Justia U.S. 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Communications Law

by
Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Golden was researching Golden’s then-forthcoming book, Spy Schools: How the CIA, FBI, and Foreign Intelligence Secretly Exploit America’s Universities. Golden requested documents from public universities, including three requests to the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) under New Jersey’s Open Public Records Act, N.J. Stat. 47:1A-1–47:1A-13 (OPRA). Many of the NJIT documents originated with the FBI and were subject to prohibitions on public dissemination. The FBI directed NJIT to withhold most of the records. NJIT obliged, claiming exemption from disclosure. After this suit was filed, NJIT and the FBI reexamined the previously withheld records and produced thousands of pages of documents, formerly deemed exempt. Golden then sought prevailing plaintiff attorneys’ fees under OPRA. The district court denied the fee motion. The Third Circuit reversed. Under the catalyst theory, adopted by the Supreme Court of New Jersey, plaintiffs are entitled to attorneys’ fees if there exists “a factual causal nexus between [the] litigation and the relief ultimately achieved” and if “the relief ultimately secured by plaintiffs had a basis in law.” Before Golden filed suit, NJIT had asserted OPRA exemptions to justify withholding most of the requested records. Post-lawsuit, NJIT abandoned its reliance on those exemptions and produced most of the records. Golden’s lawsuit was the catalyst for the production of documents and satisfied the test. That NJIT withheld records at the behest of the FBI does not abdicate its role as the records custodian. View "Golden v. New Jersey Institute of Technology" on Justia Law

by
Adams Outdoor Advertising sought a permit to install a billboard near an interchange on U.S. Route 22 in Hanover Township, Pennsylvania. The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation denied the permit because Pennsylvania law prohibits “off-premise” billboards within 500 feet of a highway interchange. Adams challenged the provision as too vague and under the First Amendment because there is no time limit for PennDOT’s decisions on applications. The district court ruled in Adams’ favor on the time-limit claim and entered an injunction barring the enforcement of the permit requirement until PennDOT establishes reasonable time limits on its permit decisions. The court dismissed Adams’ vagueness challenge and First Amendment scrutiny challenge. The Third Circuit agreed that the permit requirement violates the First Amendment because it lacks a reasonable time limit for permit determinations and that the Interchange Prohibition communicates clearly what it prohibits and is not vague. The court reversed in part. While the Interchange Prohibition is not subject to strict scrutiny, the record is insufficient to establish the required reasoning for the prohibition. View "Adams Outdoor Advertising Ltd v. Pennsylvania Department of Transportation" on Justia Law

by
Defendants maintain a database of healthcare providers, containing contact information, demographics, specialties, education, and related data. Defendants sell and license the database typically to healthcare, insurance, and pharmaceutical companies, who use it to update their provider directories, identify potential providers to fill gaps in their networks, and validate information when processing insurance claims. One way defendants update and verify the information in their database is to send unsolicited faxes to listed providers, requesting them to correct outdated or inaccurate information. The faxes inform the recipients that: As part of ongoing data maintenance of our Optum Provider Database product, Optum regularly contacts healthcare practitioners to verify demographic data regarding your office location(s). This outreach is independent of and not related to your participation in any Optum network.... This data is used by healthcare-related organizations to aid in claims payment, assist with provider authentication and recruiting, augment their own provider data, mitigate healthcare fraud and publish accurate provider directories....There is no cost to you to participate in this data maintenance initiative. This is not an attempt to sell you anything.” Having received such faxes, Mauthe sued under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, 47 U.S.C. 227 (TCPA). The Third Circuit affirmed the rejection of his suit on summary judgment, finding that the faxes were not “advertisements” under the TCPA. They did not attempt to influence the purchasing decisions of any potential buyer. View "Robert W. Mauthe, M.D. P.C. v. Optum, Inc." on Justia Law

