Justia U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Communications Law
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A Maryland law requiring newspapers, among other platforms, to publish on their websites, as well as retain for state inspection, certain information about the political ads they decide to carry, violates the First amendment. The Fourth Circuit affirmed the preliminary injunctive relief awarded by the district court and explained that, while Maryland's law tries to serve important aims, the state has gone about this task in too circuitous and burdensome a manner to satisfy constitutional scrutiny. The court agreed with the district court that the law is a content-based law that targets political speech and compels newspapers, among other platforms, to carry certain messages on their websites. The court declined to decide whether strict or exacting scrutiny should apply to a disclosure law like the one at issue, and held that the law failed under the more forgiving exact scrutiny standard. View "The Washington Post v. McManus" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against Dish Network, alleging that its sales representative, Satellite Systems Network (SSN), routinely violated the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) by calling numbers on the national Do-Not-Call registry. After the district court certified the class, the case went to trial and Dish ultimately lost. The Fourth Circuit affirmed, holding that the district court properly applied the law and prudently exercised its discretion. The court rejected Dish's challenges to class certification and held that the class certified by the district court complied with Article III's requirements; the court rejected Dish's claims of error under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23 and held that the TCPA supported class-wide resolution of this class; and the court rejected Dish's challenges to the jury findings and held that there was ample evidence for the district court's rationales in the record produced at trial. View "Krakauer v. Dish Network" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs appealed the district court's grant of summary judgment to the FCC and the Government, in an action alleging that part of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991 (TCPA) contravenes the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment. In relevant part, the Act prohibits calls to cell phones by use of an automated dialing system or an artificial or prerecorded voice, subject to three statutory exemptions. Specifically, plaintiffs alleged that one of the statutory exemptions to the automated call ban — created by a 2015 TCPA amendment — is facially unconstitutional under the Free Speech Clause. Although the Fourth Circuit agreed with the district court that strict scrutiny review applied in this case, it held that the debt collection exemption fails to satisfy strict scrutiny, constitutes an unconstitutional content-based restriction on speech, and therefore violates the Free Speech Clause. The court concluded that the flawed exemption could be severed from the automatic call ban. Accordingly, the court vacated and remanded. View "American Association of Political Consultants, Inc. v. FCC" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, aggrieved at their portrayal in a documentary on gun violence called Under the Gun, filed suit alleging defamation by the film's creators. The crux of plaintiffs' defamation claims was that an edited interview manufactured a false exchange that made them look ridiculous, incompetent, and ignorant about firearm ownership and sales, including the policies surrounding background checks. The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of the complaint, holding that the edited footage did not arise to the level of defamation under Virginia law. The court held that plaintiffs' defamation per se claims failed, and that the edited footage was not reasonably capable of suggesting that the Virginia Citizens Defense League and its members were "ignorant and incompetent on the subject to which they have dedicated their organizational mission." Finally, regardless of how certain media outlets covered the short-lived frenzy surrounding this incident, the Supreme Court of Virginia has consistently stressed that it is the province of courts to perform the gatekeeping role of distinguishing defamatory speech from mere insults. In this case, the district court properly performed its independent gatekeeping role and the district court reached the correct result on the merits. View "VA Citizens Defense League v. Couric" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs filed suit against UTC and Honeywell under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), 47 U.S.C. 227, alleging that the companies were vicariously liable for illegal calls made by telemarketers promoting UTC and Honeywell products. The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of the Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(d) motion because plaintiffs failed to show that they did not have an opportunity to discover specific evidence that was essential to their opposition to summary judgment. The court also affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment because plaintiffs failed to proffer more than a scintilla of evidence to support the conclusion that UTC and Honeywell were vicariously liable for the telemarketers' alleged TCPA violations. View "Hodgin v. UTC Fire & Security Americas Corp." on Justia Law

