Justia Communications Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Zoning, Planning & Land Use
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In 2011, Richmond issued the city's first medical marijuana collective permit to RCCC. Other permits were later issued to the defendants. The ordinance governing the permits was amended in 2014, to reduce the number of dispensary permits from six to three, and to provide that if a permitted dispensary did not open within six months after the issuance of a permit, the permit would become void. RCCC lost its permit. RCCC sued, claiming that defendants, acting in concert, encouraged and paid for community opposition to RCCC’s applications and purchased a favorably zoned property. Defendants filed an anti-SLAPP motion to strike, Code of Civil Procedure section 425.16, which provides that a claim 'arising from any act of that person in furtherance of the person’s right of petition or free speech ... in connection with a public issue shall be subject to a special motion to strike," unless the court determines that the plaintiff has established a probability of success on the merits. One defendant admitted: “Our group declared war on RCCC. We conspired to prevent RCCC from getting any property in Richmond.“ The court ultimately determined that the defendants failed to show how the allegations were protected activity and denied the anti-SLAPP motion. The court of appeal affirmed, stating that the appeal had no merit and will delay the plaintiff’s case and cause him to incur unnecessary attorney fees. View "Richmond Compassionate Care Collective v. 7 Stars Holistic Foundation, Inc." on Justia Law

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T Mobile unsuccessfully applied to Wilmington’s Zoning Board of Adjustment (ZBA) for permission to erect an antenna. The Telecommunications Act of 1996 allows a disappointed wireless service provider to seek review in a district court “within 30 days after” a zoning authority’s “final action,” 47 U.S.C. 332(c)(7)(B)(v), T Mobile filed suit. After the case had proceeded for over a year, the district court concluded that it lacked jurisdiction because the claim was not ripe; T Mobile filed its complaint before the ZBA released a written decision confirming an earlier oral rejection of the zoning application. T Mobile had not supplemented its complaint to include the ZBA’s written decision within 30 days of its issuance. The Third Circuit remanded the case. While only a written decision can serve as a locality’s final action when denying an application and the issuance of that writing is the government “act” ruled by the 30-day provision, that timing requirement is not jurisdictional. An untimely supplemental complaint can, by relating back, cure an initial complaint that was unripe. The district court had jurisdiction and should not have granted Wilmington’s motion for summary judgment. View "T Mobile Northeast LLC v. Wilmington" on Justia Law

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Verizon Wireless obtained approval from the City of San Diego (the City, together respondents) to construct a wireless telecommunications facility (WCF, the Project) in Ridgewood Neighborhood Park (the Park), a dedicated park. Don't Cell Our Parks (DCOP), a not-for-profit entity, filed a petition for writ of mandate challenging the City's determination. The trial court denied the petition, concluding that under San Diego City Charter section 55 (Charter 55), the City had control and management of dedicated parks and the discretion to determine whether a particular park use would change the use or purpose of the Park and thus require a public vote. The Court of Appeal concluded the Project did not constitute a changed use or purpose that required voter approval. DCOP also claimed the Project did not qualify under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) for a categorical exemption under CEQA Guidelines section 153031 which pertained to the construction of new small facilities. The Court rejected this argument too, and thus affirmed the trial court in full. View "Don't Cell Our Parks v. City of San Diego" on Justia Law

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The owners of Pine Meadow Golf Course in Martinez sold the property to a developer. The city approved construction of a 99-unit single-family home subdivision, with improvements. Objectors circulated a petition opposing the planned development, seeking a referendum to reverse the approval. The owners and developer alleged that objectors used the name Friends of Pine Meadow to deceive fellow citizens into believing they were friends with the golf course owners, and attempted to inform people “about the true nature of the Friends of Pine Meadow.” The owners and developers filed suit, alleging interference with prospective economic advantage and defamation and seeking damages and injunctive relief. The trial court granted the objectors’ special motion to strike plaintiffs’ complaint under Code of Civil Procedure section 425.16, the anti-SLAPP (Strategic Law Suit Against Public Participation) law. The court of appeal affirmed, rejecting an argument that the claims arose out of commercial speech, which is not protected activity under the anti-SLAPP law. The statute makes no reference to commercial speech. Every claim in the complaint seeks to punish and/or suppress speech that relates to an official proceeding about a public issue. View "Dean v. Friends of Pine Meadow" on Justia Law

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The owners of Pine Meadow Golf Course in Martinez sold the property to a developer. The city approved construction of a 99-unit single-family home subdivision, with improvements. Objectors circulated a petition opposing the planned development, seeking a referendum to reverse the approval. The owners and developer alleged that objectors used the name Friends of Pine Meadow to deceive fellow citizens into believing they were friends with the golf course owners, and attempted to inform people “about the true nature of the Friends of Pine Meadow.” The owners and developers filed suit, alleging interference with prospective economic advantage and defamation and seeking damages and injunctive relief. The trial court granted the objectors’ special motion to strike plaintiffs’ complaint under Code of Civil Procedure section 425.16, the anti-SLAPP (Strategic Law Suit Against Public Participation) law. The court of appeal affirmed, rejecting an argument that the claims arose out of commercial speech, which is not protected activity under the anti-SLAPP law. The statute makes no reference to commercial speech. Every claim in the complaint seeks to punish and/or suppress speech that relates to an official proceeding about a public issue. View "Dean v. Friends of Pine Meadow" on Justia Law

