Articles Posted in Communications Law

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Interstate 90 runs through Campbell, Wisconsin, with a speed limit of 65 miles per hour. Two streets and one pedestrian overpass cross the highway within the town. A traffic survey in 2008 found that 23,000-29,000 trucks and cars pass through the town on I-90 every day. The local Tea Party placed banners on the pedestrian overpass, bearing messages such as “HONK TO IMPEACH OBAMA,” leading the town to enact an ordinance forbidding all signs, flags, and banners (other than traffic-control information) on any of the overpasses, or within 100 feet of the end of those structures. The district court rejected a suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983 on summary judgment. The Seventh Circuit vacated as to the challenge to the 100-foot buffer zone but otherwise affirmed. The ordinance is content-neutral; it does not matter what message any privately placed sign bears. It is a time, place, and manner limit, permitting messages to be conveyed anywhere else in Campbell. A “state or local legislature that attempts to reduce the incidence of sudden braking on a superhighway cannot be thought to be acting irrationally or trying to suppress speech for no good reason.” The town did not try to justify the buffer zone. View "Luce v. Town of Campbell, Wisconsin" on Justia Law

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Higher Society, a nonprofit advocating for the legalization of marijuana, wants to hold a rally on the steps of the Tippecanoe County Courthouse in Lafayette, Indiana. In 1999, in response to controversy over a nativity scene on the courthouse grounds, the County Board of Commissioners declared the grounds a “closed forum,” so that: Only displays and events sponsored and prepared by a department or office of county government will be allowed in the windows … or on the grounds. The county has previously sponsored art fairs, a rally for the League of Women Voters, an event for the Fraternal Order of Police, and events related to child abuse awareness, “gun sense,” Planned Parenthood, Syrian refugees, and prevention of bullying, but declined to sponsor Higher Society. The organization obtained a preliminary injunction in the district court. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The policy restricts private speech and is not viewpoint-neutral, so it likely violates the First Amendment. View "Higher Society of Indiana v. Tippecanoe County" on Justia Law

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Under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), an effective consent to automated calls is one that relates to the same subject matter covered by the challenged messages. Akira, a retailer, engaged Opt for text-message marketing services. Akira gathered 20,000 customers’ cell phone numbers for Opt’s messaging platform. Akira customers could join its “Text Club” by providing their cell phone numbers to Akira representatives inside stores, by texting to an opt-in number, or by completing an “Opt In Card,” stating that, “Information provided to Akira is used solely for providing you with exclusive information or special offers. Akira will never sell your information or use it for any other purpose.” In 2009-2011, Akira sent about 60 text messages advertising store promotions, events, contests, and sales to those customers, including Blow. In a purported class action, seeking $1.8 billion in damages, Blow alleged that Akira violated the TCPA, 47 U.S.C. 227, and the Illinois Consumer Fraud Act by using an automatic telephone dialing system to make calls without the recipient’s express consent. The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment for Akira. Blow’s attempt to parse her consent to accept some promotional information from Akira while rejecting “mass marketing” texts construed “consent” too narrowly. The court declined to award sanctions for frivolous filings. View "Blow v. Bijora, Inc." on Justia Law

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A veterans’ group challenged an anti‑robocall statute, Ind. Code 24‑5‑14‑5, under the First Amendment. The law prohibits automated calls with recorded messages unless the recipient has previously consented or the message is immediately preceded by a live operator who obtains consent. The Seventh Circuit upheld the law, noting that the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, 47 U.S.C. 227, which contains similar restrictions, has been sustained by the Ninth and Eighth Circuits. The court rejected a claim of content-based discrimination. While the law exempts messages from school districts to students, parents, or employees; messages to recipients with whom the caller has a current business or personal relationship; messages advising employees of work schedules, nothing in the law, including those exceptions, disfavors political speech. The exceptions primarily concern who may be called, not what may be said. The court noted the legitimate purposes of the law. View "Patriotic Veterans, Inc. v. State of Indiana" on Justia Law

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During their acrimonious divorce, Paula accused Barry of serial infidelity. In discovery Barry asked her for all documents related to that accusation. Paula complied and produced copies of incriminating emails between Barry and several other women. In a separate lawsuit, Barry alleged that Paula violated the federal Wiretapping and Electronic Surveillance Act, 18 U.S.C. 2520, by surreptitiously placing an auto-forwarding “rule” on his email accounts that automatically forwarded the messages on his email client to her and that Paula’s lawyer violated the Act by “disclosing” the intercepted emails in response to his discovery request. The district judge dismissed. The Seventh Circuit affirmed that Paula’s lawyer cannot be liable for disclosing Barry’s own emails to him in response to his own discovery request. The allegations against Paula, however, technically fall within the language of the Act, “though Congress probably didn’t anticipate its use as a tactical weapon in a divorce proceeding.” The emails attached to the complaint did not conclusively defeat Barry’s allegation that Paula intercepted his emails contemporaneously with their transmission, as required by the Act. View "Epstein v. Epstein" on Justia Law

