Justia Government & Administrative Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Communications Law
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The case involves the City of Lancaster, California, and the companies Netflix, Inc. and Hulu, LLC. The City claimed that Netflix and Hulu were required under the Digital Infrastructure and Video Competition Act of 2006 to pay franchise fees to local governments for using public rights-of-way to provide video service in their jurisdictions. According to the City, the companies had been providing video service without paying these fees.However, the Superior Court of Los Angeles County dismissed the City's claims, and the City appealed. On appeal, the court affirmed the dismissal, finding that the Act does not authorize local governments to seek franchise fees from non-franchise holders. The Act allows local governments to sue franchise holders over unpaid or underpaid franchise fees, but it does not extend this right of action to companies that do not hold a state franchise. The court further noted that the Act empowers the state's public utilities commission to enforce franchise-related issues, including the issuance of franchises and the collection of associated fees.The court also rejected the City's claim for declaratory relief, which sought a court order compelling Netflix and Hulu to obtain state franchises and pay franchise fees going forward. The court found that this claim was "wholly derivative" of the City's claim for damages under the Act and that the enforcement of franchise-related issues is a matter for the public utilities commission, not the courts.The court's ruling means that local governments in California cannot sue video service providers like Netflix and Hulu for failing to pay franchise fees unless those companies hold a state franchise. View "City of Lancaster v. Netflix, Inc." on Justia Law

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SmartEnergy Holdings, LLC, a retail electricity supplier, was found to have violated various provisions of Maryland law governing retail electricity suppliers, including engaging in deceptive, misleading, and unfair trade practices. The Supreme Court of Maryland upheld the decisions of lower courts and the Maryland Public Service Commission, affirming that the Commission has the authority to determine whether electricity suppliers under its jurisdiction have violated Maryland’s consumer protection laws, including the Maryland Telephone Solicitations Act (MTSA). The court also determined that the MTSA applies to SmartEnergy’s business practices, as it applies to sales made over the telephone where the consumer places the telephone call to the merchant in response to a merchant’s marketing materials. The court found substantial evidence in the record to support the Commission's factual findings and determined that the remedies imposed by the Commission were within its discretion and not arbitrary or capricious. View "In the Matter of SmartEnergy" on Justia Law

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The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit affirmed the district court's decision that the General Services Administration (GSA) properly redacted the names of several low-level team members from spreadsheets of salary and benefits costs for outgoing transition teams of President Trump and Vice President Pence. The news organization Insider, Inc. had requested these documents under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The court found that the transition team members had a strong privacy interest in their personal information, which outweighed the public interest in disclosure. The court rejected Insider's argument that disclosure would reveal possible ethical concerns and facilitate interviews that would illuminate the transition process. The court held that these interests were not cognizable under FOIA, as they related to activities of private actors and former executive officials, not current government actors. The court concluded that, given the information already disclosed by the GSA, the incremental value served by disclosing the names of low-level transition team members did not outweigh their privacy interests. View "Insider Inc. v. GSA" on Justia Law

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Vidal-Martinez, a non-citizen, was arrested three times for operating a vehicle while intoxicated. DHS detained him and initiated deportation. Vidal-Martinez filed a habeas petition, arguing that his detention was unconstitutional because it impeded his ability to defend himself against the drunk-driving charges. ICE transferred Vidal-Martinez to county custody “until the completion of [the] criminal matter, then released to his ICE detainer.” Vidal-Martinez was convicted of DUI and sentenced to 236 days in jail. He was then returned to ICE custody. Due to a lack of evidence that he posed a flight risk or a danger to the community, the district court granted Vidal-Martinez’s habeas petition and ordered his release.Vidal-Martinez filed a FOIA request, 5 U.S.C. 552, seeking disclosure from ICE of documents related to his custody transfer. ICE produced 561 pages of responsive documents, some of which contained redactions. Vidal-Martinez challenged ICE’s redactions. ICE submitted a Vaughn index and a declaration from its FOIA officer explaining the legal justification for each redaction, citing attorney-client, work product, deliberative process privileges, and identifying information of government employees. Vidal-Martinez responded that ICE committed criminal conduct by transferring him to Indiana, so the crime-fraud exception to attorney-client privilege applied. The district court granted ICE summary judgment. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, finding no factual foundation in the record for criminal conduct or misconduct by ICE. The district court had an adequate factual basis to evaluate ICE’s withholdings. View "Vidal-Martinez v. United States Department Of Homeland Security" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court denied mandamus relief in this action brought under Ohio's Public Records Act, Ohio Rev. Code 149.43, by Kevin Payne against Kelly Rose, an inspector at the Richland Correctional Institution (RCI), holding that Payne did not have a cognizable claim in mandamus.Payne, an inmate at RCI, sent a public-records request to Rose for a copy of, among other things, JPay support ticket number MACI 1220002928. Rose responded that she obtained the requested record and provided a copy of it to Payne. Payne brought this action seeking a writ of mandamus ordering Rose to produce the requested record and statutory damages. The Supreme Court denied mandamus relief, holding (1) because Payne received his requested record before instituting this action he never had a cognizable claim in mandamus; and (2) statutory damages did not accrue. View "State ex rel. Payne v. Rose" on Justia Law

