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

Articles Posted in Communications Law
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The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania amended Pennsylvania Rule of Professional Conduct 8.4 to prohibit harassment and discrimination in the practice of law. Greenberg, a Pennsylvania-licensed attorney, regularly gives continuing legal education presentations about First Amendment protections for offensive speech. His presentations involve quoting offensive language from judicial opinions and discussing arguably controversial topics. Greenberg fears his speech at these presentations will be interpreted as harassment or discrimination under the Rule and alleges the Rule violates the First Amendment and is unconstitutionally vague.The district court enjoined enforcement of the Rule. The Third Circuit reversed. Greenberg lacks standing to bring his challenge. Rule 8.4(g) does not arguably prohibit anything Greenberg plans to do. The Rule covers only knowing or intentional harassment or discrimination against a person. Nothing in Greenberg’s planned speeches comes close to meeting this standard. Rule 8.4(g) does not generally prohibit him from quoting offensive words or expressing controversial ideas, nor will the defendants impose discipline for his planned speech. Any chill to his speech is not objectively reasonable or cannot be fairly traced to the Rule. View "Greenberg v. Lehocky" on Justia Law

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Before Dante (age 2) died, his aunt, Mercado, filed a report with the Office of Children and Youth Services, which investigated Dante’s welfare. Bowie, who was dating Dante’s mother, was charged with murdering him. In criminal discovery, Bowie got documents from the investigation that were stored in a statewide database. He gave them to Mercado, who believed he was innocent. Mercado, wanting to blame Youth Services for failing to protect her nephew, started a Facebook group, “Justice for Dante.” and posted some of the documents. Bowie was acquitted. In the meantime, York County District Attorney Sunday charged Mercado with violating Pennsylvania’s Child Protective Services Law. The Law makes it a crime to willfully release or permit the release of any information contained in the Statewide child abuse database to persons or agencies not permitted to receive that information. The DA later dismissed the charge,Schrader, Dante’s grandmother, wants to publish documents generated during Youth Services’ investigation to further publicize Youth Services’ failures. She fears that she will be prosecuted if she does so. Invoking the First Amendment, she claimed that the Law is unconstitutional both on its face and as applied to her. The district court agreed with the as-applied challenge and preliminarily enjoined the prosecution of Schrader for sharing child-abuse documents concerning Dante. The Third Circuit vacated with instructions to narrow the injunction to eliminate a reference to "other documents" that may come into Schrader's possession. Under the content-focused test, the Law is likely unconstitutional as applied here. View "Schrader v. District Attorney York County" on Justia Law

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In White Deer Township, a four-mile gap in Verizon’s wireless coverage overlays Interstate 80; Verizon customers are likely to experience “dropped calls,” “ineffective call attempts,” and “garbled audio.” The area is within Bald Eagle State Forest. A 2000 Pennsylvania moratorium prohibits the construction of cell towers on state forest land, so Verizon’s options were limited. After considering several sites and antenna configurations, Verizon decided to construct a 195-foot monopole topped with a four-foot antenna on privately owned land, comprising 1.9 acres and containing a cabin, shed, pavilion, and privy. Verizon leased 0.0597 acres, in the northeast corner of the property for the tower.The Township then permitted cell towers that complied with a minimum permissible lot size of one acre; cell towers had to be set back “from lot lines and structures a distance equal to the height of the facility, including towers and antennas, plus 10% of such height.” The Zoning Board denied Verizon’s variance applications, finding that Verizon’s alleged hardship was insufficient because it was “not a hardship connected to the capacity for the property to be used reasonably, but rather, the hardship [was connected to Verizon’s] capacity to use the property as desired.” The Third Circuit affirmed summary judgment for Verizon. The denial had “the effect of prohibiting the provision of personal wireless services,” in violation of the Telecommunications Act, 47 U.S.C. 332(c)(7)(B)(i)(II). View "Cellco Partnership v. White Deer Township Zoning Hearing Board" on Justia Law

