Justia Communications Law Opinion Summaries

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The Supreme Court vacated the circuit court's judgment on the pleadings in favor of Governor Michael Parson and Michelle Hallford, the custodian of records for the governor's office (collectively, the Governor's Office) and dismissing the underlying lawsuit, holding that the Governor's Office was not entitled to judgment, as a matter of law, on the face of the pleadings. This lawsuit stemmed from two public records requests Plaintiff made under the Sunshine Law, Mo. Rev. Stat. 610.010-.035. Plaintiff argued that the Governor's Office violated the Sunshine Law when it required Plaintiff to prepay an estimate of costs for his first request, arbitrarily refused to waive fees associated with his first request, failed to explain its estimated delay in producing certain requested records, and impermissibly redacted certain records. The circuit court entered judgment on the pleadings in favor of the Governor's Office. The Supreme Court vacated the judgment, holding that the circuit court erred in sustaining the Governor's Office's motion for judgment on the pleadings as to several issues. View "Gross v. Parson" on Justia Law

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Five former employees of national security agencies who, during their employment, had clearances for access to classified and sensitive information, filed suit against the CIA, the Department of Defense, the National Security Agency, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. They facially challenged the agencies’ requirements that current and former employees give the agencies prepublication review of certain materials that they intend to publish to allow the agencies to redact information that is classified or otherwise sensitive to national security. They alleged that the agencies’ regimes “fail to provide former government employees with fair notice of what they must submit,” “invest executive officers with sweeping discretion to suppress speech[,] and fail to include procedural safeguards designed to avoid the dangers of a censorship system.”The Fourth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit, holding that the prepublication review regimes were “reasonable” measures to protect sensitive information and did not violate the plaintiffs’ First Amendment rights. The regimes were not unduly vague under the Fifth Amendment; they adequately informed authors of the types of materials they must submit and established for agency reviewers the kinds of information that can be redacted. View "Edgar v. Haines" on Justia Law

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Puma, a pharmaceutical company, created an investor presentation during a proxy contest with Eshelman, a Puma shareholder and the founder of PPD, another pharmaceutical company. Puma invited its shareholders to visit a link on its website where it had published the presentation, which indicated that, a decade earlier, while Eshelman was CEO of PPD, a clinical investigator falsified documents. The presentation was published at least 198 times. Puma also filed the presentation with the SEC, which made it permanently accessible on its website.Eshelman, a resident of North Carolina, initiated a diversity action with state-law claims of defamation. Puma is incorporated in Delaware and has its principal place of business in California; Auerbach, Puma’s CEO, resides in California. The court found defamatory per se Puma’s statements that Eshelman was “involved in clinical trial fraud” and that Eshelman was replaced as CEO after being forced to testify regarding fraud in 2008. A jury awarded Eshelman $15.85 million in compensatory damages and $6.5 million in punitive damages.The Fourth Circuit affirmed as to liability but vacated the award after finding that Puma waived its personal jurisdiction claim. Each of the statements at issue is capable of a singular, defamatory interpretation but “there is no evidence justifying such an enormous award.” View "Eshelman v. Puma Biotechnology, Inc." on Justia Law

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In 2019, the television program CBS This Morning broadcast interviews with two women who accused Fairfax, the Lieutenant Governor of Virginia, of sexual assault. Fairfax had previously denied the allegations. Although he admitted that both sexual encounters occurred, he claimed they were entirely consensual. The CBS interviewer, Gayle King read from a statement Fairfax had given CBS denying the allegations. King directed viewers to Fairfax’s full statement on CBS’s website. Fairfax later issued a public letter to a North Carolina district attorney, alleging for the first time the existence of an eyewitness. Fairfax demanded that CBS retract the interviews, and CBS refused. Fairfax sued CBS for defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The district court dismissed the complaint in its entirety but denied CBS’s motion for attorney’s fees and costs finding that CBS established its entitlement to statutory immunity under Virginia’s anti-SLAPP (strategic lawsuit against public participation) statute.The Fourth Circuit affirmed. Fairfax’s complaint fails to plausibly allege that CBS made the allegedly defamatory statements with knowledge or reckless disregard of their falsity, as required to state a claim for defamation of a public official. The fee-shifting statute is discretionary, not mandatory or presumptive. Fairfax’s allegations did not plausibly allege that CBS broadcast its This Morning programs despite entertaining “serious doubts as to the truth” of those broadcasts. View "Fairfax v. CBS Corp." on Justia Law

