Justia Communications Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
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In 1938, West’s predecessor granted Louisville Gas & Electric’s predecessor a perpetual easement permitting a 248-foot-tall tower carrying high-voltage electric lines. In 1990, Louisville sought permission to allow Charter Communication install on the towers a fiber-optic cable that carries communications (telephone service, cable TV service, and internet data); West refused. In 2000 Louisville concluded that the existing easement allows the installation of wires that carry photons (fiber-optic cables) along with the wires that carry electrons. West disagreed and filed suit, seeking compensation. The Seventh Circuit affirmed that the use that Louisville and Charter have jointly made of the easement is permissible under Indiana law. The court cited 47 U.S.C. 541(a)(2), part of the Cable Communications Policy Act of 1984, which provides: Any franchise shall be construed to authorize the construction of a cable system over public rights-of-way, and through easements, which is within the area to be served by the cable system and which have been dedicated for compatible uses, except that in using such easements the cable operator shall ensure…. The court examined the language of the easement and stated: “At least the air rights have been “dedicated” to transmission, and a telecom cable is “compatible” with electric transmission. Both photons and electrons are in the electromagnetic spectrum.” View "West v. Charter Communications, Inc." on Justia Law

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In February 2010, AMS sent a fax advertisement to 11,422 different numbers from a recently acquired customer list. PHI filed a putative class action suit asserting that those faxes violated the Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991 (TCPA), 47 U.S.C. 227. The district court subsequently certified the proposed class, granted PHI’s motion for summary judgment on liability against AMS and its CEO, entered a nearly $6 million judgment, and approved a distribution plan for that judgment. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. AMS conceded that the fax in question was an advertisement that lacked any kind of disclaimer explaining how to opt-out of future faxes. AMS did not meet its burden of proving that it had prior express invitation or permission to send faxes; even if the company from which it obtained the customer list had express permission to send faxes, that permission is not transferrable under the TCPA. View "Physicians Healthsource, Inc. v. A-S Medication Solutions, LLC" on Justia Law

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Viamedia sued Comcast under the Sherman Act, 15 U.S.C. 2, for using its monopoly power in one service market (Interconnect) to exclude competition and gain monopoly power in another service market (advertising representation) in the Chicago, Detroit, and Hartford geographic markets. Interconnect services are cooperative selling arrangements for advertising through an “Interconnect” that enables retail cable television service providers to sell advertising targeted efficiently at regional audiences. Advertising representation services assist those providers with the sale and delivery of national, regional, and local advertising slots. Viamedia’s evidence indicated Comcast used its monopoly power over the Interconnect to force its smaller retail cable television competitors to stop doing business with Viamedia; Viamedia’s customers for advertising representation (Comcast’s retail cable competitors) switched to Comcast because Comcast presented a choice: either start buying advertising representation services from us and regain access to the Interconnect or keep buying services from Viamedia and stay cut off from the Interconnect they needed to compete effectively. The strategy cost Comcast millions of dollars in the short run but eventually gave it monopoly power in these local markets for advertising representation services. The Seventh Circuit reversed the dismissal of Viamedia’s case. Giving Viamedia the benefit of its allegations and evidence, this is not a case in which Section 2 is being misused to protect weaker competitors rather than competition more generally. Viamedia has also adequately stated a claim that Comcast has unlawfully refused to deal with Viamedia and any cable competitor that bought advertising representation from Viamedia. View "Viamedia, Inc. v. Comcast Corp." on Justia Law

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The Telephone Consumer Protection Act bars certain uses of an “automatic telephone dialing system,” which it defines as equipment with the capacity “to store or produce telephone numbers to be called, using a random or sequential number generator,” as well as the capacity to dial those numbers AT&T’s “Customer Rules Feedback Tool,” a device that sends surveys to customers who have interacted with AT&T’s customer service department, exclusively dials numbers stored in a customer database. AT&T sent unwanted automated text messages to Gadelhak. Gadelhak brought a putative class action under the Act, 47 U.S.C. 227(b)(1). The district court held and the Seventh Circuit affirmed that AT&T’s system did not qualify as an “automatic telephone dialing system.” While characterizing the Act as a grammatical nightmare, the court concluded that the phrase “using a random or sequential number generator” modifies both “store” and “produce.” AT&T’s system neither stores nor produces numbers using a random or sequential number generator. View "Gadelhak v. AT&T Services, Inc." on Justia Law