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Millennium's laboratory provides drug testing to healthcare professionals. Mauthe, a private practice MD, used Millennium’s services. On May 2, 2017, Millennium faxed all of its customers a single-page flyer promoting a free educational seminar to “highlight national trends in opioid misuse and abuse . . . and discuss the role of medication monitoring ... during the care of injured workers.” Although Millennium offered urine testing to detect opioids, the fax did not mention that service nor provide any pricing information, discounts, or product images. The seminar did not promote any goods or services for sale but described statistics on opioid abuse and the role of such drugs in chronic pain management. It explained that drug testing could help detect or monitor opioid abuse, and assessed the efficacy of several testing methods. The seminar did not identify providers or prices for any of the drug testing methods it reviewed. After the seminar, Millennium did not follow up with any registrants or attendees.Mauthe who has sued fax senders in more than 10 lawsuits since 2015, seeking damages under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, 47 U.S.C. 227, (b)(3), filed a putative class action against Millennium. The Third Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit. Liability under the TCPA extends only to “unsolicited advertisement[s],” meaning communications that promote the sale of goods, services, or property. Under an objective standard, no reasonable recipient could construe the seminar fax as such an unsolicited advertisement. View "Robert W Mauthe MD PC v. Millennium Health LLC" on Justia Law

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New Jersey permits candidates running in primary elections to include beside their name a slogan of up to six words to help distinguish them from others on the ballot but requires that candidates obtain consent from individuals or incorporated associations before naming them in their slogans. Candidates challenged this requirement after their desired slogans were rejected for failure to obtain consent. They argued that ballot slogans are, in effect, part of the campaign and that the consent requirement should be subject to traditional First Amendment scrutiny.The district court disagreed, holding that, though the ballot slogans had an expressive function, the consent requirement regulates the mechanics of the electoral process. The court applied the Anderson-Burdick test. The Third Circuit affirmed. The line separating core political speech from the mechanics of the electoral process “has proven difficult to ascertain.“ The court surveyed the election laws to which the Supreme Court and appellate courts have applied the Anderson-Burdick test, as opposed to a traditional First Amendment analysis, and derived criteria to help distinguish which test is applicable. New Jersey’s consent requirement is subject to Anderson-Burdick’s balancing test; because New Jersey’s interests in ensuring election integrity and preventing voter confusion outweigh the minimal burden imposed on candidates’ speech, the requirement passes that test. View "Mazo v. New Jersey Secretary of State" on Justia Law

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Popa browsed the website of Harriet Carter Gifts, added an item to her cart, but left the website without making a purchase. She later discovered that, unbeknownst to her, Harriet Carter’s third-party marketing service, NaviStone, tracked her activities across the site. Popa sued both entities under Pennsylvania’s Wiretapping and Electronic Surveillance Control Act (WESCA), 18 Pa. C.S. 5701, which prohibits the interception of wire, electronic, or oral communications. The district court granted the defendants summary judgment, reasoning that NaviStone could not have “intercepted” Popa’s communications because it was a “party” to the electronic conversation. Alternatively, it ruled that if any interception occurred, it happened outside Pennsylvania, so the Act did not apply.The Third Circuit vacated. Under Pennsylvania law, there is no direct-party exception to WESCA liability, except for law enforcement under specific conditions. The defendants cannot avoid liability merely by showing that Popa directly communicated with NaviStone’s servers. NaviStone intercepted Popa’s communications at the point where it routed those communications to its own servers; that was at Popa’s browser, not where the signals were received at NaviStone’s servers. The court noted that the district court never addressed whether Harriet Carter posted a privacy policy and, if so, whether that policy sufficiently alerted Popa that her communications were being sent to a third-party company to support a consent defense. View "Popa v. Harriet Carter Gifts Inc." on Justia Law

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In response to the Covid-19 pandemic, Port Authority, a municipal bus and light-rail operator, required its uniformed employees to wear face masks. Initially, Port Authority was unable to procure masks for all its employees, so they were required to provide their own. Some employees wore masks bearing political or social-protest messages. Port Authority has long prohibited its uniformed employees from wearing buttons “of a political or social protest nature.” Concerned that such masks would disrupt its workplace, Port Authority prohibited them in July 2020. When several employees wore masks expressing support for Black Lives Matter, Port Authority disciplined them. In September 2020, Port Authority imposed additional restrictions, confining employees to a narrow range of masks. The employees sued, alleging that Port Authority had violated their First Amendment rights.The district court entered a preliminary injunction rescinding discipline imposed under the July policy and preventing Port Authority from enforcing its policy against “Black Lives Matter” masks. The Third Circuit affirmed. The government may limit the speech of its employees more than it may limit the speech of the public, but those limits must still comport with the protections of the First Amendment. Port Authority bears the burden of showing that its policy is constitutional. It has not made that showing. View "Amalgamated Transit Union Local 85 v. Port Authority of Allegheny County" on Justia Law

