Justia Communications Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit
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Petitioners, the National Association of Broadcasters, sought a review of an order (“the Order”) of the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”). The Order mandated that radio broadcasters check two federal sources to verify a sponsor’s identity.The DC Circuit vacated the Order holding that the FCC has no authority to impose that verification requirement. The court wrote that the FCC’s verification requirement ignores the limits that the statute places on broadcasters’ narrow duty of inquiry. It instead tells a broadcaster to seek information from two federal sources in addition to the two sources that the statute prescribes. That is not the law that Congress wrote. Here, Congress chose the means for broadcasters to obtain the information necessary to announce who paid for programming: Ask employees and sponsors. The FCC cannot alter Congress’s choice. View "National Association of Broadcasters v. FCC" on Justia Law

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Petitioners, Northstar Wireless, LLC (“Northstar”), and SNR Wireless LicenseCo, LLC (“SNR”) placed more than $13 billion in winning bids at a Federal Communications Commission  (“Commission”) auction to license wireless spectrum. The Commission determined that neither company was eligible for the very-small-business discount because both were de facto controlled by their biggest investor, the large telecommunications company DISH Network Corporation (“DISH”). Northstar and SNR (collectively, “Companies”) petitioned for a review of that decision.   Northstar and SNR have again sought our review, contending that the Commission flouted this court’s orders in SNR Wireless by not working closely enough with them to reduce DISH’s control, wrongfully found them to be controlled by DISH, and penalized them without fair notice.   The DC Circuit rejected the Companies’ challenges to the Commission’s orders. The court held that the Commission complied with the court’s previous decision by affording the Companies an opportunity to cure. The Commission also reasonably applied its precedent to the Companies and gave them fair notice of the legal standards that it would apply in analyzing their claims to be very small companies. View "Northstar Wireless, LLC v. FCC" on Justia Law

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Petitioner challenged the Federal Communication Commission’s (“FCC”) rate cap on the provision of tandem switch services. To reduce the incentives for regulatory arbitrage and to encourage companies to transition to lower-cost Internet Protocol technologies, the FCC set a transitional tariffed rate cap of $0.001 per minute for tandem switch services. Inteliquent argued the Commission: (1) ignored its evidence supporting a rate cap of $0.0017 per minute, (2) impermissibly delegated its rate cap decision to USTelecom, a trade association, and/or (3) set the rate cap below Inteliquent’s or other providers’ costs.   The DC Circuit denied Petitioner’s petition for review holding that the FCC Order setting the rate cap for tandem switching services at $0.001 per minute was not arbitrary and capricious. The court reasoned that incentive-based regulation need not accommodate the high-cost practices of every regulated firm, particularly when exigent circumstances, in this instance widespread arbitrage, provide the impetus for the agency’s order. The court explained that here Inteliquent’s submission did not show the Commission’s rate cap was below cost for itself or for any other provider. The court concluded that Inteliquent’s petition rests upon weak data and an outdated approach to price regulation. View "Inteliquent, Inc. v. FCC" on Justia Law

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The FCC promulgated a regulation which originally authorized the installation on private property, with the owner's consent, of "over-the-air reception devices," regardless of State and local restrictions, "including zoning, land-use, or building regulation[s], or any private covenant, homeowners' association rule or similar restriction on property." The FCC later expanded coverage to include antennas that act as "hub sites" or relay service to other locations. Petitioners, expressing concern about possible health effects from increased radiofrequency exposure, argued that the proliferation of commercial-grade antennas would increase the suffering of those with radiofrequency sensitivity—violating their rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Fair Housing Act (FHA), and the U.S. Constitution's protections of private property and personal autonomy. Petitioners also contend that the amendments would deny affected individuals fair notice and an opportunity to be heard.The DC Circuit first concluded that two of the petitioners' interests are impacted directly by the FCC's order and that CHD has associational standing. The court also concluded that the Commission's citation of and reliance on the Commission's Continental Airlines decision provided sufficient explanation for its authority to expand the regulation to hub-and-relay antennas carrying broadband Internet. The court rejected petitioners' contentions to the contrary that the order is unsupported by Section 303 of the Communications Act. Finally, the court rejected petitioners' contention that the order lacks a reasoned foundation because the Commission disregarded the human health consequences of its action. Rather, the court concluded that the Commission sufficiently explained that its order does not change the applicability of the Commission's radio frequency exposure requirements and that such concerns were more appropriately directed at its radiofrequency rulemaking. Furthermore, the Commission may also preempt restrictions on the placement of the new category of antennas now included in the regulation. Therefore, the court denied the petition challenging the FCC's order. View "Children's Health Defense v. Federal Communications Commission" on Justia Law

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The Association of American Physicians and Surgeons maintains a website and publishes the Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons, both of which host information concerning “important medical, economic, and legal issues about vaccines,” The Association, joined by an individual, sued a Member of Congress (Schiff) who wrote to several technology and social media companies before and during the COVID-19 pandemic expressing concern about vaccine-related misinformation on their platforms and inquiring about the companies’ policies for handling such misinformation. The Association alleged that the inquiries prompted the technology companies to disfavor and deprioritize its vaccine content, thereby reducing traffic to its web page and making the information more difficult to access.The D.C. Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the complaint for lack of Article III standing. The Association has not plausibly alleged injury-in-fact; it maintains that Schiff’s actions interfered with its “free negotiations” with the technology companies but never alleged that it has made any attempts at such negotiations, nor that it has concrete plans to do so in the future. The Association’s other claimed injuries, to its financial prospects and to its speech and associational interests, are not adequately supported by allegations that any injury is “fairly traceable” to Schiff’s actions. View "Association of American Physicians & Surgeons, Inc. v. Schiff" on Justia Law

