Articles Posted in Communications Law

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The Eighth Circuit held that the Telecommunications Act of 1996 preempted the Iowa Utilities Board's authority to compel Sprint to pay intrastate access charges to Windstream. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment for the Board and Windstream and its determination that the Act preserved the Board's authority and that Sprint was not entitled to declaratory or injunctive relief. View "Sprint Communications Co. v. Jacobs" on Justia Law

Posted in: Communications Law

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The district court found third-party plaintiff Qwest failed to prove its claims for intentional interference with a business relationship, unfair competition, and unjust enrichment against third-party defendant FC. The court agreed with the district court that FC did not act with an improper purpose when it contracted with Sancom, a local exchange carrier (LEC), because FC was simply attempting to take advantage of the uncertain regulatory scheme at the time; FC had a legitimate argument that it could be considered an “end user,” and thus Sancom could bill Qwest under its tariff for calls delivered to FC’s call bridges; and thus the district court did not err in finding for FC on Qwest's claim for intentional interference with a business relationship. The court predicted that the South Dakota Supreme Court would not recognize a tort of unfair competition under these circumstances, and found that the district court properly rejected this new tort. The court concluded, however, that the district court incorrectly found FC’s conduct was “neither illegal nor inequitable” because it was simply taking advantage of a loophole until the loophole closed, and the district court improperly considered Sancom’s settlement payments to Qwest when it found FC was not unjustly enriched. Therefore, the court reversed and remanded for reconsideration of whether FC was unjustly enriched. View "Qwest v. Free Conferencing Corp." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against Charter, alleging that Charter retained his personally identifiable information in violation of a section of the Cable Communications Policy Act, 47 U.S.C. 551(e). The district court granted Charter's motion to dismiss. The court concluded that plaintiff's notice of appeal was timely where plaintiff filed his notice of appeal thirty-seven days after the district court’s judgment dismissing the case was entered in the docket, well before the district court’s judgment was deemed “entered” and the time for filing a notice of appeal began to run. With the benefit of Spokeo v. Robin's guidance, the court concluded that plaintiff has not alleged an injury in fact as required by Article III. In Spokeo, the Supreme Court explained that Article III standing requires a concrete injury even in the context of a statutory violation. In this case, plaintiff failed to allege a concrete harm and failed to allege an economic injury. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Braitberg v. Charter Communications" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs sell technology that permits computers to identify license-plate numbers in digital photographs taken by cameras mounted on vehicles. The cameras automatically photograph everything the vehicles encounter, with GPS coordinates; software provides notice if a photographed vehicle is subject to repossession. The information is sold to clients, including automobile finance and insurance companies and law enforcement. Arkansas’s Automatic License Plate Reader System Act prohibits use of automatic license plate reader systems and permits any person claiming harm from a violation to seek damages from the violator. Vigilant and its affiliates sued, arguing that “use of [automatic license plate reader] systems to collect and create information” and dissemination of the information constitutes speech and that the Act impermissibly restricts this speech based on content—license-plate data—and on the identity of the speaker, because it exempts some entities, such as law enforcement agencies. The district court dismissed, ruling that state officials were immune from suit under the Eleventh Amendment. The Eighth Circuit affirmed on the ground that the plaintiffs lack standing, so there is no Article III case or controversy. State officials do not have authority to enforce the Act, so they do not cause injury; the Act provides for enforcement only through private actions for damages. View "Digital Recognition Network, Inc. v. Hutchinson" on Justia Law

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To obtain a driver’s license or motor vehicle registration from a state motor vehicle department (DMV), individuals must disclose personal information. The 1994 Driver’s Privacy Protection Act (DPPA), 18 U.S.C. 2721-2725, prohibits disclosure of personal information, “that identifies an individual, including an individual’s photograph, social security number, driver identification number, name, address (but not the 5-digit zip code), telephone number, and medical or disability information,” except for use by a government agency, in carrying out its functions; by a private person acting on behalf of a government agency in carrying out its functions; in connection with any civil, criminal, administrative, or arbitral proceeding; or for investigation in anticipation of litigation. DPPA establishes penalties for improper use. Drivers alleged that the Minnesota Department of Public Safety databases were accessible to law enforcement officers, government agents, and other individuals through an internet portal, and that the information was being accessed for improper purposes. Drivers requested audits detailing past accesses of their motor vehicle records. Audits showed that each Driver’s’ personal information had been accessed hundreds of times, primarily through police departments, sheriff’s offices, or other agencies. District courts dismissed Drivers’ suits. The Eighth Circuit affirmed in part, noting that several claims were untimely, but reversed in part, finding that certain claims alleged patterns of access sufficient to establish improper purpose. View "McDonough v. Anoka Cnty." on Justia Law