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Navient serviced the student loans of Matthew Panzarella. Matthew listed his mother (Elizabeth) and brother (Joshua) as references on student loan applications and promissory notes and provided their cell phone numbers. He became delinquent on his loans and failed to respond to Navient’s attempts to communicate with him. Call logs show that over five months, Navient called Elizabeth's phone number four times (three calls were unanswered) and Joshua's number 15 times (all unanswered), using “interaction dialer” telephone dialing software developed by ININ.The Panzarellas filed a putative class action, alleging violation of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, 47 U.S.C. 227, by calling their cellphones without their prior express consent using an automatic telephone dialing system (ATDS). Navient argued that its ININ System did not qualify as an ATDS because the system lacked the capacity to generate and call random or sequential telephone numbers. The Third Circuit affirmed summary judgment for Navient, without deciding whether Navient’s dialing equipment qualified as an ATDS. Despite the text’s lack of clarity, Section 227(b)(1)(A)’s context and legislative history establish it was intended to prohibit making calls that use an ATDS’s auto-dialing functionalities; the record establishes that Navient did not rely on random- or sequential number generation when it called the Panzarellas. View "Panzarella v. Navient Solutions Inc" on Justia Law

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Georgetown Law invited Yung to interview an alumnus. Yung thought his interviewer was rude. Georgetown rejected Yung's application. Yung launched a cyber-campaign, creating fake obituaries for the interviewer’s wife and son, social-media profiles and blogs in the interviewer's name, containing KKK content and bragging about child rape. A Google search of the interviewer’s name revealed thousands of similar posts. In reports to the Better Business Bureau, Yung accused the interviewer of sexually assaulting a female associate and berating prospective employees. Impersonating the interviewer’s wife, he published an online ad seeking a sex slave. The interviewer’s family got hundreds of phone calls from men seeking sex. Strange men went to the interviewer’s home. The interviewer hired cyber-investigators, who, working with the FBI, traced the harassment to Yung.Yung, charged with cyberstalking, 18 U.S.C. 2261A(2)(B) & 2261(b) unsuccessfully challenged the law as overbroad under the First Amendment. Yung was sentenced to prison, probation, and to pay restitution for the interviewer’s investigative costs ($70,000) and Georgetown’s security measures ($130,000). The Third Circuit affirmed the conviction. A narrow reading of the statute’s intent element is possible so it is not overbroad--limiting intent to harass to “criminal harassment, which is unprotected because it constitutes true threats or speech that is integral to proscribable criminal conduct.” The court vacated in part. Yung could not waive his claim that the restitution order exceeds the statute and Georgetown suffered no damage to any property right. View "United States v. Yung" on Justia Law

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Hepp hosts FOX 29’s Good Day Philadelphia. In 2018, Hepp was told by coworkers that her photograph was making its way around the internet. The image depicts Hepp in a convenience store, smiling, and was taken without Hepp’s knowledge or consent. She never authorized the image to be used in online advertisements. Hepp alleged each use violated her right of publicity under Pennsylvania law. A dating app advertisement featuring the picture appeared on Facebook. A Reddit thread linked to an Imgur post of the photo. Hepp sued, citing 42 PA. CONS. STAT. 8316, and common law. The district court dismissed Hepp’s case, holding that the companies were entitled to immunity under the Communications Decency Act of 1996, which bars many claims against internet service providers, 47 U.S.C. 230(c). The Third Circuit reversed, citing an exclusion in 230(e)(2) limitation for “any law pertaining to intellectual property.” Hepp’s claims are encompassed within the intellectual property exclusion. View "Hepp v. Facebook" on Justia Law