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

Articles Posted in Communications Law
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In 2012, Rad and others were charged with acquiring penny stocks, “pumping” the prices of those stocks by bombarding investors with misleading spam emails, and then “dumping” their shares at a profit. Rad was convicted of conspiring to commit false header spamming and false domain name spamming under the Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography And Marketing Act (CAN-SPAM), 15 U.S.C. 7701(a)(2), which addresses unsolicited commercial email. The PSR recommended raising Rad’s offense level to reflect the losses inflicted on investors, estimating that Rad realized about $2.9 million in “illicit gains” while acknowledging that because “countless victims” purchased stocks, the losses stemming from Rad’s conduct could not “reasonabl[y] be determined.” Rad emphasized the absence of evidence that any person lost anything. Rad was sentenced to 71 months’ imprisonment. The record is silent as to how the court analyzed the victim loss issue. The Third Circuit affirmed. DHS initiated removal proceedings under 8 U.S.C. 1227(a)(2)(A)(iii), which renders an alien removable for any crime that “involves fraud or deceit” “in which the loss to the victim or victims exceeds $10,000.” The IJ and the BIA found Rad removable.The Third Circuit remanded. Rad’s convictions for CAN-SPAM conspiracy necessarily entail deceit under 8 U.S.C. 1101(a)(43)(M)(i). The second element, requiring victim losses over $10,000, however, was not adequately addressed. The court noted that intended losses, not just actual ones, may meet the requirement. View "Rad v. Attorney General United States" on Justia Law

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The Center for Investigative Reporting sought a permanent injunction that would require the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) to run an advertisement on the inside of SEPTA buses. The advertisement promotes the Center’s research on racial disparities in the home mortgage lending market. SEPTA rejected the advertisement under two provisions of its 2015 Advertising Standards, which prohibit advertisements that are political in nature or discuss matters of public debate.The Third Circuit reversed the district court and ordered injunctive and declaratory relief. The challenged provisions of the 2015 Standards violate the First Amendment; they are incapable of reasoned application. The court noted the absence of guidelines cabining SEPTA’s General Counsel’s discretion in determining what constitutes a political advertisement and that the Center had demonstrated at least some instances of arbitrary decision-making. View "Center for Investigative Reporting v. Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority" on Justia Law

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The district courts dismissed two cases, concluding that faxes soliciting participation by the recipients in market research surveys in exchange for monetary payments are not advertisements within the meaning of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, 47 U.S.C. 227 (b)(1)(C) (TCPA), which prohibits the transmission of unsolicited fax advertisements. In a consolidated appeal, the Third Circuit reversed.. Solicitations to buy products, goods, or services can be advertisements under the TCPA. The solicitations for participation in the surveys in exchange for $200.00 by one sender and $150.00 by the other sender were for services within the TCPA. An offer of payment in exchange for participation in a market survey is a commercial transaction, so a fax highlighting the availability of that transaction is an advertisement under the TCPA. View "Fischbein v. Olson Research Group Inc" on Justia Law

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The Pennsylvania Attorney General (OAG) charged Walker with forgery and computer crimes. The prosecutor and the lead investigator requested that Penn State produce Walker’s emails from her employee account. At Penn’s request, they obtained a subpoena. The subpoena was missing information regarding the date, time or place where the testimony or evidence would be produced, or which party was requesting the evidence. The subpoena was incomplete and unenforceable. The prosecutor offered the subpoena to Penn’s Assistant General Counsel, who instructed an employee to assist. After the OAG obtained Walker’s emails, the pending criminal charges were dismissed with prejudice. Walker filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983. The district court dismissed, citing qualified immunity because Walker did not have a clearly established right to privacy in her work emails. A Third Circuit panel affirmed, reasoning that Penn produced the emails voluntarily, rather than under coercion resulting from the invalid subpoena and was acting within its legal authority and through counsel.The Third Circuit affirmed the dismissal of Walker's amended complaint, alleging violations of the Stored Communications Act, 18 U.S.C. 2701 (SCA). The SCA is inapplicable because Penn does not provide electronic communication services to the public. Penn acted within its rights as Walker’s employer in voluntarily disclosing her work emails. Penn’s search of its server to produce Walker’s emails is not prohibited by the SCA, regardless of whether its counsel was induced by deceit or knowingly cooperative. It is the law of the case that Penn consented to disclose Walker’s emails. View "Walker v. Coffey" on Justia Law