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Gilroy Police Department (GPD) receives complaints about homeless encampments, including on the property of the Santa Clara Valley Water District. When requested by the Water District, GPD assists with the cleanup of homeless encampments (sweeps) on Water District property. The Water District is responsible for collecting belongings left at the site. GPD collects and stores some items, such as identification cards. GPD officers assisting with homeless encampment cleanups have body-worn cameras, which they activate during “criminal investigation or enforcement" actions. Bodycam video footage is retained for one year, then automatically deleted by a computer system unless flagged for preservation.After receiving complaints from homeless persons that their personal property was being destroyed during sweeps, Law Foundation made numerous public record requests and sought declaratory relief under the California Public Records Act (CPRA; Gov. Code, 7920.000).The court of appeal held that the trial court erred in granting declaratory relief on the basis that Gilroy’s past conduct in responding to Law Foundation’s public records requests violated the CPRA. The trial court did not err by denying Law Foundation’s request for a declaration that Gilroy violated the CPRA by failing to preserve responsive records it claimed were exempt while the records requests were pending. CPRA is not a records retention statute. View "City of Gilroy v. Superior Court of Santa Clara County" on Justia Law

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The Illinois Cable and Video Competition Law requires operators to obtain statewide authorization and become a “holder” and requires anyone who wants to provide cable or video service to obtain permission from state or local authorities and pay a fee, as a condition of using public rights of way. In recent years traditional cable services have been supplemented or replaced by streaming services that deliver their content through the Internet. East St. Louis, contending that all streaming depends on cables buried under streets or strung over them, sought to compel each streaming service to pay a fee. None of the defendants were “holders.” A magistrate dismissed the complaint, concluding that only the Attorney General of Illinois is authorized to sue an entity that needs but does not possess, “holder” status.The Seventh Circuit affirmed, first concluding that it had jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. 1332(a). Normally the citizenship of any entity other than a corporation depends on the citizenship of its partners and members but, under section 1332(d), part of the Class Action Fairness Act, an unincorporated entity is treated like a corporation. The court then held that the statutory system applies to any “cable service or video service” and the defendants do not offer either. If “phone calls over landline cables, electricity over wires, and gas routed through pipes are not trespasses on the City’s land— and they are not—neither are the electrons that carry movies and other videos.” View "City of East St. Louis v. Netflix, Inc." on Justia Law

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Western requested records “about or related to” the “Strada Verde Project.” including: “all Public Records Act requests sent by anyone concerning” the Project; “[a]ll writings received by the County concerning the Project”; “[a]ll writings sent by the County to anyone” concerning the Project; “[a]ll writings concerning” two individuals; “[a]ll text messages sent or received by” two individuals relating to the Project; “[a]ll writings" concerning procedures relating to the consideration of general plan amendments; and “[a]ll writings concerning potential offsite consequences.” Western later requested documents “concerning or discussing” a presentation titled “San Benito Public Records Reveal Deception and Misconduct” and investigations into said deception and misconduct.Western sued to compel the County to produce the documents for both requests and sought a declaration that the County’s policies and procedures were unlawful. In the litigation, Western’s requests for production of documents included a request for “[a]ll documents responsive to the [public records] request.”The court of appeal modified the discovery order, citing the California Public Records Act (Gov. Code 7921.000) the "court must determine whether the discovery sought is necessary to resolve whether the agency has a duty to disclose, and … consider whether the request is justified given the need for an expeditious resolution.” Although most of Western’s discovery requests were proper, the request to produce the same documents ultimately at issue in the proceeding and the interrogatories seeking a new narrative justification for the County’s past decisions were improper. View "County of San Benito v. Superior Court of San Benito County" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court granted in part and denied in part a writ of mandamus ordering Respondents to provide records responsive to request numbers 2, 3, and 4 from Jeffrey Howard's August 2022 public records request and denied the writ as to the remaining public records requests, holding that Howard was entitled to mandamus in part.Howard, an inmate, brought this action seeking a writ of mandamus to produce records and documents in response to several records requests. Howard sought an award of statutory damages as to each request. The Supreme Court (1) granted the writ ordering Respondents to provide records responsive to three public records requests; and (2) denied the writ as to the remaining requests because Howard no longer sought mandamus relief as to those public records requests. View "State ex rel. Howard v. Watson" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the judgment of the court of appeals granting summary judgment on Plaintiff's claim under the Open Meetings Act, Ohio Rev. Code 121.22 and denying Plaintiff's request for an award of statutory damages under the Public Records Act, Ohio Rev. Code 149.43(C)(2), holding that the court of appeals erred in its analysis of the statutory damages issue.In an earlier appeal, the Supreme Court reversed the court of appeals' grant of summary judgment for the Portage County Board of Commissioners, the Portage County Solid Waste Management District Board of Commissioners (SWMD) and the Portage County Court of Common Pleas and remanded the case with instructions that the court of appeals to determine whether Plaintiff was entitled to relief under the Open Meetings Act and Public Records Act. The court of appeals granted summary judgment for the board and the SWMD and denied statutory damages. The Supreme Court remanded the matter, holding that Plaintiff was entitled to an award of statutory damages. View "State ex rel. Ames v. Portage County Bd. of Commissioners" on Justia Law