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In 2020, the FCC opened the 6 gigahertz (GHz) band of radiofrequency spectrum to unlicensed devices—routers and the devices they connect to, such as smartphones, laptops, and tablets. In doing so, the Commission required that such unlicensed devices be designed and operated to prevent harmful interference with licensees now using the 6 GHz band. Licensees, emphasizing that existing uses of the band involve vital public safety and critical infrastructure, argue that harmful interference could nonetheless occur and that the Order therefore runs afoul of both the Communications Act of 1934 and the Administrative Procedure Act (APA).The DC Circuit concluded that petitioners have failed to provide a basis for questioning the Commission's conclusion that the Order will protect against a significant risk of harmful interference, just the kind of highly technical determination to which the court owed considerable deference. Therefore, the court denied the petitions for review in all respects except one that is related to the petition brought by licensed radio and television broadcasters using the 6 GHz band. The court concluded that the Commission failed adequately to respond to their request that it reserve a sliver of that band exclusively for mobile licensees and thus remanded for further explanation as to that issue. View "AT&T Services, Inc. v. Federal Communications Commission" on Justia Law

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BuzzFeed, a media outlet, sued the Department of Justice (DOJ) under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), 5 U.S.C. 552, seeking disclosure of an unredacted version of the report prepared by Special Counsel Robert Mueller on his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. The district court permitted most of DOJ’s redactions. BuzzFeed challenged the decision only with respect to information redacted pursuant to FOIA Exemption 7(C), and relating to individuals investigated but not charged. Exemption 7(C) permits the withholding of law enforcement records which, if disclosed, “could reasonably be expected to constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.”The D.C. Circuit affirmed with respect to redacted passages containing personally-identifying facts about individuals that are not disclosed elsewhere in the Report and would be highly stigmatizing to the individuals’ reputations. The court reversed with respect to redacted passages that primarily show how Special Counsel interpreted relevant law and applied it to already public facts available elsewhere in the Report in reaching individual declination decisions. After in camera review of the Report, the court concluded that those passages show only how the government reached its declination decisions and do not contain new facts or stigmatizing material. Matters of substantive law enforcement policy are properly the subject of public concern” and are “a sufficient reason for disclosure independent of any impropriety.” View "Electronic Privacy Information Center v. United States Department of Justice" on Justia Law

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Jamal Khashoggi, a prominent Saudi journalist, was murdered in a Saudi consulate in 2018, apparently on orders of the Saudi Crown Prince. Under the Freedom of Information Act, 5 U.S.C. 552(a)(3)(A), the plaintiffs sought records about whether four U.S. intelligence agencies knew, before the murder, of an impending threat to Khashoggi. The agencies refused to confirm or deny whether they have any responsive records, on the ground that the existence or nonexistence of such records is classified information. FOIA Exemption 1 covers matters that are “specifically authorized under criteria established by an Executive order to be kept secret in the interest of national defense or foreign policy.” To claim a FOIA exemption, an agency ordinarily must “acknowledge the existence of information responsive to a FOIA request” but if “the fact of the existence or nonexistence of agency records” itself falls within a FOIA exemption, the agency may “refuse to confirm or deny the existence” of the requested records, a “Glomar” response.The D.C. Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the agencies. Statements made by a State Department spokesman soon after the murder do not foreclose the intelligence agencies from asserting their Glomar responses; the intelligence agencies have logically and plausibly explained why the existence or nonexistence of responsive records is classified information. View "Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University v. Central Intelligence Agency" on Justia Law

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Protect Democracy challenged the National Security Agency’s decision to withhold from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act a memorandum the NSA Deputy Director wrote in 2017, memorializing what was said on a phone call he participated in between then-president Trump and the NSA Director soon after it occurred. According to an account of the phone call in Special Counsel Mueller’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 election, Trump asked the NSA Director whether he could do anything to refute news stories connecting Trump to the Russian government. The NSA cited a FOIA exemption that incorporates privileges available to the government in civil litigation, claiming executive privilege for presidential communications.The district court sustained the privilege claim and denied a request to examine the memo for any segregable passages subject to release under FOIA. The D.C. Circuit affirmed. The government did not waive the privilege when it published in the Mueller Report a description of the conversation. Based on an “in camera” review, the memo falls squarely within the scope of the presidential communications privilege, which applies to the memo in its entirety. “Protect Democracy cannot shrink the scope of the privilege by invoking FOIA’s segregability requirement, even if its FOIA request raises credible allegations of governmental misconduct.” The Mueller Report’s description of the phone call did not waive the privilege, as not all the information in the memo specifically matches the information released in the report. View "Protect Democracy Project, Inc. v. National Security Agency" on Justia Law

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Cause, a nonprofit organization committed to government transparency and openness, submitted a FOIA request, 5 U.S.C. 552(a)(3)(A), for the internet browsing histories of several senior agency officials over a specified period of approximately six months. The requests included two officials by name—Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Director Mulvaney and USDA Secretary Perdue—and two by position. OMB acknowledged receiving the request but never processed it. USDA denied the request, explaining that the browsing histories were not integrated into its record system, so the Department did not have sufficient control over the browsing histories such that they constituted “agency records” under FOIA. Cause filed suit. The district court granted the agencies summary judgment.The D.C. Circuit affirmed. The term “agency records” extends only to those documents that an agency both creates or obtains and controls at the time of the FOIA request. The agencies did not “control” the requested documents to the extent required for them to constitute agency records because agency personnel did not read or rely upon the browsing histories. OMB and USDA employees have significant control over the browsing histories, which they could freely delete; the agencies did not use the officials’ browsing histories for any purpose, much less a purpose connected to decision-making. View "Cause of Action Institute v. Office of Management and Budget" on Justia Law