Justia Communications Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
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Curaden AG, a Swiss entity, manufactures toothbrushes. Curaden USA, an Ohio corporation headquartered in Arizona, is a Curaden AG subsidiary and promotes Curaden AG products throughout the U.S. The two companies had not executed the standard written distribution agreement that typically governs the practices of Curaden AG’s subsidiary distributors. Curaden USA never presented its advertising materials to Curaden AG for review. Curaden USA purchased a list of thousands of dental professionals’ fax numbers and created the fax advertisements at issue, which displayed Curaden USA’s contact information without mention of Curaden AG. Curaden USA hired companies to send the faxes and paid for the transmission. Lyngaas, a Livonia dentist who had received two Curaden USA faxes, filed a purported class action under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), 47 U.S.C. 227. The Sixth Circuit affirmed that Lyngaas could not pierce the corporate veil to hold Curaden AG liable for Curaden USA’s action, that faxes received by a computer over a telephone line violated the TCPA, that it had personal jurisdiction over both Curaden entities, that Curaden USA violated the TCPA but that Curaden AG was not liable as a “sender,” and that Lyngaas’s evidence and expert-witness testimony concerning the total number of faxes successfully sent were inadmissible due to unauthenticated fax records. A claims-administration process was established for class members to verify their receipt of the unsolicited fax advertisements. View "Lyngaas v. Curaden AG" on Justia Law

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In 2004, Kimball was convicted of multiple drug-trafficking, weapons, money-laundering offenses, soliciting murder, witness tampering, and obstruction of justice. He was sentenced to two consecutive terms of life imprisonment plus 15 years. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. In April 2020, Kimball sought compassionate release, asserting that there were extraordinary and compelling reasons warranting compassionate release because he is at high risk of severe illness or death from COVID-19 based on his age (67) and medical conditions (hypertension, heart problems, high cholesterol, and gout) and that the 18 U.S.C. 3553(a) factors weighed in favor of release.The Sixth Circuit affirmed the denial of relief, rejecting Kimball’s argument that the time he has already served—approximately 17 years—is sufficient to serve the section 3553(a) goals because his offense did not involve any “actual violence” and he is statistically unlikely to re-offend based on his age. The court noted that when it affirmed his effective life sentence, he was the “undisputed kingpin and mastermind” of a “massive cocaine-trafficking conspiracy.” The district court’s order noted that its decision rested at least in part on the section 3553(a) factors; courts may deny relief under those factors “even if ‘extraordinary and compelling’ reasons would otherwise justify relief.” Even if the district court “mistakenly limited itself to the commentary’s list of extraordinary and compelling reasons," that would not entitle him to relief. View "United States v. Kimball" on Justia Law

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High school students from Kentucky received widespread attention for their conduct at the Lincoln Memorial during the 2019 March for Life rally. An incident occurred after the march between Covington Catholic students, including the plaintiffs, and others, including “a self-described Native American Elder.” In the wake of negative coverage and critical posts on social media, the students sued several media defendants and people who had engaged in online commentary about the incident, alleging civil harassment, harassing communications, menacing, and terroristic threatening.The Sixth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the cases against Twitter users Chandrasekhar, a doctor who lives in New Jersey, and Griffin, a comedian who lives in California, for lack of personal jurisdiction. The court rejected an argument that filing a notice of appearance automatically waives the personal jurisdiction defense; precedent that seemingly implied such a rule involved the defendant’s extensive participation in the litigation. Griffin had not filed any responsive pleading that omitted the defense, nor had she “participated in any other way that would lead plaintiffs to conclude that [she] would not assert the defense.” The defendants’ conduct is plainly outside the scope of the Kentucky long-arm statute since neither Griffin nor Chandrasekhar committed any act “in [the] Commonwealth” of Kentucky under KRS 454.210(2)(a)(3). View "Doe v. Griffin" on Justia Law

