Articles Posted in Communications 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

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Herald-Leader sells and distributes Community News, a weekly four- to six-page non-subscription publication, containing local news and advertising for Lexington, Kentucky and the surrounding area. Herald-Leader delivers Community News free of charge to more than 100,000 households each week, including by driveway delivery. Lexington adopted an ordinance that permits the delivery of “unsolicited written materials” only: to a porch, nearest the front door; securely attached to the front door; through a mail slot; between an exterior front door and an interior front door; in a distribution box on or adjacent to the premises, if permitted; or personally with the owner, occupant, or lessee. Before the law went into effect, Herald-Leader obtained a preliminary injunction to prevent its enforcement. The Sixth Circuit reversed and vacated the injunction, finding that Herald-Leader had not shown a likelihood of success on the merits of its First Amendment claim. The ordinance is narrowly tailored to further the city’s goals of reducing visual blight and reducing litter. The court rejected an overbreadth argument and stated that, in determining whether the law leaves adequate alternative methods of communication, the district court failed to balance expense against the harms that can arise when cheap and efficient methods of circulating written materials are abused. View "Lexington H-L Services, Inc. v. Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government" on Justia Law

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Team sells materials to help individuals profit in multi-level marketing businesses. Doe anonymously runs the “Amthrax” blog, in which he criticizes multi-level marketing companies and Team. Doe posted a hyperlink to a downloadable copy of the entirety of “The Team Builder’s Textbook,” copyrighted by Team. After Team served the blog’s host with a take-down notice under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C. 512, Doe removed the hyperlink. Team filed suit, seeking only injunctive relief and that the court identify Doe. Doe asserted fair-use and copyright-misuse defenses and that he has a First Amendment right to speak anonymously. The court ultimately entered summary judgment for Team, found that unmasking Doe “was unnecessary to ensure that defendant would not engage in future infringement” and that “defendant has already declared ... that he has complied with the proposed injunctive relief” by destroying the copies of the Textbook in his possession such that “no further injunctive relief is necessary.” The Sixth Circuit remanded with respect to unmasking Doe; the district court failed to recognize the presumption in favor of open judicial records. View "Signature Management Team, LLC v. Doe" on Justia Law

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Over the last 10 years, the Federal Communications Commission has established rules governing how local governments may regulate cable companies. In 2007, the FCC barred franchising authorities from imposing unreasonable demands on franchise applicants or requiring new cable operators to provide non-cable services. The FCC also read narrowly the phrase “requirements or charges incidental to the awarding . . . of [a] franchise” (47 U.S.C. 542(g)(2)(D)), with the effect of limiting the monetary fees that local franchising authorities can collect. A petition for review was denied. Meanwhile, the FCC sought comment on expanding the application of the First Order’s rules—which applied only to new applicants for a cable franchise—to incumbent providers. In its Second Order, the FCC expanded the First Order’s application as proposed. Local franchising authorities again objected. The FCC finally rejected objections after seven years; the FCC clarified that the Second Order applied to only local (rather than state) franchising processes and published a “Supplemental Final Regulatory Flexibility Act Analysis.” Local governments sought review, arguing that the FCC misinterpreted the Communications Act, and failed to explain the bases for its decisions. The Sixth Circuit granted the petition in part; while “franchise fee” (section 542(g)(1)) can include noncash exactions, the orders were arbitrary to the extent they treat “in-kind” cable-related exactions as “franchise fees” under section 541(g)(1). The FCC’s orders offer no valid basis for its application of the mixed-use rule to bar local franchising authorities from regulating the provision of non-telecommunications services by incumbent cable providers. View "Montgomery County. v. Federal Communications Commission" on Justia Law

