on Justia Law
PG Publ’g Co. v. Aichele
PG sued under 42 U.S.C. 1983, challenging the constitutionality of 25 Pa. Stat. 3060(d), a portion of the Pennsylvania Election Code mandating that all persons, except election officers, clerks, machine inspectors, overseers, watchers, persons in the course of voting, persons lawfully giving assistance to voters, and peace and police officers, when permitted by the provisions of this act, must remain at least ten (10) feet distant from the polling place during the progress of the voting. PG claimed that the statute infringed on its First Amendment “right to access and gather news at polling places” and that selective enforcement violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The district court dismissed. The Third Circuit affirmed. There is no protected First Amendment right of access to a polling place for news-gathering purposes and there was no evidence of “invidious intent” or intentional discrimination. View "PG Publ'g Co. v. Aichele" on Justia Law
In Re: Philadelphia Newspapers
Philadelphia Inquirer (debtors) published print and online articles discussing the CSMI‘s contract management of the Chester Community Charter School. After CSMI filed a defamation action, the Inquirer filed for relief under Chapter 11, 11 U.S.C. 101. CSMI alleged that post-petition, debtors published an article that links to and endorses earlier articles and filed the administrative expense requests: $1,800,000 for alleged post-petition defamation and $147,140 in alleged damages for post-petition conduct and prosecution of claims against CSMI. The Bankruptcy Court denied the requests. Debtors conducted an auction of substantially all assets, and the sale was consummated under a plan that provided that the purchaser would assume certain administrative expense claims, not including claims arising from the CSMI’s administrative expense requests. The district court held that an appeal was equitably moot: the plan had been substantially consummated and no stay was sought. The court also stated that merely posting a link to the charter school webpage that contained the original articles was not distinct tortious conduct upon which a defamation claim can be grounded. The Third Circuit affirmed. While the appeal was not equitably moot, CSMI cannot advance a sustainable cause of action to support the requests. View "In Re: Philadelphia Newspapers" on Justia Law
Larson v. AT&T Mobility LLC
Until late 2008, Sprint included a flat-rate early termination fee provision in its cellular telephone contracts, which allowed it to charge a set fee to customers who terminated their contracts before the end date stated in the contract. Class action lawsuits were brought against cellular phone service providers who charged flat-rate ETFs, including Sprint. In this case, the plaintiffs entered into negotiations with Sprint, and, after five months of mediation, the parties decided to settle the matter for $17.5 million. Over objections lodged by several class members, the district court certified the settlement class and approved the Settlement Agreement. The Third Circuit vacated and remanded. The district court did not adequately protect the rights of absent class members when it determined that it would be unreasonable to require a search of billing records for the purpose of providing individual notice to those class members. The court also suggested that the district court consider whether class representatives can adequately represent all members. View "Larson v. AT&T Mobility LLC" on Justia Law