Articles Posted in Communications Law

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Susinno alleged that on July 28, 2015, she received an unsolicited call on her cell phone from a fitness company called Work Out World (WOW). Susinno did not answer the call, so WOW left a prerecorded promotional offer that lasted one minute on her voicemail. Susinno filed a complaint, claiming WOW’s phone call and message violated the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) prohibition of prerecorded calls to cellular telephones, 47 U.S.C. 227(b)(1)(A)(iii). The district court dismissed, reasoning that a single solicitation was not “the type of case that Congress was trying to protect people against,” and Susinno’s receipt of the call and voicemail caused her no concrete injury. The Third Circuit reversed, finding that the TCPA provides a cause of action and that the injury was concrete. The TCPA addresses itself directly to single prerecorded calls from cell phones, and states that its prohibition acts “in the interest of [ ] privacy rights.” View "Susinno v. Work Out World Inc" on Justia Law

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Geraci, part of a police watchdog group, attended an anti-fracking protest at the Philadelphia Convention Center, carrying her camera and a pink bandana that identified her as a legal observer. When the police acted to arrest a protestor, Geraci moved to record the arrest without interfering. An officer pinned Geraci against a pillar for a few minutes, preventing her from observing or recording the arrest. Fields, a Temple University sophomore, was on a public sidewalk where he observed officers across the street breaking up a party. He took a photograph. An officer ordered him to leave. Fields refused; the officer arrested him, confiscated and searched Fields’ phone, and opened several photos. The officer released Fields with a citation for “Obstructing Highway and Other Public Passages.” The charge was later withdrawn. Fields and Geraci brought 42 U.S.C. 1983 claims, alleging First Amendment retaliation. Although the Police Department’s official policies recognized their First Amendment right, the district court granted the defendants summary judgment on those claims, finding no evidence that plaintiffs’ “conduct may be construed as expression of a belief or criticism of police activity.” The Third Circuit reversed, noting that every circuit that has addressed the issue has found that the First Amendment protects the act of photographing or otherwise recording police officers conducting their official duties in public. View "Fields v. City of Philadelphia" on Justia Law

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Wilkes-Barre Hospital’s radiology department x-rayed Daubert. His bill was $46. Radiology Associates forwarded his medical report and cell phone number to its billing company, MBMS. Daubert’s health-insurer contributed $21. Daubert did not pay the remaining $25. MBMS transferred his account to a debt collector, NRA, sharing Daubert’s cell number. NRA sent a collection letter. Daubert alleged that, visible through the envelope's window, were the sequence of letters and numbers NRA used to track Daubert’s collection account and a barcode that, when scanned by the appropriate reader, revealed that account number. NRA also called Daubert 69 times in 10 months, using a Predictive Dialer. Daubert sued, alleging violations of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), 15 U.S.C. 1692, asserting that the information visible through the envelope could have revealed his private information and of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), 47 U.S.C. 227. The Third Circuit affirmed summary judgment for Daubert on his TCPA claim and awarded $34,500 ($500 × 69 calls); no reasonable jury could find that Daubert expressly consented to receive calls from NRA. The court reversed the rejection of his FDCPA claim; the use of the barcode was not a bona fide good faith error. View "Daubert v. NRA Group LLC" on Justia Law

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A Harrisburg, Pennsylvania ordinance prohibits persons to “knowingly congregate, patrol, picket or demonstrate in a zone extending 20 feet from any portion of an entrance to, exit from, or driveway of a health care facility.” Individuals purporting to provide “sidewalk counseling” to those entering abortion clinics claimed that the ordinance violated their First Amendment rights to speak, exercise their religion, and assemble, and their due process and equal protection rights. The court determined that the ordinance was content-neutral because it did not define or regulate speech by subject-matter or purpose, so that intermediate scrutiny applied, and reasoned that it must accept as true (on a motion to dismiss) claims that the city did not consider less restrictive alternatives. The claims proceeded to discovery. In denying preliminary injunctive relief, the court ruled that plaintiffs did not demonstrate a likelihood of success on the merits. The Third Circuit vacated. In deciding whether to issue a preliminary injunction, plaintiffs normally bear the burden of demonstrating likelihood of prevailing on the merits. In First Amendment cases where the government bears the burden of proof on the ultimate question of a statute’s constitutionality, plaintiffs must be deemed likely to prevail for purposes of considering a preliminary injunction unless the government has shown that plaintiffs’ proposed less restrictive alternatives are less effective than the statute. View "Reilly v. City of Harrisburg" on Justia Law

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Elonis’s wife left their home with their children. Elonis had trouble at work, leaving early and crying at his desk. Morrissey, an employee Elonis supervised, claimed sexual harassment. Elonis posted on Facebook a photograph, showing Elonis in costume holding a knife to Morrissey’s neck, captioned “I wish.” Elonis was fired. Days later, Elonis began posting statements about “sinister plans for all my friends,” and, concerning his wife, “smothered your ass … dumped your body” that their son “should dress up as matricide” and “I’m not going to rest until your body is a mess, soaked in blood and dying.” Following issuance of a protective order, Elonis posted statements concerning shooting at his wife’s house, using explosives, and “I’m checking out and making a name for myself.” After being visited by federal agents, he posted statements about blowing up SWAT members. Elonis was convicted of transmitting in interstate commerce communications containing a threat to injure another, 18 U.S.C. 875(c). The Third Circuit affirmed, rejecting an argument that he did not subjectively intend his Facebook posts to be threatening. The Supreme Court reversed, finding the jury instruction regarding Elonis’s mental state insufficient. On remand, the Third Circuit again affirmed Elonis’s conviction, finding the error harmless. The evidence overwhelmingly shows that Elonis posted the messages with either the purpose of threatening his ex-wife, or with knowledge that she would interpret the posts as threats. No rational juror could conclude otherwise. View "United States v. Elonis" on Justia Law

