Articles Posted in Communications Law

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In 2018, the Sixth Circuit reversed the district court’s order granting a preliminary injunction that had enjoined Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government from enforcing Ordinance 25-2017, which restricts the delivery of “unsolicited written materials” to six enumerated locations and provides for civil penalties for violations. On remand, further proceedings were taken in the district court. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the district court in concluding that Ordinance 25-2017 constitutes a valid time, place, and manner regulation of speech. View "Lexington H-L Services, Inc. v. Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government" on Justia Law

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In June 2016, Mateen entered the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando and opened fire, killing 49 people and injuring another 53. Victims and family members of deceased victims brought sought damages, not from Mateen, nor from ISIS, the international terrorist organization that allegedly motivated Mateen through social media, but from social media giants Twitter, Facebook, and Google under the Anti-Terrorism Act. Plaintiffs alleged ISIS used those social media platforms to post propaganda and “virtually recruit” Americans to commit terrorist attacks. Mateen allegedly viewed ISIS-related material online, became “self-radicalized,” and carried out the shooting. Following the attack, ISIS claimed responsibility. The complaint alleged aiding and abetting international terrorism, 18 U.S.C. 2333; conspiracy in furtherance of terrorism; providing material support and resources to terrorists, 18 U.S.C. 2339A, 2339B(a)(1); negligent infliction of emotional distress; and wrongful death The Sixth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit. Plaintiffs’ complaint includes no allegations that Twitter, Facebook, or Google had any direct connection to Mateen or his action. Plaintiffs did not suggest that those defendants provided “material support” to Mateen. Without these connections, Plaintiffs cannot state a viable claim under the Act. View "Crosby v. Twitter, Inc." on Justia Law

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After a rally for then-presidential candidate Trump, the Chicago Tribune newspaper posted a photograph on Twitter of a woman at the rally, wearing a Trump T-shirt, and giving a Nazi salute. A Twitter user posted that photograph, with a photograph of Boulger, with the false statement, “The ‘Trump Nazi’ is Portia Boulger, who runs the Women for Bernie Sanders Twitter account. It’s another media plant.” The actor and producer James Woods tweeted the same pictures, adding: Woods had more than 350,000 Twitter followers. News outlets identified the woman in the Nazi salute photograph as Peterson. Woods instead tweeted a follow-up: “Various followers have stated that the Nazi Salute individual and the #Bernie campaign woman are NOT the same person.” Boulger requested a retraction. Woods deleted the tweet and posted: “I have an opportunity to clarify something I challenged immediately when it hit Twitter. Portia A. Boulger was NOT the ‘Nazi salute lady.’” and ” “Though she supports @BernieSanders, I am happy to defend her from abuse. I only wish his supporters would do the same.” Boulger “received hundreds of obscene and threatening messages, including death threats.” Boulger sued for defamation and invasion of privacy under Ohio law. The district court extended the service deadline to August 7, Woods filed an answer on June 7, asserting insufficient service of process. The district court found that Woods waived his jurisdictional defenses but granted Woods judgment on the pleadings. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, noting the ambiguity of Woods’s tweet. Because Woods’s tweet could reasonably be read to have an innocent meaning, under the innocent construction rule the tweet, as a matter of law, is not actionable. Woods’s actions waived the jurisdictional issue. View "Boulger v. Woods" on Justia Law

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In October 2014, Kentucky Educational Television (KET) hosted a debate between the candidates for one of Kentucky’s seats in the U.S. Senate. KET limited the debate to candidates who qualified for the ballot, had collected at least $100,000 in campaign contributions, and had an independent poll indicating that at least one in 10 Kentuckians planned to vote for them. The criteria excluded Patterson, the Libertarian Party candidate. The district court rejected a suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983 by Patterson and the Party, noting that, with relatively few limits, KET could invite to its debates whomever it wanted. KET was not required to create—let alone publish—any criteria at all. KET restricted who could appear in a televised debate, not on the ballot. The debate criteria had nothing to do with a candidate’s views; rather, they measured whether voters had shown an objective interest in hearing the candidate. View "Libertarian National Committee, Inc. v. Holiday" on Justia Law

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Fulton’s Linden, Michigan dental practice filed a purported class action, alleging that it received a fax from Defendants that was an unsolicited advertisement under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), 47 U.S.C. 227, that failed to include the requisite opt-out provision. The district court dismissed, finding that the fax was not an advertisement under the TCPA. The Sixth Circuit reversed. Fulton plausibly alleged that the fax was an unsolicited advertisement by alleging that the fax served as a pretext to send Fulton additional marketing materials. The fax stated that it was a Fax Verification Request to update contact information for sending clinical summaries, prescription renewals, and other sensitive communications. The fax provided space for recipients either to validate or update contact information. It had a signature line and room for comments and included a phone number and a URL for a website of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs). Fulton’s allegation that providing verified contact information paves the way for Defendants’ customers to “send additional marketing faxes to recipients” finds some support in the FAQs, which confirm that Defendants’ customers use the system to “invite [providers] to become part of a provider network” and “send[] important notifications,” among “other uses.” View "Fulton v. Enclarity, Inc." on Justia Law

