Justia Communications Law Opinion Summaries

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Plaintiffs, two former Liberian officials, allege that Global Witness, an international human rights organization, published a report falsely implying that they had accepted bribes in connection with the sale of an oil license for an offshore plot owned by Liberia. The DC Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of the complaint for failing to plausibly allege malice. The court concluded that the First Amendment provides broad protections for speech about public figures, and the former officials have failed to allege that Global Witness exceeded the bounds of those protections. In this case, plaintiffs advanced several interlocking theories to support the allegation of malice, but the court agreed with the district court that these theories fail to support a plausible claim that Global Witness acted with actual malice. View "Tah v. Global Witness Publishing, Inc." on Justia Law

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Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism’s “Innocence Project” sought to exonerate Porter for two 1982 murders. Ciolino, a private investigator working with the Project, obtained a videotaped confession from Simon. Porter’s conviction was vacated. Simon pleaded guilty to the murders and was sentenced to 37 years in prison. Porter’s exoneration is regarded as the impetus for the Illinois death penalty moratorium. The tactics Ciolino used to obtain Simon’s confession came under scrutiny. It was alleged that Ciolino promised Simon that he would secure an attorney, Rimland, to represent him. Rimland shared office space with Ciolino and did not challenge Simon’s confession or present other evidence to the court. Ekl began representing Simon and filed a successive post-conviction petition asserting actual innocence. Two witnesses recanted their statements, indicating that those statements were induced by promises made by the Project. The circuit court vacated Simon’s convictions after Simon had served 15 years in prison. In 2015, Crawford published a book, Justice Perverted: How the Innocence Project … Sent an Innocent Man to Prison, which inspired the documentary at issue—Murder in the Park, in which Ekl allegedly made defamatory statements concerning Ciolino. Ciolino’s suit, alleging defamation, false light invasion of privacy, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and civil conspiracy, was dismissed as barred by the one-year statute of limitations. Except as against one defendant, the appellate court reversed. The Illinois Supreme Court affirmed the reinstatement of the claims against Ekl. Because the screenings of the documentary each constituted a separate publication of the allegedly defamatory material, the single-publication rule does not apply. Following the documentary's Chicago screening, Ciolino timely filed his complaint. View "Ciolino v. Simon" on Justia Law

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Rio Vista Officer Collondrez responded to a hit-and-run accident. According to an internal affairs investigation, Collondrez falsified his report, arrested a suspect without probable cause, used excessive force, applied a carotid control hold on the suspect, and failed to request medical assistance. After hearings, the city agreed to pay Collondrez $35,000. Collondrez resigned. The agreement provides that Collondrez's disciplinary reports will only be released as required by law or upon legal process issued by a court of competent jurisdiction, after written notice to Collondrez. Penal Code section 832.71 was subsequently amended to require the disclosure of police officer personnel records concerning sustained findings of dishonesty or making false reports. The city responded to media requests under the Public Records Act for records, giving Collondrez prior notice of only some of the disclosures. Media outlets reported the misconduct allegations. His then-employer, Uber, fired Collondrez. Collondrez sued.The trial court partially granted the city’s to strike the complaint under California’s anti-SLAPP statute, Code of Civil Procedure 425.16, finding that Collondrez had shown a probability of prevailing on his claims for breach of contract and invasion of privacy but not on claims for interference with prospective economic advantage and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The court of appeal reversed in part, in favor of the city. The complaint arises from speech protected by the anti-SLAPP statute, but the trial court erred in finding Collondrez established a likelihood of prevailing two counts. View "Collondrez v. City of Rio Vista" on Justia Law

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The Kapurs invested $300,000 in KAXT-CD, a Bay Area TV station, for 42% ownership in the Seller. In 2013, over the Kapurs' objections, the Seller proceeded with a $10.1 million sale of assets to First Buyer, which applied for the station’s FCC license. The Kapurs opposed that application, arguing that arbitration concerning the sale was ongoing. The arbitrator found that the sale did not require unanimity. The Kapurs unsuccessfully appealed in California state court and pressed on at the FCC, attacking the First Buyer’s qualifications under the “public interest” standard. The FCC concluded that the Kapurs’ allegations did not warrant a hearing and approved the application. In 2017, First Buyer sold the station to TV-49, Inc. for $2 million. The Kapurs opposed TV-49’s FCC license assignment application, arguing that First Buyer lacked the qualifications to buy the “license in the first place.” They did not challenge TV-49’s qualifications. The FCC approved the application. The D.C. Circuit dismissed an appeal for lack of standing. Even if the Kapurs prevailed on their claim of entitlement to a character hearing, they have not shown any likelihood that the FCC would find that First Buyer was of bad character or, even if it did, that it would order the unwinding of both sales and return of the station to the Seller. Nothing would stop the Seller from selling to someone else. View "Kapur v. Federal Communications Commission" on Justia Law