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The district court dismissed, for lack of jurisdiction, a constitutional challenge to an electronic surveillance program operated by the National Security Agency (NSA) under the authority of Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), 50 U.S.C. 1881a. The court noted that the plaintiff failed to plead facts from which one might reasonably infer that his own communications had been seized by the federal government. The Third Circuit vacated and remanded. The second amended complaint alleged that because the government was “intercepting, monitoring and storing the content of all or substantially all of the e-mail sent by American citizens,” plaintiff’s own online communications had been seized in the dragnet. That allegation sufficiently pleaded standing to sue for a violation of plaintiff’s Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. Plaintiff may lack actual standing to sue; the government may, on remand to make a factual jurisdictional challenge to that pleading. The alleged facts—even if proven—do not conclusively establish that a dragnet on the scale alleged by plaintiff. On remand, the court must closely supervise limited discovery. View "Schuchardt v. President of the United States" on Justia Law

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Relying on an advertiser’s claim that its fax advertising program complied with the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), 47 U.S.C. 227, Stevens & Ricci allowed the advertiser to fax thousands of advertisements to potential customers on its behalf. More than six years later, Hymed filed a class action TCPA lawsuit, which settled with a $2,000,000 judgment against Stevens & Ricci. While that suit was pending, Auto-Owners sought a declaratory judgment, claiming that the terms of the insurance policy it provided Stevens & Ricci did not obligate it to indemnify or defend Stevens & Ricci in the class action. The Third Circuit affirmed summary judgment, finding that the sending of unsolicited fax advertisements in violation of the TCPA did not fall within the terms of the insurance policy. The “Businessowners Insurance Policy” obligated Auto-Owners to “pay those sums that the insured becomes legally obligated to pay as damages because of ‘bodily injury’, ‘property damage’, ‘personal injury’ or ‘advertising injury’ to which this insurance applies.” The “advertising injury” deals only with the publication of private information, View "Auto-Owners Ins. Co. v. Stevens & Ricci Inc" on Justia Law

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The Township of Tredyffrin Zoning Hearing Board of Appeals denied an application by DePolo, a federally licensed amateur or “ham” radio enthusiast, to build a 180-foot radio antenna tower on his property so that he could communicate with other ham radio operators around the world. The property is surrounded by mountains or hills. He claimed a shorter tower would not allow him to reliably communicate with other ham radio operators. The ZHBA agreed to a tower that was 65-feet tall as a reasonable accommodation under the applicable zoning ordinance prohibition on buildings taller than 35 feet. DePolo did not appeal that decision to the Chester Court of Common Pleas as allowed under state law, but filed a federal suit, claiming that zoning ordinance was preempted by 47 C.F.R. 97.15(b), and the closely related FCC declaratory ruling, known as PRB-1. The district court dismissed, finding that the ZHBA had offered a reasonable accommodation and that the zoning ordinance was not preempted by PRB-1. The Third Circuit rejected an appeal. DePolo’s failure to appeal the ZHBA’s determination to state court rendered the decision final, entitled to the same preclusive effect that it would have had in state court. View "Depolo v. Tredyffrin Twp. Bd. of Supervisors" on Justia Law

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Under the Facebook account name “Billy Button,” Browne began exchanging messages with 18-year-old Nicole. They met in person and exchanged sexually explicit photographs of themselves through Facebook chats. Browne threatened to publish the photos online unless Nicole engaged in oral sex and promised to delete the photos only if she provided him the password to her Facebook account. Using that account, Browne made contact with four minors and solicited explicit photos. Once he had their photos, he repeated the pattern, threatening to publish their images unless they engaged sexual acts. Alerted by the Virgin Islands Police Department, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) agents investigated, arrested Browne, executed a search warrant on his residence, and seized a cell phone from which text messages and photos of the minors were recovered. Browne admitted ownership of the phone and Facebook account. Facebook provided five sets of chats and a certificate of authenticity executed by its records custodian, which were admitted at trial. The Third Circuit affirmed his convictions for child pornography and sexual offenses with minors. While rejecting the government’s assertion that, under Rule 902(11), the contents of the communications were “self-authenticating” as business records accompanied by a certificate from the records custodian, the court found that the record reflected sufficient extrinsic evidence to link Browne to the chats and satisfy the prosecution’s authentication burden under a conventional Rule 901 analysis. View "United States v. Browne" on Justia Law

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In 2011, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People submitted an ad for display at the Philadelphia International Airport, offering to pay the prevailing market rate for the ad, which read: “Welcome to America, home to 5% of the world’s people & 25% of the world’s prisoners. Let’s build a better America together. NAACP.org/smartandsafe.” The City of Philadelphia rejected the ad, based on informal practice, While the NAACP’s lawsuit was pending, the city, which owns the airport, adopted the formal policy, preventing private advertisers from displaying noncommercial content at the Airport. Paid advertisements are allowed. The city argued that the policy helps it further its goals of maximizing revenue and avoiding controversy. The Third Circuit affirmed summary judgment, finding the ban unconstitutional. The court noted that the city acknowledged “substantial flaws” in the city’s justifications. The ban is unreasonable, violates the First Amendment and cannot be enforced as written. View "Nat'l Ass'n for the Advancement of Colored People v. City of Philadelphia" on Justia Law