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During the 2016 presidential campaign, C.M., not yet 12 years old, publicly endorsed Donald Trump and released videos seen by thousands. A video in which C.M. called Hillary Clinton “deplorable” attracted more than 325,000 views on Facebook alone. C.M. stated: The people I talk about in these posts really have it coming. In 2018, Newsweek published an article, “Trump’s Mini-Mes,” that featured a photo of C.M. holding up a Trump campaign sign; it referred to Trump supporters recruiting children as spokespeople and to children “being weaponized” to defend “raw racism and sexual abuse.”The Third Circuit affirmed the dismissal of C.M.'s false light and defamation suit. The article contained derogatory opinions based only on disclosed facts, which are not enough to show defamation or false light. Every contested statement is an opinion, label, or speculation based on disclosed facts and alleges no specific wrongdoing; derogatory characterizations without more are not defamatory. C.M. is a limited-purpose public figure. He voluntarily injected himself into the political controversies and enjoys significantly greater access to the channels of effective communication than his peers. C.M. did not plead facts showing actual malice, which the First Amendment requires of those who step into the political spotlight. View "McCafferty v. Newsweek Media Group Ltd" on Justia Law

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Dr. Martinez, who worked for PHI, met with Cephalon representatives to discuss Cephalon drugs. Cephalon representatives asked Martinez if they could follow up with him and “send [him] things,” after which faxes were sometimes then sent. Martinez never told Cephalon or its representatives to stop sending faxes. One 2009 fax, addressed to Martinez, was an invitation to a dinner meeting program on a drug called AMRIX®; another was an invitation to a promotional product lunch on FENTORA®. Both are drugs that Martinez had discussed with Cephalon representatives previously. Neither fax included opt-out language. PHI provided its fax number to Cephalon via business cards. PHI filed a putative class action under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, 47 U.S.C. 227, seeking actual monetary losses or statutory damages, because Cephalon sent unsolicited faxes that failed to contain opt-out notices. The Third Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of Cephalon. The faxes were solicited and the Act does not require solicited faxes to contain opt-out notices. The voluntary provision of a fax number constitutes express consent, invitation, and permission. View "Physicians Healthsource Inc v. Cephalon Inc" on Justia Law

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Officers executed a search warrant at Rawls’ residence, yielding an iPhone 6 and a Mac Pro Computer with attached external hard drives, all protected with encryption software. With a warrant, forensic analysts discovered the password to decrypt the Mac Pro but could not determine the passwords for the external hard drives. The Mac Pro revealed an image of a pubescent girl in a sexually provocative position, logs showing that it had visited likely child exploitation websites and that Rawls had downloaded thousands of files known to be child pornography. Those files were stored on the external hard drives. Rawls’ sister stated that Rawls had shown her child pornography on the external hard drives. A Magistrate ordered Rawls to unencrypt the devices. Rawls cited the Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination. The court denied Rawls’ motion, reasoning the act of decrypting the devices would not be testimonial. Rawls decrypted the iPhone, which contained 20 photographs that focused on the genitals of Rawls’ six-year-old niece. Rawls stated that he could not remember the passwords for the hard drives. The Third Circuit affirmed a civil contempt finding.Rawls, incarcerated since September 2015, moved for release, arguing that 28 U.S.C. 1826(a) limits the maximum confinement for civil contempt to 18 months. The Third Circuit ordered his release, rejecting the government’s argument that Rawls was not a “witness” participating in any “proceeding before or ancillary to any court or grand jury.” The proceedings to enforce the search warrant fall within the statute’s broad description of any “proceeding before or ancillary to any court or grand jury," the Decryption Order is “an order of the court to testify or provide other information,” and section 1826(a) applies to the detention of any material witness, even if that person is also a suspect in connection with other offenses. View "United States v. Apple Mac Pro Computer" on Justia Law