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AT&T applied for a permit from the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Planning Commission to build a 125-foot cell-phone tower. Neighboring residents opposed the application, arguing that the tower would spoil the view from their properties, disturb the character of the neighborhood, endanger public health and safety, and depress residential property values. They cited a staff report concerning the tower's visual impact, an expert report on radio frequency emissions, and valuation studies. The Commission granted the site permit. The Fayette County Circuit Court dismissed an appeal on procedural grounds. A state court appeal is pending. The district court dismissed a separate suit alleging negligence, negligence per se, gross negligence, and nuisance. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, citing “obstacle” preemption by the federal Telecommunications Act of 1996. The court also noted that the claims constituted an improper collateral attack on the Commission’s decision to approve the tower. View "Robbins v. New Cingular Wireless PCS, LLC" on Justia Law

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In 2010, the Township of Franklin (the Township) adopted an ordinance revising its regulation of signs, including billboards. The ordinance permits billboards, subject to multiple conditions, in a zoning district proximate to an interstate highway but expressly prohibited digital billboards anywhere in the municipality. A company seeking to install a digital billboard challenged the constitutionality of the ordinance. The Law Division declared unconstitutional that portion of the ordinance barring digital billboards. The trial court viewed the Township's treatment of such devices as a total ban on a mode of communication. In a reported opinion, the Appellate Division reversed. Applying the "Central Hudson" commercial speech standard and the "Clark/Ward" time, place, and manner standard to content-neutral regulations affecting speech, the appellate panel determined that the ban on digital billboards passed constitutional muster. The Supreme Court disagreed: "simply invoking aesthetics and public safety to ban a type of sign, without more, does not carry the day." The Court declared the 2010 ban on digital billboards as unconstitutional and reversed the judgment of the Appellate Division. View "E&J Equities v. Board of Adjustment of Franklin Township" on Justia Law

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The Township of Tredyffrin Zoning Hearing Board of Appeals denied an application by DePolo, a federally licensed amateur or “ham” radio enthusiast, to build a 180-foot radio antenna tower on his property so that he could communicate with other ham radio operators around the world. The property is surrounded by mountains or hills. He claimed a shorter tower would not allow him to reliably communicate with other ham radio operators. The ZHBA agreed to a tower that was 65-feet tall as a reasonable accommodation under the applicable zoning ordinance prohibition on buildings taller than 35 feet. DePolo did not appeal that decision to the Chester Court of Common Pleas as allowed under state law, but filed a federal suit, claiming that zoning ordinance was preempted by 47 C.F.R. 97.15(b), and the closely related FCC declaratory ruling, known as PRB-1. The district court dismissed, finding that the ZHBA had offered a reasonable accommodation and that the zoning ordinance was not preempted by PRB-1. The Third Circuit rejected an appeal. DePolo’s failure to appeal the ZHBA’s determination to state court rendered the decision final, entitled to the same preclusive effect that it would have had in state court. View "Depolo v. Tredyffrin Twp. Bd. of Supervisors" on Justia Law

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The City of Eugene sued to collect from Comcast of Oregon II, Inc. (Comcast) a license fee that the city, acting under a municipal ordinance, imposes on companies providing “telecommunications services” over the city’s rights of way. Comcast did not dispute that it used the city’s rights of way to operate a cable system. However it objected to the city’s collection effort and argued that the license fee was either a tax barred by the Internet Tax Freedom Act (ITFA), or a franchise fee barred by the Cable Communications and Policy Act of 1984 (Cable Act). The city read those federal laws more narrowly and disputed Comcast’s interpretation. The trial court rejected Comcast’s arguments and granted summary judgment in favor of the city. The Court of Appeals affirmed. Finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "City of Eugene v. Comcast of Oregon II, Inc." on Justia Law

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Smith sought a conditional use permit (CUP) to build a 300-foot-tall cellular tower on a Washington County site zoned "Agriculture/Single-Family Residential." There are homes within one-quarter of a mile of the site. The Zoning Code authorizes a CUP upon findings: That the proposed use is compatible with the surrounding area; will not be detrimental to or endanger the public health, safety, morals, comfort or general welfare; and will not be injurious to use and enjoyment of other property in the area for purposes already permitted, nor substantially diminish and impair property values within the area. The Planning Board approved the application. Neighbors appealed to the Quorum Court with arguments focused on "safety," "property values," the tower's "fit" with the area, proximity to their homes, and having purchased their homes specifically because of the surrounding scenery and views. Hearing participants discussed cellular phone reception; potential safety issues, particularly in inclement weather; proximity to residences; and impact on nearby residents' views and property values. The application was rejected. The district court and Eighth Circuit affirmed, rejecting arguments that Washington County failed to provide a legally adequate explanation of its reasons for denial and that the denial was not based on substantial evidence in violation of the Telecommunications Act, 47 U.S.C. 332(c)(7)(B). View "Smith Commc'ns, LLC v. Washington Cnty." on Justia Law