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To advertise its nearby adult bookstore, Lion’s Den displays a billboard, affixed to a tractor-trailer, on a neighbor’s property. Kentucky’s Billboard Act prohibits such off-site billboards if the advertisement is not securely affixed to the ground, the sign is attached to a mobile structure, and no permit has been obtained. None of these requirements applies to an on-site billboard advertisement. The Act applies equally to commercial and non-commercial speech on billboards.In a First Amendment challenge to the Act, the Sixth Circuit affirmed an injunction, prohibiting the Commonwealth from enforcing its law. The Act regulates commercial and non-commercial speech on content-based grounds by distinguishing between messages concerning on-site activities and those concerning off-site activities. The court applied strict scrutiny and held that the Act is not tailored to achieve Kentucky’s purported interests in safety and aesthetics. Kentucky has offered no reason to believe that on-site signs pose a greater threat to safety than do off-site signs and billboards are a "greater eyesore." View "L.D. Management Co. v. Gray" on Justia Law

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When a Google employee views a digital file and confirms that it is child pornography, Google assigns the file a hash value (digital fingerprint). It then scans Gmail for files with the same value. Google learned that a Gmail account had uploaded files with hash values matching child pornography and sent a report to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC). NCMEC’s systems traced the IP address to Kentucky. A local detective connected Miller to the Gmail account.The Sixth Circuit affirmed Miller’s convictions. The Fourth Amendment restricts government, not private, action. A private party who searches a physical space and hands over paper files to the government has not violated the Fourth Amendment. Rejecting Miller’s argument that the detective conducted an “unreasonable search” when he later opened and viewed the files sent by Google, the court reasoned that the government does not conduct a Fourth Amendment search when there is a “virtual certainty” that its search will disclose nothing more than what a private party’s earlier search revealed. A hash-value match has near-perfect accuracy, creating a “virtual certainty” that the files in the Gmail account were the known child-pornography files that a Google employee had viewed. The admission of NCMEC’s report at trial did not violate Miller’s Sixth Amendment right to confront “witnesses.” The rule applies to statements by people. NCMEC’s automated systems, not a person, entered the information into the report. View "United States v. Miller" on Justia Law

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SMART manages a public-transportation system for the counties in and around Detroit. For a fee, parties may display advertisements on the inside and outside of SMART’s buses and bus shelters. SMART guidelines prohibit “political” ads; ads that engage in “scorn or ridicule”; 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; advertising that is obscene or pornographic or advocates imminent lawlessness or unlawful violent action.AFDI sought to run an ad that said: “Fatwa on your head? Is your family or community threatening you? Leaving Islam? Got Questions? RefugefromIslam.com.” SMART rejected this ad as “political” and as holding up a group of people to “scorn or ridicule.”Initially, the Sixth Circuit held that the advertising space on SMART’s buses is a nonpublic forum and that SMART likely could show that its restrictions were reasonable and viewpoint neutral. In light of subsequent Supreme Court decisions, the Sixth Circuit reversed. SMART’s ban on “political” ads is unreasonable because SMART offers no “sensible basis for distinguishing what may come in from what must stay out.”. SMART’s ban on ads that engage in “scorn or ridicule” is not viewpoint-neutral. For any group, “an applicant may [display] a positive or benign [ad] but not a derogatory one.” View "American Freedom Defense Initiative v. Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transportation" on Justia Law

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Bennett worked at the Metro Government Emergency Communications Center (ECC) for 16 years. On November 9, 2016, Bennett, a white woman, responded to someone else's comment on her public-facing Facebook profile, using some of the commenter’s words: “Thank god we have more America loving rednecks. Red spread across all America. Even niggaz and latinos voted for trump too!” Bennett identified herself as an employee of Metro, the police department, and ECC in her Facebook profile. A constituent reposted part of Bennett’s statement and commented: If your skin is too dark your call may have just been placed on the back burner. Several employees and an outsider complained to ECC leadership. Bennett failed to show remorse. ECC officials determined that Bennett violated three Civil Service Rules and, after paid administrative leave and a due process hearing, fired her.Bennett sued Metro for First Amendment retaliation. The Sixth Circuit reversed a judgment in favor of Bennett, finding that the district court improperly analyzed the “Pickering” factors. The record indicated that the harmony of the office was disrupted; the court erred in discounting the importance of harmonious relationships at ECC. It is possible that inaction on ECC’s part could have been seen as an endorsement of the speech and impaired future discipline of similar derogatory statements. It is also possible that a damaged relationship with her colleagues could affect the quality and quantity of Bennett's work. Bennett’s comment detracted from ECC's mission. View "Bennett v. Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County" on Justia Law