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T-Mobile customers can participate in “T-Mobile Tuesdays,” a promotional service, offering free items and discounts. Customers who no longer wish to receive marketing communications may opt-out by contacting T-Mobile’s customer service. T-Mobile user Warciak received a text message: This T-Mobile Tuesday, score a free 6” Oven Roasted Chicken sub at SUBWAY, just for being w/ T-Mobile. Ltd supply. Get app for details. The message came from T-Mobile. Warciak was not charged for the text. Warciak sued Subway claiming Subway engaged in a common-law agency relationship with T-Mobile, and that Subway’s conduct violated the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA). T-Mobile is not included in the lawsuit. The court dismissed the complaint as lacking sufficient support for claims of actual and apparent authority: control over the timing, content, or recipients of the text message. The court also found that the wireless carrier exemption applied so that no underlying TCPA violation exists ( 47 U.S.C. 227(b)(2)(C)). Prior written consent is not required for calls to a wireless customer by his wireless carrier if the customer is not charged. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The only alleged conduct by Subway is its contractual relationship with T-Mobile. Warciak’s complaint lacks sufficient facts showing Subway manifested to the public that T-Mobile was its agent. He relied on T-Mobile’s conduct. Statements by an agent are insufficient to create apparent authority without also tracing the statements to a principal’s manifestations or control. View "Warciak v. Subway Restaurants, Inc." on Justia Law

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Harnishfeger published a book under a pseudonym, Conversations with Monsters: Chilling, Depraved and Deviant Phone Sex Conversations, concerning her time as a phone‐sex operator. A month later, Harnishfeger began a one‐year stint with the Indiana Army National Guard as a member of the Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA) program, a federal anti-poverty program administered by the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS). When Harnishfeger’s National Guard supervisor discovered Conversations and identified Harnishfeger as its author, she demanded that CNCS remove Harnishfeger. CNCS complied and ultimately cut her from the program. Harnishfeger filed suit alleging First Amendment and Administrative Procedure Act violations. The district court granted the defendants summary judgment. The Seventh Circuit reversed in part and affirmed in part. The book is protected speech; it was written and published before Harnishfeger began her VISTA service. Its content is unrelated to CNCS, VISTA, and the Guard. It was written for a general audience, concerning personal experiences and is a matter of public concern. A jury could find that Harnishfeger’s National Guard supervisor infringed her free-speech rights by removing her from her placement because of it. The supervisor’s actions were under color of state law, so 42 U.S.C. 1983 offers a remedy, and she was not entitled to qualified immunity. There is no basis, however, for holding CNCS or its employees liable. Harnishfeger failed to show a triable issue on any federal defendant’s personal participation in a constitutional violation. View "Harnishfeger v. United States" on Justia Law

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A Downers Grove ordinance limits the size and location of signs. Leibundguth claimed that it violated the First Amendment because its exceptions were unjustified content discrimination. The ordinance does not require permits for holiday decorations, temporary signs for personal events such as birthdays, “[n]oncommercial flags,” or political and noncommercial signs that do not exceed 12 square feet, “[m]emorial signs and tablets.” The Seventh Circuit upheld the ordinance. Leibundguth is not affected by the exceptions. Leibundguth’s problems come from the ordinance’s size and surface limits: One is painted on a wall, which is prohibited; another is too large; a third wall has two signs that vastly exceed the limit of 159 square feet for Leibundguth’s building. The signs would fare no better if they were flags or carried a political message. A limit on the size and presentation of signs is a standard time, place, and manner rule. The Supreme Court has upheld aesthetic limits that justified without reference to the content or viewpoint of speech, serve a significant government interest, and leave open ample channels for communication. The Village gathered evidence that signs painted on walls tend to deteriorate faster than other signs. Many people believe that smaller signs are preferable. Absent content or viewpoint discrimination, that aesthetic judgment supports the legislation, which leaves open ample ways to communicate. View "Leibundguth Storage & Van Service, Inc. v. Village of Downers Grove" on Justia Law