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The Fourth Circuit vacated the district court's dismissal of plaintiff's claim that PDR Network violated the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), 47 U.S.C. 227, by sending unsolicited advertisement by fax. Plaintiff argued that the district court erred in declining to defer to a 2006 Rule promulgated by the FCC that interpreted some provisions of the TCPA. Plaintiff specifically contended that the Hobbs Act, 28 U.S.C. 2342 et seq., required the district court to defer to the FCC's interpretation of the term "unsolicited advertisement." Furthermore, plaintiff claimed that the district court erred by reading the rule to require that a fax have some commercial aim to be considered an advertisement. The court held that the Hobbs Act deprived district courts of jurisdiction to consider the validity of orders like the 2006 FCC Rule, and that the district court's reading of the 2006 FCC Rule was at odds with the plain meaning of its text. View "Carlton & Harris Chiropractic, Inc. v. PDR Network, LLC" on Justia Law

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The Fourth Circuit vacated the district court's dismissal of plaintiff's claim that PDR Network violated the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), 47 U.S.C. 227, by sending unsolicited advertisement by fax. Plaintiff argued that the district court erred in declining to defer to a 2006 Rule promulgated by the FCC that interpreted some provisions of the TCPA. Plaintiff specifically contended that the Hobbs Act, 28 U.S.C. 2342 et seq., required the district court to defer to the FCC's interpretation of the term "unsolicited advertisement." Furthermore, plaintiff claimed that the district court erred by reading the rule to require that a fax have some commercial aim to be considered an advertisement. The court held that the Hobbs Act deprived district courts of jurisdiction to consider the validity of orders like the 2006 FCC Rule, and that the district court's reading of the 2006 FCC Rule was at odds with the plain meaning of its text. View "Carlton & Harris Chiropractic, Inc. v. PDR Network, LLC" on Justia Law

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The County petitions for review of an FCC order, which issued rules implementing Section 6409(a) of the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012, 47 U.S.C. 1455(a), also known as the Spectrum Act. The County contends that the procedures established in the Order conscript the states in violation of the Tenth Amendment, and that the Order unreasonably defines several terms of the Spectrum Act. The court concluded that the FCC’s “deemed granted” procedure comports with the Tenth Amendment where the Order does not require the states to take any action whatsoever. The court also concluded that the FCC has reasonably interpreted the ambiguous terms of Section 6409(a): "substantially change" and "base station." Accordingly, the court denied the petition for review. View "Montgomery County v. United States" on Justia Law

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This appeal stemmed from a disagreement between CoreTel and Verizon over interconnection agreements (ICAs) under the Telecommunications Act of 1996, 47 U.S.C. 151 et seq. CoreTel disputes the district court’s determination that it owes Verizon $227,974.22 for the use of Verizon’s telecommunications facilities and $138,724.47 in late-payment fees. The court concluded that the district court did not violate the court's own mandate in CoreTel I by awarding as damages any total element long-run incremental cost (TELRIC)-based facilities charges at all; the district court did not err in calculating the total amount owed; and the district court did not err in calculating the late fees CoreTel owes under the ICAs. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "CoreTel Virginia, LLC v. Verizon Virginia, LLC" on Justia Law

Posted in: Communications Law
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The Board of Supervisors of Pittsylvania County, Virginia met twice per month. At the beginning of each meeting, a member of the Board opened the proceedings with an invocation, usually explicitly Christian in nature, and asked the audience to stand for the prayers. Hudson is a non-Christian resident of Pittsylvania County who has attended nearly every Board meeting and alleges that the Christian prayers made her and other non-Christian citizens of Pittsylvania County feel unwelcome. Hudson filed a 42 U.S.C. 1983 action alleging violation of the Establishment Clause. The district court entered summary judgment for Hudson and permanently enjoined Pittsylvania “from repeatedly opening its meetings with prayers associated with any one religion,” and struck the case from the active docket while retaining jurisdiction. Hudson sought attorney’s fees and costs in the amount of $59,679.92.1. A magistrate judge recommended an award of $53,229.92 and the district court adopted the recommendation. Pittsylvania filed a notice of appeal and a motion to stay the proceedings pending the Supreme Court’s decision in Town of Greece v. Galloway (2014), 175 days after the court entered its order. The Fourth Circuit dismissed the merits appeal as untimely and affirmed the award of fees. View "Hudson v. Pittsylvania Cnty, Va." on Justia Law