Justia Communications Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals
Dixon v. Univ. of Toledo
In 2008, Dixon, an African-American woman and then-interim Associate Vice President for Human Resources at the University of Toledo, wrote an op-ed column in the Toledo Free Press rebuking comparisons drawn between the civil-rights and gay-rights movements. Shortly thereafter, Dixon was fired. Claiming violations of her First and Fourteenth Amendment rights, Dixon filed a 42 U.S.C. 1983. The district court granted summary judgment to the defendants on all claims. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. The speech of a high-level Human Resources official who writes publicly against the very policies that her government employer charges her with creating, promoting, and enforcing is not protected speech. View "Dixon v. Univ. of Toledo" on Justia Law
Am. Freedom Def. Initiative v. Suburban Mobility Auth. for Reg’l Transp.
American Freedom Defense Initiative is a nonprofit corporation that wanted to place an advertisement on the side of city buses in Michigan. The advertisement read: “Fatwa on your head? Is your family or community threatening you? Leaving Islam? Got Questions? Get Answers! RefugefromIslam.com”. Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transportation (SMART), refused to display the advertisement. AFDI sued, claiming a First Amendment violation. The district court granted a preliminary injunction, holding that plaintiffs likely could show that SMART’s decision was arbitrary. The Sixth Circuit reversed. SMART’s policy prohibits: political or political campaign advertising; advertising promoting the sale of alcohol or tobacco; advertising that is false, misleading, or deceptive; advertising that is clearly defamatory or likely to hold up to scorn or ridicule any person or group of persons; and advertising that is obscene or pornographic; or in advocacy of imminent lawlessness or unlawful violent action. The restrictions, which concern a nonpublic forum are reasonable, viewpoint-neutral limits that do not deny AFDI’s First Amendment rights. The injunction would cause substantial harm to others, compelling SMART to post on its buses messages that have strong potential to alienate people and decrease ridership; the public interest would not be served by this preliminary injunction. View "Am. Freedom Def. Initiative v. Suburban Mobility Auth. for Reg'l Transp." on Justia Law
Leyse v. Clear Channel Broad. Inc.
Leyse received a prerecorded telemarketing call from a radio station. He sued, alleging violation of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991, 105 Stat. 2394, which prohibits certain prerecorded telemarketing calls. The district court dismissed, finding that the Federal Communications Commission had issued regulations exempting the type of call at issue from the TCPA’s prohibitions; that the FCC was authorized by Congress to do so; that the court should defer to the resulting regulation; and that the regulation passed muster under Chevron. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, holding that “Chevron deference” applies to the regulation and that the regulation is valid under Chevron. The court rejected an argument that it lacked jurisdiction under the Hobbs Act. View "Leyse v. Clear Channel Broad. Inc." on Justia Law
In re: Search of Fair Finance
Federal officers applied for a warrant to search the offices of Fair Finance in Akron, as part of an investigation into its owner, Durham, who was suspected of employing the company to engage in a Ponzi scheme. A Magistrate granted a warrant and, at the government’s request, sealed the file. Officers executed the search. The warrant and inventory of seized items were placed in the sealed file. Newspapers requested an order unsealing the files, arguing that they had a right of access under common law and the First Amendment. The district court denied the motion. After an indictment issued, the court granted the government’s motion to unseal the face sheet of the warrant, the form application (excluding the affidavit in support of the application), the inventory, two attachments to the warrant and application, the motion to seal the documents, and the order granting that motion. The affidavit filed in support of the warrant application and the docket sheet remained sealed. The newspapers are no longer contesting the sealing of the affidavit. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. The First Amendment right of access does not permit the newspapers to obtain the documents filed in connection with these warrant proceedings.View "In re: Search of Fair Finance " on Justia Law
Park West Galleries, Inc. v. Hochman
Park sells art from its gallery, online, by catalog, and by phone, and conducts auctions in different cities and on cruise ships. Franks, CEO of Global Fine Art Registry, published online articles alleging that Park engaged in suspect business practices and sold inauthentic art. Park sued, claiming defamation, tortious interference, interference with prospective business advantage, and civil conspiracy to destroy goodwill and reputation. During trial, the district court gave several warnings and sanctioned Franks’s counsel for failure to honor rulings regarding improper lines of questioning. Despite repeated instances of misconduct, Park did not request a mistrial. The jury returned a verdict in favor of defendants on defamation, tortious interference with business expectancies, and civil conspiracy, but did not find in favor of defendants on counterclaims. The jury found in favor of GFAR on its Lanham Act counterclaim and awarded $500,000.00. The district court decided that the misconduct was serious enough that there was a reasonable probability that the verdict was influenced and granted a new trial. The Sixth Circuit affirmed denial of a motion to reinstate the verdict. Failure to seek a mistrial based on misconduct occurring during the trial did not waive Park’s right to seek a new trial under FRCP 59. View "Park West Galleries, Inc. v. Hochman" on Justia Law
United States v. Jeffries
Tangled in a prolonged legal dispute over visitation rights to see his daughter, Jeffries wrote a song, “Daughter’s Love,” which contains passages about relationships between fathers and daughters, but also includes complaints about his ex-wife, ranting gripes about lawyers and the legal system, and threats to kill the judge if he doesn’t “do the right thing” at an upcoming custody hearing. Jeffries created a video of himself performing the song on a guitar painted with an American flag and posted the music video on YouTube. He shared it with friends, family and the media. In the video, Jeffries says “This song’s for you, judge.” Agents charged Jeffries with violating a federal law that prohibits “transmit[ting] in interstate or foreign commerce any communication containing any threat to . . . injure the person of another” 18 U.S.C. 875(c). A jury convicted Jeffries. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. All that the First Amendment requires in the context of a section 875(c) prosecution is that the threat be real; there was sufficient evidence to convict. View "United States v. Jeffries" on Justia Law
T-Mobile Central, LLC v. Twp. of W. Bloomfield
T-Mobile proposed to build a cellular tower in an area of West Bloomfield Township, Michigan, that had a coverage gap. After deciding that sites in the township zoning ordinance’s cellular tower overlay zones were infeasible, T-Mobile decided that the best option would be to construct a facility at a utility site on property owned by Detroit Edison. The facility contained an existing 50-foot pole, which T-Mobile wanted to replace with a 90-foot pole disguised to look like a pine tree with antennas fashioned as branches. The township denied special approval. The district court entered partial summary judgment in favor of T-Mobile in a suit under the Telecommunications Act, 47 U.S.C. 332. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. Five stated reasons for denial of the application were not supported by substantial evidence and the denial had “the effect of prohibiting the provision of personal wireless services” in violation of 47 U.S.C. 332(c)(7)(B)(i)(II). View "T-Mobile Central, LLC v. Twp. of W. Bloomfield" on Justia Law
Balsley v. LFP, Inc.