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In 1996, Higgs murdered three women at a Maryland federal property. He was convicted in federal court and sentenced to death. Higgs claimed that the government failed to turn over exculpatory evidence in violation of Brady v. Maryland. His 2012 Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the Park Police sought a complete copy of everything pertaining to the convictions. The Park Police produced some information, then referred the request to the FBI. Higgs filed suit, challenging the FBI’s decisions to redact or withhold information under FOIA Exemptions, 5 U.S.C. 552(b)(6), (b)(7)(C), and (b)(7)(D). Exemptions (6) and 7(C) cover materials that would invade personal privacy; Exemption 7(D) covers information that “could reasonably be expected to disclose the identity of a confidential source, … and, in the case of a record or information compiled by criminal law enforcement authority in the course of a criminal investigation … information furnished by a confidential source.” The district court concluded that the FBI properly withheld certain documents under Exemption 7(D), but did not justify the invocation of Exemption 7(C), and had to release all of the names of still-living people, contact information, reports of interviews, fingerprints, and rap sheets. T. The Seventh Circuit reversed in part. The court erred when it found that the public interest prevailed over the privacy interests of the persons involved under Exemptions 6 and 7(C). The court affirmed with respect to Exemption 7(D) materials. View "Higgs v. United States Park Police" on Justia Law

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Debt collector Med-1 attempted to recover unpaid medical bills from Lavallee. The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act required Med-1 to disclose certain information to Lavallee, 15 U.S.C. 1692g(a), by including the required information in its “initial communication” with Lavallee or by sending “a written notice containing” the disclosures within five days after that “initial communication.” In March and April, Med-1 sent Lavallee two emails, one for each debt. The emails contained hyperlinks to a Med-1’s web server; a visitor had to click through multiple screens to access and download a .pdf document containing the required disclosures. Lavallee never opened those emails. When the hospital called her to discuss a different medical debt, she learned about the earlier debts and was told that they had been referred to Med-1. She called Med-1, but Med-1 did not provide the required disclosures. Nor did it send a written notice within the next five days. Lavallee sued Med-1. The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of Lavallee, rejecting Med-1’s contention that its emails were initial communications that contained the required disclosures. The emails do not qualify as “communication” because they did not “convey[] … information regarding a debt” and did not “contain” the mandated disclosures. At most the emails provided a means to access the disclosures via a multistep online process. View "Lavallee v. Med-1 Solutions, LLC" on Justia Law

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In 2005 Paramount leased a parcel of highway-adjacent property in Bellwood, Illinois, planning to erect a billboard. Paramount never applied for a local permit. When Bellwood enacted a ban on new billboard permits in 2009, Paramount lost the opportunity to build its sign. Paramount later sought to take advantage of an exception to the ban for village-owned property, offering to lease a different parcel of highway-adjacent property directly from Bellwood. Bellwood accepted an offer from Image, one of Paramount’s competitors. Paramount sued Bellwood and Image, alleging First Amendment, equal-protection, due-process, Sherman Act, and state-law violations. The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the defendants. Paramount lost its lease while the suit was pending, which mooted its claim for injunctive relief from the sign ban. The claim for damages was time-barred, except for an alleged equal-protection violation. That claim failed because Paramount was not similarly situated to Image; Paramount offered Bellwood $1,140,000 in increasing installments over 40 years while Image offered a lump sum of $800,000. Bellwood and Image are immune from Paramount’s antitrust claims. The court did not consider whether a market-participant exception to that immunity exists because Paramount failed to support its antitrust claims. View "Paramount Media Group, Inc. v. Village of Bellwood" on Justia Law