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Rudd alleged that his ex-wife abducted their sons with assistance from her attorney (Meyers), during a child custody dispute. Rudd called the police but alleges that they refused to help him because Meyers is married to the city manager. Rudd filed an official complaint with the police department. Rudd claims that officials subsequently helped Meyers obtain an ex parte personal protection order as “leverage” in the custody case, authorized officers to illegally disclose Rudd’s information on the Law Enforcement Information Network, and falsified reports. Rudd prevailed in the custody case. Norton Shores later hired a new police chief, Gale. Rudd thought that Gale might “objectively” address the way that the police had handled his sons’ abduction and filed an official complaint. Gale told Rudd that he would investigate and have the Michigan State Police investigate. Instead, Rudd alleges, Gale gave his complaint to Meyers, the city manager, and the former police chief; never internally investigated; and set up a sham outside investigation. Rudd claims that his complaint triggered retaliatory actions, including an effort to get him jailed.Rudd brought a pro se suit against everyone involved. The Sixth Circuit reversed the dismissal of his suit. The evidence may confirm Rudd’s allegations or it may disprove them but a court must accept his allegations as true at the pleading stage. View "Rudd v. City of Norton Shores" on Justia Law

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Royal employed Kraft and Matthews (Defendants) in its sales team. Royal’s employee handbook prohibited using company equipment for personal activities; unauthorized use, retention, or disclosure of any of Royal’s resources or property; and sending or posting trade secrets or proprietary information outside the organization. Royal’s “GPS Tracking Policy” stated, “[e]mployees may not disable or interfere with the GPS (or any other) functions on a company-issued cell phone,” nor may employees “remove any software, functions or apps.” The Defendants resigned to become employed with one of Royal’s competitors. Royal discovered that, shortly before his resignation, Kraft forwarded from his Royal email account to his personal one quotes for Royal customers and Royal paystubs; contacted a Royal customer through Royal’s email server to ask the customer to send “all the new vendor info” to Kraft’s personal email account; then deleted and reinstalled the operating system on his company-issued laptop, rendering its data unrecoverable. Matthews did much the same and announced her resignation on social media, sharing a link to the song, “You Can Take This Job and Shove It.”Royal sued, citing the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA), 18 U.S.C. 1030, which refers to one who “intentionally accesses a computer without authorization or exceeds authorized access, and thereby obtains . . . information from any protected computer.” The district court concluded that the Defendants did not “exceed[]” their “authorized access,” under CFAA. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. While their conduct might violate company policy, state law, perhaps another federal law, the employees were authorized to access the information in question. View "Royal Truck & Trailer Sales & Service, Inc. v. Kraft" on Justia Law

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International, an outdoor advertising company, sought to erect digital billboards in two separate locations within the City of Troy. International's permit and variance applications were denied. International filed suit (42 U.S.C. 1983), alleging that the ordinance granted unfettered discretion and contained unconstitutional content-based restrictions as it exempted from permit requirements certain categories of signs, such as flags and “temporary signs.” During the litigation, Troy amended the Ordinance.The Sixth Circuit remanded. The original Ordinance imposed a prior restraint because the right to display a sign that did not come within an exception as a flag or as a “temporary sign” depended on obtaining either a permit or a variance. The standards for granting a variance contained multiple vague, undefined criteria, such as “public interest,” “general purpose and intent,” “adversely affect[ing],” and “hardship.” Even meeting these criteria did not guarantee a variance; the Board retained discretion to deny it. The amendment, however, rendered the action for declaratory and injunctive relief moot. The severability of the variance provisions rendered moot its claim for damages. The court reinstated a claim that the ordinance imposed content-based restrictions without a compelling government interest for reconsideration under the correct standard. A regulation of commercial speech that is not content-neutral is still subject to strict scrutiny. View "International Outdoor, Inc. v. City of Troy" on Justia Law