Justia Communications Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit
Venture Comm. Co-Op, Inc. v. James Valley Co-Op Telephone Co.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) provides subsidies to encourage telecommunication companies to expand high-speed broadband internet services in rural areas where customer revenues would otherwise be insufficient to justify the cost of doing business. Venture Communications Cooperative (“Venture”) provides broadband services to rural South Dakota customers. James Valley Cooperative Telephone Company and its wholly owned subsidiary, Northern Valley Communications (collectively, “Northern Valley”), is a competing provider. Venture filed this lawsuit against Northern Valley. The primary claim is that Northern Valley violated 47 U.S.C. Section 220(e) by filing a Form 477 that “intentionally, deliberately, fraudulently, and maliciously misrepresented” information “for the sole unlawful purpose of harming [Venture]” by depriving Venture of FCC subsidies in census blocks where Northern Valley was deemed to be an unsubsidized competitor. The district court granted Northern Valley summary judgment, concluding “there is no evidence that Northern Valley willfully overreported its broadband capabilities.” The Eighth Circuit affirmed. The court explained that Venture’s claim of intent to injure is belied by Northern Valley helping Venture by filing a letter with the FCC clarifying that Northern Valley did not offer voice service in the Overlap Area. The court likewise affirmed the dismissal of Venture’s tortious interference and civil conspiracy claims under South Dakota law. The court agreed with the district court that Venture proffered no evidence of an “intentional and unjustified act of interference” because Northern Valley complied with all FCC reporting requirements. As Northern Valley complied with the Telecommunications Act in filing Form 477 at issue, there is no plausible underlying tort alleged. Summary judgment is warranted on this claim. View "Venture Comm. Co-Op, Inc. v. James Valley Co-Op Telephone Co." on Justia Law
City of Creve Coeur v. DirecTV LLC
DirecTV and Dish Network (“Defendants”) provide video services in part through the Internet. The City of Creve Coeur filed this class action in Missouri state court on behalf of local government authorities, seeking a declaratory judgment that Defendants are liable under the Video Services Providers Act (“VSPA”) and implementing local ordinances, plus injunctive relief, an accounting of unpaid fees, and damages. Defendants removed the action based on diversity jurisdiction and the Class Action Fairness Act (CAFA). After the state court entered an interlocutory order declaring that VSPA payments are fees, rather than taxes, DirecTV filed a second notice of removal, arguing this order established the required federal jurisdiction. The district court granted Creve Coeur’s motion to remand. The Eleventh Circuit affirmed on different grounds. The court explained that the district court’s remand order plainly stated that the remand was based on comity principles as articulated in Levin, not on “state-tax based comity concerns.” Comity as a basis to remand was raised and fully argued in the first remand proceeding. Federal courts have long precluded two bites at this apple. Second, the Supreme Court in Levin emphatically stated that the century-old comity doctrine is not limited to the state-tax-interference concerns that later led Congress to enact the TIA. Third, the state court’s December 2020 Order addressed, preliminarily, only the VSPA fee-or-tax issue under state law. It did not address the broader considerations comity addresses. The state court order in no way overruled or undermined the basis for the district court’s first remand order. Therefore, DirecTV failed to establish the essential basis for a second removal. View "City of Creve Coeur v. DirecTV LLC" on Justia Law
Nunes v. Lizza
Devin Nunes, a Member of Congress from California, appeals the district court's dismissal of his complaint alleging defamation and conspiracy claims against defendant and Hearst based on an article published in Esquire magazine about his parents' farm and the use of undocumented immigrants.The Eighth Circuit agreed with the district court that the complaint fails to state a claim for express defamation based on the statements at issue in the article regarding Nunes' alleged improper use of his position as Chairman of the House of Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and adopted the district court's conclusions. In regard to a statement regarding Nunes' attempt to undermine the Russia investigation, the court concluded that Nunes failed to identify that statement as allegedly defamatory in his complaint, and the court declined to consider the issue for the first time on appeal.However, in regard to Nunes' claim for defamation by implication, the court concluded that Nunes has plausibly alleged that defendant and Hearst intended or endorsed the implication that Nunes conspired to cover up his parents' farm's use of undocumented labor. The court explained that the manner in which the article presents the discussion of the farm's use of undocumented labor permits a plausible inference that defendant and Hearst intended or endorsed the implication. Finally, in regard to actual malice, the court concluded that the pleaded facts are suggestive enough to render it plausible that defendant engaged in the purposeful avoidance of the truth. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Nunes v. Lizza" on Justia Law
Campbell v. Reisch
Plaintiff Mike Campbell filed a 42 U.S.C. 1983 suit against Missouri state representative Cheri Toalson Reisch after she blocked him from her Twitter account, alleging that she violated the First Amendment by denying him the right to speak. The district court agreed with plaintiff, declared that Reisch had violated his rights, and ordered her to stop blocking plaintiff and others because of the content or viewpoint of their speech.The Eighth Circuit reversed, holding that plaintiff is not entitled to section 1983 relief because Reisch was not acting under state law when she blocked him from her Twitter account. The court held that Reisch's account is the kind of unofficial account that the court envisioned in Knight First Amendment Inst. at Columbia Univ. v. Trump, 928 F.3d 226, 235–36 (2d Cir. 2019). The court explained that no one seriously disputes that her account at least began life as a private account because Reisch was not a public official when she created it. Even if Reisch had been a public official at the time, the court would still hold that she had not created an official governmental account because she used it overwhelmingly for campaign purposes. The court thought that Reisch's Twitter account is more akin to a campaign newsletter than to anything else, and so it's Reisch's prerogative to select her audience and present her page as she sees fit. Therefore, Reisch's own First Amendment right to craft her campaign materials necessarily trumps Campbell's desire to convey a message on her Twitter page that she does not wish to convey, even if that message does not compete for room as it would, say, in a campaign newsletter. The court remanded for the district court to enter judgment in Reisch's favor. View "Campbell v. Reisch" on Justia Law
East Coast Test Prep LLC v. Allnurses.com, Inc.