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B.L. failed to make her school’s varsity cheerleading squad. While visiting a store over the weekend, B.L. posted two images on Snapchat, a social media smartphone application that allows users to share temporary images with selected friends. B.L.’s posts expressed frustration with the school and the cheerleading squad; one contained vulgar language and gestures. When school officials learned of the posts, they suspended B.L. from the junior varsity cheerleading squad for the upcoming year.The Third Circuit and Supreme Court affirmed a district court injunction, ordering the school to reinstate B. L. to the cheerleading team. Schools have a special interest in regulating on-campus student speech that “materially disrupts classwork or involves substantial disorder or invasion of the rights of others.” When that speech takes place off-campus, circumstances that may implicate a school’s regulatory interests include serious bullying or harassment; threats aimed at teachers or other students; failure to follow rules concerning lessons and homework, the use of computers, or participation in online school activities; and breaches of school security devices. However, courts must be more skeptical of a school’s efforts to regulate off-campus speech.B.L.’s posts did not involve features that would place them outside the First Amendment’s ordinary protection; they appeared outside of school hours from a location outside the school and did not identify the school or target any member of the school community with vulgar or abusive language. Her audience consisted of her private circle of Snapchat friends. B.L. spoke under circumstances where the school did not stand in loco parentis. The school has presented no evidence of any general effort to prevent students from using vulgarity outside the classroom. The school’s interest in preventing disruption is not supported by the record. View "Mahanoy Area School District v. B. L." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals dismissing Appellant's complaint for a writ of mandamus to compel the production of public records, holding that the court of appeals did not err.Appellant, an inmate, sent a public-records request to Julie Loomis, who provided some, but not all, of the requested records. Appellant filed an original action seeking to compel Loomis to make the remaining requested records available for his inspection. On remand, the court of appeals dismissed the complaint based on Appellant's failure to strictly comply with the mandatory requirements of Ohio Rev. Code 2969.25(A). The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) Appellant was required to comply with the requirements of section 2969.25(A); and (2) the court of appeals did not err by not converting Loomis's motion to dismiss into a motion for summary judgment. View "State ex rel. Bey v. Loomis" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court granted in part and denied in part the application of Charles Summers for court costs, attorney fees, and statutory damages following the Court's grant of a writ of mandamus ordering Respondents to produce documents to Summers, holding that Summers was entitled to an award of court costs.This case concerned Summers's request for public records relating to his son's criminal case. Summers sent the requests to Respondents - Mercer County Prosecuting Attorney Matthew Fox and Mercer County Sheriff Jeff Grey. When court-ordered mediation resulted in Summers receiving some, but not all, of the documents that he had requested the Supreme Court granted his writ of mandamus in part and denied it in part. Summers then filed his petition for an award of court costs, statutory damages, and attorney fees. The Supreme Court held (1) Summers was entitled to court costs; (2) Summers's status as the prevailing party in his mandamus action did not entitle him to an award of attorney fees, nor was he entitled to an award of bad-faith attorney fees; and (3) Summers was not entitled to an award of statutory damages. View "State ex rel. Summers v. Fox" on Justia Law

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The recipients received unsolicited emails that advertised products sold by DMS. The emails were not sent by DMS itself, but by third-party “marketing partners” of DMS. The recipients sued DMS under Business and Professions Code section 17529.5, which makes it unlawful to advertise in commercial emails under specified circumstances. The subject line of the emails typically states: Username “please confirm your extended warranty plan” and allegedly falsely referenced a preexisting business relationship for the purpose of inducing the recipient to open the spam. The trial court dismissed the suit.The court of appeal affirmed in part. The court correctly dismissed the challenge to the emails’ subject lines, which are not covered by cited sections of the Act. The court erred by dismissing the challenge to the emails’ domain names. A recipient of a commercial email advertisement sent by a third party is not precluded as a matter of law from stating a cause of action under section 17529.5 against the advertiser for the third party’s failure to provide sufficient information disclosing or making traceable the third party’s own identity. Such a cause is not precluded simply because such an email sufficiently identifies the advertiser. View "Greenberg v. Digital Media Solutions, LLC" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit denied Huawei's petition for review challenging an FCC rule barring the use of government subsidies to buy equipment from companies designated security risks to communications networks. As a preliminary matter, the court dismissed Huawei's claims related to the initial designation for lack of jurisdiction based on ripeness grounds.The court concluded that the FCC reasonably interpreted its authority under the Communications Act in formulating the rule. The court found that the agency reasonably interpreted the Act's "public interest" provisions (47 U.S.C. 254(c)(1)(D), in coordination with section 201(b)), to authorize allocation of universal service funds based on the agency's exercise of limited national security judgment. Furthermore, the agency reasonably interpreted the "quality services" provision in section 254(b)(1) to support that exercise. Therefore, the court deferred to the agency's interpretation under Chevron review and rejected Huawei's argument that the agency lacked statutory authority for the rule. The court also considered the companies' other challenges under the Administrative Procedure Act and the Constitution, finding that claims regarding adequacy of notice, arbitrary and capricious review, vagueness, and due process are unavailing. View "Huawei Technologies USA, Inc. v. Federal Communications Commission" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the decision of the superior court dismissing this complaint alleging a violation of the Massachusetts wiretap act, Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 272, 99, holding that Plaintiff failed to allege facts sufficient to state a cognizable cause of action.Defendants - Barstool Sports, Inc. and Kirk Minihane, an agent for Barstool - recorded a telephone conversation with Plaintiff, Somerville mayor Joseph Curatone, under an assumed identity and then published the recording on Barstool's blog. Plaintiff brought this action alleging that Minihane violated the act. Defendants moved to dismiss the complaint under Mass. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). The superior court judge allowed the motion. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding that because Minihane did not secretly record his conversation with Plaintiff the recording at issue did not fall within the statutory definition of an "interception" within the meaning of the wiretap act. View "Curtatone v. Barstool Sports, Inc." on Justia Law