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In 2010, Besse, a pharmaceutical distributor, sent a one-page fax advertising the drug Prolia to 53,502 physicians. Only 40,343 of these faxes were successfully transmitted. Sandusky, a chiropractic clinic that employed one of the physicians, claims to have received this “junk fax,” and, three years later, filed a lawsuit under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, 47 U.S.C. 227. The district court denied Sandusky’s motion for class certification. It held that Sandusky’s proposed class failed to satisfy Rule 23(b)(3) because two individualized issues—class member identity and consent—were central to the lawsuit and thus prevented “questions of law or fact common to class members [from] predominat[ing].” In the absence of fax logs, no classwide means existed by which to identify the 75% of individuals who received the Prolia fax; “each potential class member would have to submit an affidavit certifying receipt of the Prolia fax.” The Sixth Circuit affirmed, noting that Besse presented actual evidence of consent to the district court, which required the need for individualized inquiries in order to distinguish between solicited and unsolicited Prolia faxes. The court stated that it was unaware of any court that ever mandated certification of a TCPA class where fax logs did not exist. View "Sandusky Wellness Center, LLC v. ASD Specialty Healthcare, Inc." on Justia Law

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Reporting regulatory violations “up the chain” to supervisory governmental employees can constitute speech on a matter of public concern, for purposes of First Amendment retaliation claim. Mayhew, a long-time employee of Smyrna’s wastewater-treatment plant, reported violations of state and federal requirements and voiced concerns about the hiring of a manager’s nephew without advertising the position. His reports went up the chain of command to government employees. Mayhew was terminated, allegedly because the plant manager no longer felt that he could work with him. The district court rejected his claim of First Amendment retaliation on summary judgment, reasoning that Mayhew’s speech did not involve matters of public concern. The Sixth Circuit reversed in part, stating that “constitutional protection for speech on matters of public concern is not premised on the communication of that speech to the public.” Nor must courts limit reports of wrongdoing to illegal acts; a public concern includes “any matter of political, social, or other concern to the community.” View "Mayhew v. Town of Smyrna" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, municipal corporations operate the local “emergency communications” or “911” programs in their respective counties, alleged that the telephone company, to reduce costs, offer lower prices, and obtain more customers, engaged in a covert practice of omitting fees mandated by Tennessee’s Emergency Communications District Law (Code 7-86-101), and sought compensation under that statute. They also alleged that, while concealing this practice, the telephone company violated the Tennessee False Claims Act. The district court dismissed the first claim, finding that the statute contained no implied private right of action, and rejecting the second claim on summary judgment on the second claim, finding that the statements at issue were not knowingly false. In consolidated appeals, the Sixth Circuit reversed. Plaintiffs provided evidence of a “massive quantity of unexplained unbilled lines,” establishing a disputed question of material fact. The Law does not require the plaintiffs to prove that the defendant acted in some form of bad faith, given that the statute imposes liability for “deliberate ignorance” View "Knox County Emergency Communications District v. BellSouth Telecommunications LLC" 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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Ohio House Bill No. 663 protects the identity of individuals and entities that participate in the lethal injection process (Participants), not to be disclosed in public records or during judicial proceedings, except in limited circumstances, Ohio Rev. Code 149.43(A)(1)(cc), 2949.221(B)–(C). It directs courts to seal records that contain information related to the identity of Participants, allowing disclosure only if, “through clear and convincing evidence presented in the private hearing," the court finds that the Participant appears to have acted unlawfully with respect to the person’s involvement in the administration of a lethal injection.” HB 663 prevents licensing authorities from taking disciplinary action against a Participant and permits a Participant to bring a civil suit against any person who discloses that individual’s identity and participation. Plaintiffs, Ohio prisoners sentenced to death, claimed that HB 663 unconstitutionally burdened speech, created a regime of unconstitutional prior restraint, violated the Plaintiffs’ equal-protection and due-process rights, and their right of access to the courts, and denied the Plaintiffs constitutionally protected access to government proceedings. The Sixth Circuit affirmed dismissal, reasoning that the Plaintiffs lacked standing to challenge the Licensure-Immunity Provision and the Civil-Action Provision. Plaintiffs suffered only “conjectural or hypothetical injuries” rather than a “requisite distinct and palpable injury.” Plaintiffs had no constitutional right to the information they claimed they were being deprived of. View "Phillips v. DeWine" on Justia Law