Justia Communications Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit
Ballengee v. CBS Broadcasting, Inc.
Plaintiff filed suit against CBS after the CBS Evening News aired two reports on the opioid crisis in West Virginia that featured plaintiff and his pharmacy. Plaintiff alleged claims of defamation, false light invasion of privacy, tortious interference, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of defendants on all claims. On appeal, plaintiff challenged the district court's rulings as to two allegedly defamatory statements in the report.The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment as to the two allegedly defamatory statements in the reports: (1) "Records show Tug Valley was filling more than 150 pain prescriptions a day from one clinic alone," and (2) plaintiff "admit[ted] to filling 150 pain pill prescriptions daily for one clinic alone." The court held that, because plaintiff failed to offer evidence from which a reasonable juror could find that the allegedly defamatory statements in the CBS reports were false, rather than minor inaccuracies, and he bears the burden of proof on this element of his defamation and false light invasion of privacy claims, summary judgment on both claims was appropriate. Finally, the court held that plaintiff's attempt to raise for the first time on appeal two new implications of the news reports is foreclosed. View "Ballengee v. CBS Broadcasting, Inc." on Justia Law
The Washington Post v. McManus
A Maryland law requiring newspapers, among other platforms, to publish on their websites, as well as retain for state inspection, certain information about the political ads they decide to carry, violates the First amendment. The Fourth Circuit affirmed the preliminary injunctive relief awarded by the district court and explained that, while Maryland's law tries to serve important aims, the state has gone about this task in too circuitous and burdensome a manner to satisfy constitutional scrutiny. The court agreed with the district court that the law is a content-based law that targets political speech and compels newspapers, among other platforms, to carry certain messages on their websites. The court declined to decide whether strict or exacting scrutiny should apply to a disclosure law like the one at issue, and held that the law failed under the more forgiving exact scrutiny standard. View "The Washington Post v. McManus" on Justia Law
Krakauer v. Dish Network
Plaintiff filed suit against Dish Network, alleging that its sales representative, Satellite Systems Network (SSN), routinely violated the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) by calling numbers on the national Do-Not-Call registry. After the district court certified the class, the case went to trial and Dish ultimately lost.The Fourth Circuit affirmed, holding that the district court properly applied the law and prudently exercised its discretion. The court rejected Dish's challenges to class certification and held that the class certified by the district court complied with Article III's requirements; the court rejected Dish's claims of error under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23 and held that the TCPA supported class-wide resolution of this class; and the court rejected Dish's challenges to the jury findings and held that there was ample evidence for the district court's rationales in the record produced at trial. View "Krakauer v. Dish Network" on Justia Law
American Association of Political Consultants, Inc. v. FCC
Plaintiffs appealed the district court's grant of summary judgment to the FCC and the Government, in an action alleging that part of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991 (TCPA) contravenes the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment. In relevant part, the Act prohibits calls to cell phones by use of an automated dialing system or an artificial or prerecorded voice, subject to three statutory exemptions. Specifically, plaintiffs alleged that one of the statutory exemptions to the automated call ban — created by a 2015 TCPA amendment — is facially unconstitutional under the Free Speech Clause.Although the Fourth Circuit agreed with the district court that strict scrutiny review applied in this case, it held that the debt collection exemption fails to satisfy strict scrutiny, constitutes an unconstitutional content-based restriction on speech, and therefore violates the Free Speech Clause. The court concluded that the flawed exemption could be severed from the automatic call ban. Accordingly, the court vacated and remanded. View "American Association of Political Consultants, Inc. v. FCC" on Justia Law
VA Citizens Defense League v. Couric
Plaintiffs, aggrieved at their portrayal in a documentary on gun violence called Under the Gun, filed suit alleging defamation by the film's creators. The crux of plaintiffs' defamation claims was that an edited interview manufactured a false exchange that made them look ridiculous, incompetent, and ignorant about firearm ownership and sales, including the policies surrounding background checks.The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of the complaint, holding that the edited footage did not arise to the level of defamation under Virginia law. The court held that plaintiffs' defamation per se claims failed, and that the edited footage was not reasonably capable of suggesting that the Virginia Citizens Defense League and its members were "ignorant and incompetent on the subject to which they have dedicated their organizational mission." Finally, regardless of how certain media outlets covered the short-lived frenzy surrounding this incident, the Supreme Court of Virginia has consistently stressed that it is the province of courts to perform the gatekeeping role of distinguishing defamatory speech from mere insults. In this case, the district court properly performed its independent gatekeeping role and the district court reached the correct result on the merits. View "VA Citizens Defense League v. Couric" on Justia Law
Hodgin v. UTC Fire & Security Americas Corp.
Plaintiffs filed suit against UTC and Honeywell under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), 47 U.S.C. 227, alleging that the companies were vicariously liable for illegal calls made by telemarketers promoting UTC and Honeywell products. The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of the Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(d) motion because plaintiffs failed to show that they did not have an opportunity to discover specific evidence that was essential to their opposition to summary judgment. The court also affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment because plaintiffs failed to proffer more than a scintilla of evidence to support the conclusion that UTC and Honeywell were vicariously liable for the telemarketers' alleged TCPA violations. View "Hodgin v. UTC Fire & Security Americas Corp." on Justia Law
Carlton & Harris Chiropractic, Inc. v. PDR Network, LLC
The Fourth Circuit vacated the district court's dismissal of plaintiff's claim that PDR Network violated the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), 47 U.S.C. 227, by sending unsolicited advertisement by fax. Plaintiff argued that the district court erred in declining to defer to a 2006 Rule promulgated by the FCC that interpreted some provisions of the TCPA. Plaintiff specifically contended that the Hobbs Act, 28 U.S.C. 2342 et seq., required the district court to defer to the FCC's interpretation of the term "unsolicited advertisement." Furthermore, plaintiff claimed that the district court erred by reading the rule to require that a fax have some commercial aim to be considered an advertisement. The court held that the Hobbs Act deprived district courts of jurisdiction to consider the validity of orders like the 2006 FCC Rule, and that the district court's reading of the 2006 FCC Rule was at odds with the plain meaning of its text. View "Carlton & Harris Chiropractic, Inc. v. PDR Network, LLC" on Justia Law