The “Hot News Babes” feature of Hustler magazine invites readers to nominate young, attractive female news reporters for a monthly prize. In 2003, Bosley, a 37-year-old news anchor, entered a “wet t-shirt” contest at a Florida bar and ultimately danced nude. Durocher, took pictures without Bosley’s knowledge and published them on lenshead.com. Durocher included a visual copyright notice and a general warning. A few months later, Bosley lost her job when the story was reported. To end the photographs’ dissemination, Bosley bought and registered the copyright. In 2004, Bosley was employed as a television reporter in another city. In 2005, a reader advised Hustler of the availability of the pictures online and of Bosley being the “HOTTEST.” Hustler published the Durocher nude photograph in 2006 with text describing Bosley. Bosley’s suit alleged direct copyright infringement, 17 U.S.C. 101; contributory infringement, 17 U.S.C. 101; vicarious infringement, 17 U.S.C. 106(1), (3), (5); violation of Ohio common law right of privacy; violation of the Ohio statutory right of publicity; and violation of the Ohio Deceptive Trade Practices Act. Only the direct infringement claim survived. The jury rejected a fair use defense, but found the violation not willful, and awarded $135,000 plus fees. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. View "Balsley v. LFP, Inc." on Justia Law
Berry v. Schmitt
The Legislative Ethics Commission conducted a hearing regarding fund-raising by Kentucky Senate President Williams, which attorney Berry attended. Following an executive session from which the public, the media, and Berry were excluded, the Commission dismissed. Berry wrote a letter criticizing disposition of the matter and disseminated copies to the media. The Inquiry Commission of the Kentucky Bar Association issued a warning asserting that the letter violated Kentucky Rule of Professional Conduct 8.2(a), which provides that “[a] lawyer shall not make a statement that the lawyer knows to be false or with reckless disregard as to its truth or falsity concerning the qualifications or integrity of a judge, adjudicatory officer or public legal officer,” by publicly implying that the Commission did not conduct its review appropriately. The disciplinary complaint against Berry was dismissed. Berry did not appeal because Kentucky does not provide for an appeal of the Commission’s findings. Berry sued, alleging that he wished to engage in further criticism of the investigation but has refrained from such speech because he fears professional discipline. The district court granted the KBA summary judgment. The Sixth Circuit reversed; Rule 8.2(a) is unconstitutional as applied to Berry’s speech.View "Berry v. Schmitt" on Justia Law
United States v. Sypher
Sypher alleged that University of Louisville’s head basketball coach, Pitino raped her; Pitino testified that they had consensual sex. Sypher learned that she was pregnant and contacted Pitino. Sypher alleges that Pitino raped her a second time. Eventually, Pitino, arranged for an abortion. Goetzinger, a friend of Sypher’s, testified that Sypher asked Goetzinger to call Pitino to request $200,000 to $400,000. Goetzinger testified that he made three anonymous calls to Pitino’s cell phone. Eventually, Sypher admitted her involvement to FBI agents. Sypher was convicted of willfully causing another to transmit threatening communications in interstate commerce with intent to extort, 18 U.S.C. 875(d); making threatening communications with intent to extort, under 875(d); mailing threatening communications with intent to extort, 18 U.S.C. 876(d); making false statements to the FBI, 18 U.S.C. 1001; and retaliating against an individual for providing truthful information about a crime to law enforcement, 18 U.S.C. 1513(e). The Sixth Circuit affirmed, rejecting arguments of ineffective assistance by counsel and that the district court erred by denying a change of venue; creating a web page for public access to trial materials; releasing completed juror questionnaires before seating a jury; denying post-trial access to documentary and other evidence; and denying her motion for recusal. View "United States v. Sypher" on Justia Law