After unfavorable comments were posted about Test Prep, the company and its owner filed suit against several defendants, including Allnurses and its founder and a user. Test Prep alleged claims sounding in defamation, contract, and fraud, as well as other theories of liability asserting that Allnurses had induced users to post negative comments. The district court granted Allnurses' motion for judgment on the pleadings and dismissed the suit against the user for lack of personal jurisdiction.The court held that Allnurses was immunized under Section 203 of the Communications Decency Act from liability arising from the posts on the message board. The court held that Test Prep failed to plausibly allege that Allnurses was the "information content provider" of the posts at issue. In this case, the sum total of the complaint's factual allegations pleaded no more than a "sheer possibility" that Allnurses was wholly or partly responsible for creating or developing the posts made by the message board users. Furthermore, in the absence of any contractual relationship between Test Prep and Allnurses, there is no basis for the complaint's allegation that Allnurses had certain obligations to Test Prep including to take down defamatory or libelous posts. The court also held that an individual user plaintiff failed to plead facts sufficient to establish a breach of the terms of the service contract; the district court properly granted judgment in favor of Allnurses on the promissory estoppel claim; claims of fraud and claims based on other theories of liability rejected; the district court did not err in granting the user's motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction; and the district court did not err in granting Test Prep's motion to transfer the case. View "East Coast Test Prep LLC v. Allnurses.com, Inc." on Justia Law
Tholen v. Assist America, Inc.
Plaintiff and his wife filed suit against Assist American for defamation after the organization published a case study in a travel and insurance magazine concerning an injury plaintiff suffered. The district court granted Assist America's motion to dismiss the complaint, finding that the case study at issue did not refer to plaintiff and his wife either explicitly or by implication and thus defamation was improperly pled under Minnesota law.The Eighth Circuit reversed and held that there is a plausible inference, sufficient to survive a motion to dismiss, that persons who read the case study about a middle-aged doctor from the Midwest who injured his leg while zip lining in Mexico resulting in amputation would understand the article to be referencing plaintiff. Because the description in the case study is so specific and unique that it could be viewed by a jury as fitting one individual, this was sufficient to satisfy the pleading requirements. Accordingly, the court remanded for further proceedings. View "Tholen v. Assist America, Inc." on Justia Law
Turntine v. Peterson
The Eighth Circuit reversed the district court's dismissal of plaintiffs' complaint alleging three defamation counts against defendants. The defamatory statements at issue stemmed from the parties' failed business relationship in the sport of darts.The court held that the pleaded actual damages are sufficient to satisfy the $75,000 amount-in-controversy requirement. In this case, the complaint does not limit its request for damages to a precise monetary amount, but pleaded in excess of $60,000. On the merits, the court held, under Missouri law, that defendants' three statements are capable of defamatory meaning and the opinion privilege does not render these statements nonactionable at this stage. In light of the totality of the circumstances and context in which these statements were made, the court held that a reasonable factfinder could conclude that these statements at a minimum imply an assertion of objective fact. Therefore, the district court erred in concluding that the complaint failed to state a claim for defamation and in dismissing the action. The court remanded for further proceedings. View "Turntine v. Peterson" on Justia Law
Nelson Auto Center, Inc. v. Multimedia Holdings Corp.
Nelson Auto filed suit against KARE 11, alleging that the news provider published false and defamatory statements regarding a criminal complaint filed by the State of Minnesota in Otter Tail County District Court charging Gerald Worner, Nelson Auto's former Fleet Manager, with five counts of theft by swindle.The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of KARE 11's motion to dismiss, holding that the district court did not err by concluding that Nelson Auto is a public figure as a matter of Minnesota law. The court agreed with the district court that, given the absence of facts from which actual malice might reasonably be inferred, the allegations show nothing more than oversight on KARE 11's part, which does not constitute actual malice. View "Nelson Auto Center, Inc. v. Multimedia Holdings Corp." on Justia Law
Golan v. FreeEats.com, Inc.
Plaintiffs filed suit against numerous parties, alleging violation of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA). The Eighth Circuit revisited its prior holding in this case because of an intervening decision from the Supreme Court. The court held that, even under Spokeo, Inc. v. Robins, 136 S. Ct. 1540, 1549 (2016), plaintiffs suffered a concrete injury when they received the two answering machine messages and thus have Article III standing.The court also held that the district court did not abuse its discretion by refusing to give the jury plaintiffs' preferred instruction on direct liability regarding Defendant Leininger, who hired Defendant ccAdvertising, which made the calls in violation of the TCPA. Finally, the court held that the district court did not err in reducing the award of statutory damages against ccAdvertising, because the larger award would violated the Due Process Clause. View "Golan v. FreeEats.com, Inc." on Justia Law
Qwest Communications Corp. v. Free Conferencing Corp.
The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial, on remand, of Qwest's unjust enrichment claim against FC. The court held that the district court did not abuse its discretion by concluding that it would not be inequitable for FC to retain the benefit conferred by Qwest. In this case, the district court explained that FC earned the benefit conferred by Qwest because it provided conference-calling services, 24-hour customer support, and access to a website in exchange for two cents per minute for calls placed to FC's conferencing bridges at Sancom. Furthermore, Qwest paid its own conference-calling vendor between two and four-and-a-half cents per minute. View "Qwest Communications Corp. v. Free Conferencing Corp." on Justia Law