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ABC stores its subscribers’ data on the cloud. ABC received a grand jury subpoena issued under 18 U.S.C. 2703(c)(2), ordering it to produce the non-content data of one of its subscribers, as part of a criminal investigation. The subpoena was accompanied by a nondisclosure order (NDO), prohibiting ABC from notifying any person, except its lawyers, of the existence of the subpoena for one year. Weeks later, a magistrate issued a search warrant directing ABC to produce content-specific data for the same account, with another NDO. ABC complied. The subscriber filed for bankruptcy. ABC moved to modify the NDOs to permit it to notify the bankruptcy trustee of the existence of the subpoena and warrant, arguing that the NDOs are content-based restrictions and prior restraints that infringe upon its First Amendment rights. ABC asserted the bankruptcy trustee had a duty to uncover and assert causes of action against the debtor’s officers and directors.The district court found that 18 U.S.C. 2705(b) implicates the First Amendment rights of service providers and that such an NDO passes strict scrutiny. The Third Circuit affirmed the denial of ABC’s motion to amend the NDOs. The governmental interest in maintaining grand jury secrecy is sufficiently strong for the NDOs to withstand strict scrutiny; the restriction is the least restrictive means of serving that interest and is narrowly tailored, being limited to one year. View "In The Matter of the Application of Subpoena 2018R00776" on Justia Law

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Under the Communications Act of 1934, 47 U.S.C. 151, the Federal Communications Commission had rules governing ownership of broadcast media to promote “competition, diversity, and localism.” The 1996 Telecommunications Act, Section 202(h) requires the Commission to review those rules regularly to “determine whether any of such rules are necessary in the public interest.” The Third Circuit has ruled on previous reviews. Following a remand, the Commission failed to complete its 2010 review cycle before the start of the 2014 cycle. The Third Circuit found the FCC had unreasonably delayed action and remanded several issues concerning the broadcast ownership rules and diversity initiatives. The Commission then substantially changed its approach to regulation of broadcast media ownership, issuing an order that retained almost all of its existing rules, effectively abandoning its long-running efforts to change those rules since the first round of litigation. The Commission then changed course, granting petitions for rehearing and repealing or otherwise scaling back most of those same rules. It also created a new “incubator” program designed to help new entrants into the broadcast industry. The Third Circuit vacated and remanded most of the Commission’s actions. Although some of those actions, including the incubator program, were not unreasonable, the Commission did not adequately consider the effect its sweeping rule changes will have on ownership of broadcast media by women and racial minorities. View "Prometheus Radio Project v. Federal Communications Commission" on Justia Law

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Bank of Hope sued Ryu for embezzling money from its customers. As the case went on, Ryu began sending letters to the Bank’s shareholders, alleging that the Bank’s claims were baseless and were ruining his reputation. He hoped that the letters would pressure the Bank to settle. The Bank asked the magistrate judge to ban Ryu from contacting its shareholders. The district court affirmed the magistrate’s order imposing that ban. The Third Circuit vacated. The district court marshaled no evidence that this restriction on speech was needed to protect this trial’s fairness and integrity and it considered no less-restrictive alternatives. Courts have inherent power to keep their proceedings fair and orderly. They can use that power to order the parties before them not to talk with each other, the press, and the public. The First Amendment, however, requires an explanation of why restricting speech advances a substantial government interest, consider less-restrictive alternatives, and requires that the court ensure that any restriction does not sweep too broadly. View "Bank of Hope v. Chon" on Justia Law