Posted in: Communications Law

by
T Mobile unsuccessfully applied to Wilmington’s Zoning Board of Adjustment (ZBA) for permission to erect an antenna. The Telecommunications Act of 1996 allows a disappointed wireless service provider to seek review in a district court “within 30 days after” a zoning authority’s “final action,” 47 U.S.C. 332(c)(7)(B)(v), T Mobile filed suit. After the case had proceeded for over a year, the district court concluded that it lacked jurisdiction because the claim was not ripe; T Mobile filed its complaint before the ZBA released a written decision confirming an earlier oral rejection of the zoning application. T Mobile had not supplemented its complaint to include the ZBA’s written decision within 30 days of its issuance. The Third Circuit remanded the case. While only a written decision can serve as a locality’s final action when denying an application and the issuance of that writing is the government “act” ruled by the 30-day provision, that timing requirement is not jurisdictional. An untimely supplemental complaint can, by relating back, cure an initial complaint that was unripe. The district court had jurisdiction and should not have granted Wilmington’s motion for summary judgment. View "T Mobile Northeast LLC v. Wilmington" on Justia Law

by
On April 21, 2004, and March 22, 2005, Defendants sent unsolicited faxes to Dr. Weitzner’s office. Weitzner filed a putative class action in Pennsylvania state court under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), 47 U.S.C. 227(b)(1)(C), including at least one fax sent to Weitzner. The proposed class included all individuals “who received an unsolicited facsimile advertisement from defendants between January 2, 2001[,] and the date of the resolution of this lawsuit.” In June 2008, the court denied class certification. The case continues as Weitzner's individual action. Defendants stopped sending unsolicited faxes in April 2005. In 2011, Weitzner and his professional corporation (Plaintiffs) brought individual claims based on the same faxes, plus class claims similar to those alleged in state court. The court dismissed, concluding that the four-year federal default statute of limitations, 28 U.S.C. 1658, applicable. The Third Circuit affirmed, rejecting a claim under the Supreme Court’s “American Pipe” holding that the timely filing of a class action tolls the applicable statute of limitations for putative class members until the propriety of maintaining the class is determined. American Pipe permits putative class members to file only individual claims after a denial of class certification and does not toll the limitations period for named plaintiffs like Weitzner. Any judgment in favor of Weitzner P.C. would benefit only Dr. Weitzner. Applying tolling to P.C.’s claims would effectively allow Weitzner to pursue his claims for a second time outside the limitations period. View "Weitzner v. Sanofi Pasteur, Inc." on Justia Law

by
Thomas was arrested on charges that she “knowingly attempted to provide material support . . . to a designated foreign terrorist organization,” 18 U.S.C. 2339B. Thomas unsuccessfully moved for a bill of particulars and to compel notice and discovery of surveillance. Thomas pled guilty. Access to several documents on the docket was restricted. Philly Declaration moved to intervene and obtain access to all records on the docket, transcripts of Thomas’s plea hearing and her ex parte presentation to the court regarding the motions, and search warrant materials. The prosecution agreed that certain records should be largely unsealed but maintained that the “Plea Document” that was docketed with the publicly-filed guilty plea memorandum should remain under seal for reasons detailed in a sealed addendum and objected to unsealing a “Grand Jury exhibit” attached to Thomas’s reply brief in support of her motion for a bill of particulars and to unredacting quotes and citations that appeared in the Reply Brief itself. The district court ruled in favor of the government. The Third Circuit affirmed as to the Plea Document, vacated with respect to the Reply Brief and Exhibit, and remanded. While a presumptive First Amendment right of access attaches to plea hearings and related documents, the district court properly concluded that the compelling government interests of national security would be substantially impaired by permitting full access to this plea document. The proposed redactions are properly first considered by the district court. View "United States v. Thomas" on Justia Law