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Blanca Telephone Company was a rural telecommunications carrier based in Alamosa, Colorado. To be profitable, Blanca must rely in part upon subsidies from the Universal Service Fund (USF), a source of financial support governed by federal law and funded through fees on telephone customers. And in order to receive subsidies from the USF, Blanca must abide by a complex set of rules governing telecommunications carriers. The Federal Communications Commission began an investigation in 2008 into Blanca’s accounting practices, and identified overpayments Blanca had received from the USF between 2005 and 2010. According to the FCC, Blanca improperly claimed roughly $6.75 million in USF support during this period for expenses related to providing mobile cellular services both within and outside Blanca’s designated service area. Blanca was entitled only to support for “plain old telephone service,” namely land lines, and not for mobile telephone services. The FCC issued a demand letter to Blanca seeking repayment. to Blanca seeking repayment. The agency eventually used administrative offsets of payments owed to Blanca for new subsidies to begin collection of the debt. Blanca objected to the FCC’s demand letter and sought agency review of the debt collection determination. During agency proceedings, the FCC considered and rejected Blanca’s objections. Before the Tenth Circuit, Blanca challenged the FCC’s demand letter. And Blanca claimed the FCC's decision should have been set aside because: and subsequent orders on a number of grounds. Blanca claims the FCC’s decision should be set aside because: (1) it was barred by the relevant statute of limitations; (2) it violated due process; and (3) it was arbitrary and capricious. The Tenth Circuit concluded the FCC’s debt collection was not barred by any statute of limitations, Blanca was apprised of the relevant law and afforded adequate opportunity to respond to the FCC’s decision, and the FCC was not arbitrary and capricious in its justifications for the debt collection. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the FCC. View "Blanca Telephone Company v. FCC" on Justia Law

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The Second Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of plaintiff's complaint against the New York Times. Plaintiff alleged defamation based on the Times's print and online articles about gender bias, favoritism, and groping at the Justice Department. The article details a Times investigation into a series of complaints, using records derived from an EEOC complaint and a sex discrimination and retaliation suit. One of the declarations described an incident between plaintiff and an intern. Plaintiff alleged that the language from this declaration was false and defamatory per se and that the fair report privilege did not apply.The court concluded that the district court performed the proper choice-of-law analysis, applying New York law to the conflict; correctly reasoned that New York was the state with the most significant interests in the litigation and applied New York's fair report privilege; and then properly dismissed plaintiff's complaint as barred by the fair report privilege because the alleged defamatory statement was attributed to an official proceeding. View "Kinsey v. New York Times Co." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff and Church United filed suit against Vimeo, alleging that the company discriminated against them by deleting Church United’s account from its online video hosting platform. Plaintiffs claimed that Vimeo discriminated against them based on sexual orientation and religion under federal and state law. The district court concluded that Vimeo deleted Church United's account because of its violation of one of Vimeo's content policies barring the promotion of sexual orientation change efforts (SOCE) on its platform.The Second Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of plaintiffs' claims, agreeing with the district court that Section 230(c)(2) of the Communications Decency Act provides Vimeo with immunity from suit. The court concluded that, under Section 230(c)(2), Vimeo is free to restrict access to material that, in good faith, it finds objectionable. In this case, plaintiffs' conclusory allegations of bad faith do not survive the pleadings stage, especially when examined in the context of Section 230(c)(2). The court explained that Section 230(c)(2) does not require interactive service providers to use a particular method of content restriction, nor does it mandate perfect enforcement of a platform's content policies. Indeed, the fundamental purpose of Section 230(c)(2) is to provide platforms like Vimeo with the discretion to identify and remove what they consider objectionable content from their platforms without incurring liability for each decision. View "Domen v. Vimeo, Inc." on Justia Law

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Madigan was elected to the Illinois House of Representatives in 1970 and re-elected to 25 additional two-year terms. He became Speaker of the House in 1983 and the state’s Democratic Party Chairman in 1998. In 2021 he withdrew from the race to be reelected as Speaker and resigned his seat in the House and his role as Chairman. Four candidates were on the ballot for the 2016 Democratic primary. Madigan won with 65% of the votes; Gonzales received 27%, Rodriguez 6%, and Barboza 2%. Gonzales sued, 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging that Rodriguez and Barboza were stooges put on the ballot by Madigan’s allies to divide the Hispanic vote, violating the Equal Protection Clause.The district judge noted that Gonzales had made his suspicions public early in the race and that an editorial in the Chicago Sun-Times agreed with Gonzales. Concluding that the voters were not deceived, the court granted summary judgment against Gonzales. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The district judge did not penalize Gonzales’s campaign speech. Speech, including in depositions and interrogatories, often affects litigation's outcome; a judge who takes account of speech that proves or refutes a claim does not violate the First Amendment. Gonzales told the voters that he thought Madigan had played a dirty trick. The electorate sided with Madigan. The Constitution does not authorize the judiciary to upset that outcome or to penalize a politician for employing a shady strategy that voters tolerate. View "Gonzales v. Madigan" 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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The First Circuit affirmed the judgment of the district court granting a preliminary injunction against enforcement against a State of Maine law requiring cable operators to offer their subscribers the option of buying access to cable programs and channels individually, rather than bundled together in a channel or package of channels, holding that the district court did not err.Plaintiffs, a group of cable operators and programmers, sought a preliminary injunction against enforcement of the law, arguing that it was preempted by certain provisions of the federal Communications Act and that it violated the First Amendment. The district court granted the injunction on First Amendment grounds. The First Circuit affirmed, holding (1) the district court correctly determined that the law triggered heightened First Amendment scrutiny because it singled out cable operators; and (2) because Maine conceded that, at this point in the litigation, it had not offered sufficient evidence in support of the law to survive any heightened level of scrutiny, the district court correctly entered a preliminary injunction delaying enforcement of the law. View "Comcast of Maine/New Hampshire v. Mills" on Justia Law