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In 2008, Huon was charged with criminal sexual assault of Jane Doe. He claimed that the encounter was consensual and was acquitted. The website Above the Law (ATL) published an article entitled, “Rape Potpourri” which discussed two “rape stories,” one of which concerned Jane Doe’s allegations and Huon’s opening statement at his trial; the post was later updated to note that Huon was acquitted. Huon sued ATL, alleging defamation, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and false light invasion of privacy. Days later, a Gawker website published an article entitled, “Acquitted Rapist Sues Blog for Calling Him Serial Rapist” with Huon’s 2008 mugshot and the ATL article. The title was later changed to, “Man Acquitted of Sexual Assault Sues Blog for Calling Him Serial Rapist.” The Gawker article generated 80 comments from anonymous third-party users. Huon added Gawker as a defendant. The Seventh Circuit affirmed dismissal of the defamation claim. The title can be construed innocently when viewed with the rest of the article, which fairly reported on Huon’s trial and his initial complaint. The court reversed dismissal of the defamation claim concerning the third-party user comments. Huon adequately alleged that the publisher helped create at least some of the comments; one of the comments constitutes defamation under Illinois law. Because that claim was reinstated, the court also reinstated the false-light and intentional-infliction claims, which were dismissed against Gawker based solely on the rejection of his defamation claims. View "Huon v. Denton" on Justia Law

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Dr. Wesbrook, a former employee of the Marshfield Clinic Research Foundation, sued Dr. Belongia, a former colleague, and Dr. Ulrich, the chief executive officer of the Marshfield Clinic. Wesbrook claimed that Belongia and Ulrich tortiously interfered with his at-will employment, engineering his termination by publishing defamatory statements about him to the Marshfield Clinic board of directors. The district court granted summary judgment to the defendants. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The defendants’ statements about the plaintiff were true or substantially true and therefore privileged. Wesbrook’s time with the Clinid was marked by conflict and complaints about his “management style.” The statements concerned those conflicts and complaints. Under Wisconsin law, an at-will employee cannot recover from former co-workers and supervisors for tortious interference on the basis of their substantially truthful statements made within the enterprise, no matter the motives underlying those statements. View "Wesbrook v. Ulrich" on Justia Law

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Cbeyond provides telecommunications service to small businesses using telephone lines. AT&T Illinois provides similar service on a larger scale. Their networks are interconnected; a new entrant (Cbeyond) may connect with existing local exchange carriers, 47 U.S.C. 251; if the parties are unable to agree on terms the issue is referred to arbitration. In 2004, the Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC) approved the agreement between Cbeyond and AT&T. In 2012 Cbeyond complained to the ICC: when Cbeyond leases new digital signal level loop circuits, AT&T charges a separate price for “Clear Channel Capability” (CCC) for the loops. CCC codes the electrical pulses in a line to improve data streaming. Cbeyond argued that there was no extra work involved. The Seventh Circuit affirmed rejection of Cbeyond’s claims, noting that the parties’ agreement designates CCC as an “optional feature” available “at an additional cost” and that some of the loops did not have CCC built in. The court noted the lack of information about how AT&T charges others for CCC or whether AT&T’s charges are inconsistent with 47 C.F.R. 51.505, which constrains incumbent carriers to lease network elements to newcomers at a price slightly higher than the incumbent’s marginal cost. Finding no violation of federal law, the court called the claim “a dispute over a price term in a contract,” a matter of state law. “Cbeyond has imposed an excessive and unnecessary burden on the district court by bringing this sloppy lawsuit.” View "Cbeyond Communications, LLC v. Sheahan" on Justia Law

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Carlson, along with scholarly, journalistic, and historic organizations, sought access to grand-jury materials sealed decades ago. The materials concern an investigation into the Chicago Tribune in 1942 for a story it published revealing that the U.S. military had cracked Japanese codes. The government conceded that there are no interests favoring continued secrecy, but declined to turn over the materials, on the ground that Rule 6(e) of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure entirely eliminates the district court’s common-law supervisory authority over the grand jury and that no one has the power to release these documents except for the reasons enumerated in Rule 6(e)(3)(E). Carlson’s request is outside the scope of Rule 6(e). The Seventh Circuit upheld the district court’s ruling in favor of Carlson. The text and history of the Rules indicate that Rule 6(e)(3)(E) is permissive, not exclusive, and does not eliminate the district court’s long-standing inherent supervisory authority to make decisions as needed to ensure the proper functioning of a grand jury. While this inherent supervisory authority is limited to “preserv[ing] or enhanc[ing] the traditional functioning” of the grand jury, that includes the power to unseal grand jury materials in circumstances not addressed by Rule 6(e)(3)(E). View "Carlson v. United States" on Justia Law

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The Union erected a giant inflatable rat and an inflatable fat cat during a labor dispute in Grand Chute, Wisconsin. Both are staked to the ground in the highway median, to prevent the wind from blowing them away. Grand Chute forbids private signs on the public way and defines signs to mean “[a]ny structure, part thereof, or device attached thereto” that conveys a message. The Union removed them at the town's request and filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983, citing the First Amendment. The district court denied a preliminary injunction and, a year later, granted the town summary judgment. The Seventh Circuit vacated, reasoning that the case may be moot because the construction that led to the use of demonstrative inflatables was complete; the Union was no longer picketing. The court also noted that the town amended its code and changed the definition of a sign. If the Union persists in seeking damages, the district court must weigh the probability of a fresh dispute between this union and Grand Chute and the risk that it would be over too quickly to allow judicial review to apply the “capable of repetition yet evading review” exception to the mootness doctrine and must address the validity of current ordinances, rather than one that was changed before the final judgment. View "Constr. & Gen. Laborers' Local Union v. Town of Grand Chute" on Justia Law