Posted in: Communications Law

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The 1993 Lucasville Prison Riot at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility began when prisoners overpowered a guard and took his keys. Rioting prisoners ultimately took a dozen guards hostage and gained complete control of the prison’s L-block. The riot continued for 11 days; one guard and nine prisoners were murdered. Many were injured. Tens of millions of dollars’ worth of damage was done to the prison facility. Four prisoners were sentenced to death for their involvement in the riot and are classified as restricted population inmates, who “pose a direct threat to the safety of persons, including themselves, or an elevated, clear[,] and ongoing threat to the safe and secure operations of the facility. The Media Plaintiffs are professional journalists who unsuccessfully sought in-person, recorded interviews with the Prisoner Plaintiffs for the twentieth anniversary of the riot. The Prisoners and Media Plaintiffs filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging that the interview denials violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments because they were based on the interviews’ anticipated content. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the rejection of their claims after considering the “Turner factors” to determine that the prison regulation is reasonably related to legitimate penological interests and therefore constitutional. There is a rational connection between a policy prohibiting face-to-face interviews with Lucasville participants and the legitimate, neutral penological interest of prison security. The impact of accommodation of the right and the availability of ready alternatives also support the restrictions’ constitutionality. View "Hanrahan v. Mohr" on Justia Law

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During a campaign rally at Louisville’s Kentucky International Convention Center, then-candidate Trump spoke for 35 minutes. Plaintiffs attended the rally with the intention of peacefully protesting. Protesters’ actions during Trump’s video-recorded address precipitated directions from Trump on five different occasions to “get ’em out of here.” Members of the audience assaulted, pushed and shoved plaintiffs. Plaintiff Brousseau was punched in the stomach. Defendants Heimbach and Bamberger participated in the assaults. Plaintiffs sued Trump, the campaign, Heimbach, Bamberger, and an unknown woman who punched Brousseau, for battery, assault, incitement to riot, negligence, gross negligence and recklessness. The district court dismissed claims against the Trump defendants alleging they were vicariously liable for the actions of Heimbach, Bamberger and the unknown woman, and dismissed a negligent-speech theory as “incompatible with the First Amendment” but refused to dismiss the incitement-to-riot claims. On interlocutory appeal, the Sixth Circuit found that the claim should be dismissed. Plaintiffs have not stated a valid claim under Kentucky law, given the elements of “incitement to riot.” Trump’s speech enjoys First Amendment protection because he did not specifically advocate imminent lawless action. Trump’s “get ’em out of here” statement, closely followed by, “Don’t hurt ’em,” cannot be interpreted as advocating a riot or the use of any violence. View "Nwanguma v. Trump" on Justia Law

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Defendants service student loans. Parchman, individually and on behalf of others similarly situated, filed suit, alleging violations of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), 47 U.S.C. 227, which prohibits a party from making a call “using any automatic telephone dialing system or an artificial or prerecorded voice,” absent an emergency or consent. Plaintiffs alleged that Defendants “negligently, knowingly and/or willfully contact[ed] Plaintiffs on Plaintiffs’ cellular telephones without their prior express consent and repeatedly contacted plaintiff Parchman, even though he never gave them his cell phone number, never owed any debt to any Defendant, and told them to stop calling. Plaintiffs alleged that, although plaintiff Carlin took out a student loan in 2012, Defendants repeatedly contacted her, even after she demanded in writing that they stop calling her, in October 2014. Defendant NSI successfully moved to sever and dismiss Carlin’s claims because the calls involved different companies and their respective calling practices. Plaintiffs unsuccessfully moved to amend the complaint after Parchman died to substitute Parchman’s daughter. Defendants argued that the requisite elements of adequacy of class counsel and adequacy of class representatives were not met. The Sixth Circuit reversed in part, holding that a TCPA claim does survive death, but affirmed with respect to Carlin’s claims. View "Parchman v. SLM Corp." on Justia Law

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Mohawk, a seller of prescription drugs sent junk faxes to medical providers, advertising the seller’s prices on Bristol-Myers and Pfizer drugs. A recipient filed a putative class-action lawsuit under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, which makes it unlawful “to send . . . an unsolicited advertisement” to a fax machine, 47 U.S.C. 227(b)(1)(C). Plaintiff first asserted claims only against Mohawk, which never answered the complaint. The district court entered a default judgment. Plaintiff then amended its complaint to assert claims against Bristol and Pfizer, arguing that they had “sent” the unsolicited faxes simply because the faxes mentioned their drugs. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the complaint. To be liable, a defendant must “use” a fax machine or other device “to send . . . an unsolicited advertisement” to another fax machine. Bristol and Pfizer neither caused the subject faxes to be conveyed nor dispatched them in any way; only Mohawk did those things. Bristol and Pfizer, therefore, did not “send” the faxes and thus have no liability for them. View "Health One Medical Center v. Bristol-Myers Squibb Co." on Justia Law

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Superior, a nonprofit corporation, operates 21 Michigan radio broadcast stations. The City of Riverview owns a 320-foot broadcast tower. With an FCC permit to operate a low-powered FM radio broadcast station, Superior contracted to operate broadcasting equipment on the city-owned tower. Superior installed a single-bay antenna at 300 feet and a transmitter in the equipment shelter. The agreement limited modifications to Superior’s equipment; upgrades required the city’s prior approval. Without the city’s knowledge, Superior obtained a modification of its FCC permit to allow a significant increase in broadcast power. In response to Superior’s request, the city engaged a consultant, who reported that the proposed four-bay antenna would cause Superior’s equipment to occupy 30 feet of tower space instead of its current three feet of space; would expose individuals around the tower to unsafe levels of radiofrequency electromagnetic radiation; and might create radio interference with other tower tenants. The Sixth Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the city, rejecting arguments under the Telecommunications Act, 47 U.S.C. 151. The Agreement unambiguously granted the city the right to refuse Superior’s requested upgrade, which the city properly exercised. The city did not enact a “regulation” within the meaning of the Act but acted in its proprietary capacity and had a rational basis for its actions, so that Superior’s constitutional claims failed. View "Superior Communications v. City of Riverview" on Justia Law