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

Articles Posted in Communications 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

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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

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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

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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
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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

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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

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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

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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

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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