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Powell contends that his Christian beliefs compel him to publicly share his faith with others. Powell went to the Iowa State Fairgrounds and positioned himself on a sidewalk outside the paid admission area, close to a heavily-traveled intersection near the fair’s main gate. Uniformed Iowa State Fair Patrol Officers told him to leave the fairgrounds. The next day, Powell returned to the fairgrounds and stood in front of public restrooms outside the paid admission area. Fair Patrol Officers told him to leave. Powell brought a civil rights action under 42 U.S.C. 1983 and 1988 and sought a preliminary injunction, which the district court granted in part, prohibiting defendants from “arresting or threatening to arrest [Powell] solely for engaging in protected speech on the Fairgrounds in locations where [appellees] have already conceded that he is not impeding or would not be likely to impede the flow of traffic.” The Eighth Circuit affirmed denial of Powell’s motion based on his First Amendment claim and remanded the case for consideration of Powell’s request for preliminary injunctive relief based on his due process claim. View "Powell v. Noble" on Justia Law

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Under the Telecommunications Act of 1996, local exchange carriers such as Windstream must connect calls made to their customers by the customers of national telecommunications companies such as Sprint. Until 2009, Sprint paid Windstream state access charges for connecting non-nomadic intrastate long-distance VoIP calls-- made by cable telephone customers over the Internet in Iowa, delivered to Sprint for format conversion, and transferred to Windstream for delivery to its Iowa telephone customers. Beginning in 2009, Sprint withheld state access charges for these calls, claiming that VoIP calls were “information services” and that payment should be governed by a reciprocal compensation agreement, not by state access charges. In 2011, the Iowa Utilities Board found that the calls were telecommunications services subject to state regulation, not information services. Sprint sought state court review and filed a federal action, seeking to enjoin the Board’s decision. The district court abstained because of the parallel state proceedings. The Eighth Circuit affirmed, but the Supreme Court reversed. By the time the case returned to the district court, the state court had upheld the Board’s decision. The district court dismissed Sprint’s complaint, holding that issue preclusion barred Sprint from raising the same arguments in federal court. The Eighth Circuit reversed, reasoning that Congress did not intend that issue-preclusion principles bar federal-court review of the issue of whether the non-nomadic intrastate long-distance VoIP calls at issue are information services, payment for which should be governed by a reciprocal compensation agreement, or telecommunications services subject to state access charges. View "Sprint Commc'ns Co. v. Jacobs" on Justia Law

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Asphalt hired a company that, from 2005-2008, sent about 44,000 fax advertisements to potential customers. FS, which received some of the faxes, filed a class-action, alleging violation of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, 47 U.S.C. 227, seeking statutory damages of $500 for each fax. Asphalt notified Western, its insurer during the time when roughly 33,000 faxes were sent. The policies contained a deductible of $1,000 “per claim” for property damage, personal, and advertising injury, applicable to “all damages sustained by one person or organization as the result of any one claim” and to “legal expenses incurred in the handling and investigation of each claim.” Western hired a law firm to represent Asphalt, but did not refer to a reservation of rights. The firm handled the defense for four years. Western sent another letter, stating that Western intended to defend subject to a reservation of rights. Western sought a declaration that it owed no duty to defend or to indemnify. The district court determined that FS lacked standing to bring counterclaims and that Western had a duty to defend, having waived its defenses by waiting four years to issue a reservation-of-rights letter. The Eighth Circuit affirmed, holding that Western did not waive the $1,000 deductible, which applies separately to each fax, so that there is also no duty to indemnify. View "W. Heritage Ins. Co. v. Fun Servs. of Kan. City" on Justia Law

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After the Fire District suspended Anzaldua, a paramedic and firefighter, for failing to respond to a directive issued by Chief Farwell, Anzaldua emailed a newspaper reporter expressing concerns about the District and about Farwell. The email “shocked” and “angered” his co-workers. Battalion chiefs noted it “fostered division between Anzaldua and his co-workers," and between firefighters and Farwell. The District terminated Anzaldua, who sued, alleging that the District and the individuals involved in his termination violated his First Amendment rights by retaliation and that Farwell and Anzaldua’s ex-girlfriend violated federal and state computer privacy laws by accessing his email account and obtaining his emails. The district court allowed some First Amendment claims to proceed but dismissed all other claims and denied leave to amend the computer privacy law claims. The court granted defendants summary judgment on Anzaldua’s First Amendment claims, citing qualified immunity. The Eighth Circuit affirmed summary judgment on Anzaldua’s First Amendment claims and denial of leave to amend federal computer privacy law claims, but reversed denial of leave to amend state computer privacy law claims. View "Anzaldua v. Northeast Ambulance & Fire" on Justia Law

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In 2012 the Golans received two unsolicited, prerecorded messages on their home phone line. Each message, recorded by Mike Huckabee, stated: "Liberty. This is a public survey call. We may call back later." The Golans had not answered the phone; more than one million people did and received a much longer message. The Golans filed a putative class action, alleging that the phone calls were part of a telemarketing campaign to promote the film, Last Ounce of Courage, in violation of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, 47 U.S.C. 227, and the Missouri Do Not Call Law. The district court dismissed with prejudice, concluding that the Golans did not have standing and were inadequate class representatives, being subject to a "unique defense" because they had heard only the brief message recording on their answering machine. The Eighth Circuit reversed and remanded. The calls were initiated and transmitted in order to promote Last Ounce of Courage and qualified as "telemarketing" even though the messages never referenced the film. Because the purpose of the calls was the critical issue, the Golans were not subject to a unique defense. Nor did they suffer a different injury than class members who heard the entire message. View "Golan v. Veritas Entm't, LLC" on Justia Law