by
Pennsylvania charged Walker with forgery and computer crimes, joined with prior charges against Walker’s husband and his trucking company. Senior deputy attorney general Coffey was assigned to the case. Zimmerer was the lead investigator. They sought to obtain Walker’s work emails from her employer, Penn State, which responded, “We just need something formal, a subpoena.” Coffey and Zimmerer obtained a blank subpoena form, which they filled out in part. The subpoena is blank as to the date, time, and place of production and the party on behalf of whom testimony is required, and was, on its face, unenforceable. Zimmerer presented the unenforceable subpoena to Penn State's Assistant General Counsel. Penn State employees searched for and delivered the requested emails. The charges against Walker were subsequently dismissed with prejudice. Walker filed a 42 U.S.C. 1983 action against Zimmerer and Coffey. The district court dismissed, agreeing that Zimmerer and Coffey were entitled to qualified immunity because Walker could not show a clearly established right to privacy in the content of her work emails. The Third Circuit affirmed that dismissal but vacated the denial of Walker’s motion for leave to file a second amended complaint, asserting claims under the Stored Communications Act. The emails were transmitted via Walker’s work email address, through an email system controlled by Penn State. Walker did not enjoy any reasonable expectation of privacy vis-à-vis Penn State, which could independently consent to a search of Walker’s work emails. View "Walker v. Coffey" on Justia Law

by
The Levins allege that HRRG violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, 15 U.S.C. 1692- 1692p by leaving telephone voice messages that did not use its true name, did not meaningfully disclose its identity, and used false representations and deceptive means to attempt to collect a debt or obtain information about a consumer. They complained that messages in which HRRG went by the name of “ARS” were insufficient to identify it as HRRG or even as “ARS ACCOUNT RESOLUTION SERVICES,” which is HRRG's alternative business name. The Third Circuit reversed, in part, the dismissal of the complaint, finding that the Levinses stated a plausible claim that HRRG violated section 1692e(14)’s “true name” provision, but have not stated plausible claims under 1692d(6) or 1692e(10). ARS is neither HRRG’s full business name, the name under which it usually transacts business, nor a commonly used acronym of its registered name. With respect to section 1692d(6), the court stated that the messages provided enough information about the caller’s identity for the least sophisticated debtor to know that the call was from a debt collector and was an attempt to collect a debt. Nothing in the messages rises to the level of being materially deceptive, misleading, or false under section 1692e(10). View "Levins v. Healthcare Revenue Recovery Group, LLC" on Justia Law

by
In 2017, New Jersey replaced its system of pretrial release, which had long relied on monetary bail, based on a finding that the system resulted in the release of defendants who could afford to pay for their release, even if they posed a substantial risk of flight or danger to others, and the detention of poorer defendants who presented minimal risk and were accused of less serious crimes. Following a constitutional amendment, the New Jersey Criminal Justice Reform Act, 3 N.J. Stat. 2A:162–15, created a new framework that prioritizes the use of non-monetary conditions of release over monetary bail. The Reform Act establishes a multi-step process the court must follow when deciding to release or detain an eligible defendant after considering multiple factors. Plaintiffs challenged the Act as a violation of the Eighth Amendment, the Due Process Clause, and the Fourth Amendment, seeking a preliminary injunction to prevent the state “from taking any actions to enforce statutory provisions [of the Act] . . . that allow imposition of severe restrictions on the pre-trial liberty of presumptively innocent criminal defendants without offering the option of monetary bail.” The Third Circuit affirmed the district court, finding that there is no federal constitutional right to deposit money or obtain a corporate surety bond to ensure a criminal defendant’s future appearance in court as an equal alternative to non-monetary conditions of pretrial release. View "Holland v. Rosen" on Justia Law

by
The Third Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment to Yahoo in a putative class action alleging that Yahoo violated the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) by sending plaintiff thousands of unsolicited text messages. In light of the D.C. Circuit's holding in ACA International v. FCC, the court interpreted the statutory definition of an autodialer as it did prior to the issuance of the 2015 Declaratory Ruling. Therefore, plaintiff could no longer rely on his argument that the Email SMS Service had the latent or potential capacity to function as autodialer. The court also held that plaintiff failed to provide evidence to show that the Email SMS Service had the present capacity to function as autodialer. View "Dominguez v. Yahoo, Inc." on Justia Law

Posted in: Communications Law