Justia Government & Administrative Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Communications Law
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A group of telecommunications carriers, including Assurance Wireless USA, L.P., MetroPCS California, LLC, Sprint Spectrum LLC, T-Mobile USA, Inc., and T-Mobile West LLC, sued the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) over a rule change. The CPUC had altered the mechanism for charging telecommunications providers to fund California’s universal service program. Previously, the program was funded based on revenue, but due to declining revenues, the CPUC issued a rule imposing surcharges on telecommunications carriers based on the number of active accounts, or access lines, rather than revenue.The carriers sought a preliminary injunction against the access line rule, arguing that it was preempted by the Telecommunications Act, which requires providers of interstate telecommunications services to contribute to the Federal Communications Commission's (FCC) universal service mechanisms on an equitable and nondiscriminatory basis. The carriers argued that the access line rule was inconsistent with the FCC's rule and was inequitable and discriminatory.The United States District Court for the Northern District of California denied the preliminary injunction. The court found that the carriers were unlikely to succeed on the merits of their express preemption claims. It held that the access line rule was not inconsistent with the FCC's rule and was not inequitable or discriminatory.On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision. The appellate court agreed that the carriers were unlikely to succeed on the merits of their claims. It held that the access line rule was not inconsistent with the FCC's rule and was not inequitable or discriminatory. The court concluded that the carriers had failed to show that the access line rule burdened the FCC's universal service programs or that it unfairly advantaged or disadvantaged any provider. View "ASSURANCE WIRELESS USA, L.P. V. ALICE REYNOLDS" on Justia Law

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In 2021, New York enacted the Affordable Broadband Act (ABA), which required internet service providers to offer broadband internet to qualifying households at reduced prices. A group of trade organizations representing internet service providers sued, arguing that the ABA was preempted by federal law. The district court agreed with the plaintiffs and granted a preliminary injunction barring New York from enforcing the ABA. The parties later requested that the district court enter a stipulated final judgment and permanent injunction.The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit disagreed with the lower court's decision. The appellate court concluded that the ABA was not field-preempted by the Communications Act of 1934 (as amended by the Telecommunications Act of 1996), because the Act does not establish a framework of rate regulation that is sufficiently comprehensive to imply that Congress intended to exclude the states from entering the field. The court also concluded that the ABA was not conflict-preempted by the Federal Communications Commission’s 2018 order classifying broadband as an information service. The court reasoned that the order stripped the agency of its authority to regulate the rates charged for broadband internet, and a federal agency cannot exclude states from regulating in an area where the agency itself lacks regulatory authority. Accordingly, the court reversed the judgment of the district court and vacated the permanent injunction. View "New York State Telecommunications Association, Inc. v. James" on Justia Law

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The case involves a professional photographer who sexually exploited a minor. The defendant initially contacted the victim through a social networking site and began communicating with her through various means, eventually soliciting and receiving explicit images of the victim. The defendant also met the victim in person and sexually abused her. After the victim's parents reported the exploitation to the police, an investigation was launched. The police seized a computer tower, an external hard drive, and other items from the defendant's former residence. A forensic examination of the hard drives revealed explicit images of the victim, communications between the defendant and the victim, and hundreds of images of unidentified females in various stages of undress.The defendant was indicted on multiple counts, including aggravated rape of a child and enticement of a minor. He pleaded guilty to all charges, except for the eight counts of aggravated rape of a child, where he pleaded guilty to the lesser included offense of statutory rape. After being sentenced, the defendant filed a motion for the return of the seized property. The Commonwealth opposed the return of the property, arguing that it was in the "public interest" to destroy the devices. The Superior Court denied the defendant's request for the return of certain property.The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts granted an application for direct appellate review. The court concluded that the procedural requirements set forth in G. L. c. 276, §§ 4 to 8, must be followed before a forfeiture decree may be issued under G. L. c. 276, § 3. The court vacated the Superior Court orders denying the return of certain property to the defendant and remanded the case for further proceedings consistent with its opinion. View "Commonwealth v. James" on Justia Law

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The case involves two Chinese-owned companies, Hikvision USA, Inc. and Dahua Technology USA Inc., that manufacture video cameras and video-surveillance equipment. They challenged an order by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that implemented the Secure Equipment Act (SEA), which prevented the marketing or sale in the U.S. of their products listed on the “Covered List,” a list of communications equipment considered a threat to U.S. national security.The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit held that the SEA ratified the composition of the Covered List and left no room for the petitioners to challenge the placement of their products on that list under a predecessor statute. However, the court agreed with the petitioners that the FCC’s definition of “critical infrastructure” was overly broad.The court concluded that the FCC's order prohibiting the authorization of petitioners' equipment for sale and marketing in the U.S. for use in the physical security surveillance of critical infrastructure was upheld. However, the portions of the FCC’s order defining “critical infrastructure” were vacated, and the case was remanded to the Commission to align its definition and justification for it with the statutory text of the National Defense Authorization Act. View "Hikvision USA, Inc. v. FCC" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court of the State of Washington heard a case involving Assurance Wireless USA LP, a telecommunications company that provides wireless services to low-income consumers as part of the federal "Lifeline" program. Assurance contested the Department of Revenue's tax assessments on the reimbursements they received for their services, arguing that the transactions were not retail sales. The Board of Tax Appeals (BTA) upheld the tax assessments, finding that the transactions did constitute retail sales and that the tax burden fell on the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC), the nonprofit appointed by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to administer the Lifeline program.The Supreme Court agreed that the transactions were retail sales and that USAC, not the Lifeline consumers or the FCC, bore the legal incidence of the tax. However, the Court concluded that USAC operates as an instrumentality of the federal government, meaning that the retail sales tax violated the intergovernmental tax immunity doctrine as applied in this case. The Court ultimately reversed the decision of the Court of Appeals and remanded the case to the BTA for further proceedings in line with this opinion. View "Assurance Wireless USA, LP v. Dep't of Revenue" on Justia Law

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In this case, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit was asked to consider an appeal brought by BuzzFeed, Inc. and one of its journalists, Jason Leopold, against a decision of the District Court granting summary judgment to the Department of Justice (DOJ). The appellants sought the release of a partially redacted report on HSBC Bank's conduct under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The District Court had ruled that the report was entirely exempt from disclosure under FOIA Exemption 8 which protects reports related to the regulation or supervision of financial institutions.The Court of Appeals held that the case must be remanded to the District Court to determine whether the DOJ can demonstrate that the release of any part of the report could foreseeably harm an interest protected by Exemption 8. The Court stressed the requirement for a sequential inquiry: first, whether an exemption applies to a document; and second, whether releasing the information would foreseeably harm an interest protected by the exemption. The Court found that the District Court had not sufficiently conducted this sequential inquiry, and the DOJ had not adequately demonstrated how the release of the report would cause foreseeable harm to an interest protected by Exemption 8.The Court noted that the FOIA requires agencies to release any reasonably segregable portion of a record, even if an exemption covers an entire agency record. The Court determined that the DOJ had not satisfactorily explained why the release of a redacted version of the report would cause foreseeable harm to an interest protected by Exemption 8. Therefore, the Court vacated the District Court's grant of summary judgment to the DOJ and remanded the case for further consideration. View "Leopold v. DOJ" on Justia Law

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In the case before the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, the Borough of Longport and the Township of Irvington, two New Jersey municipalities, sued Netflix, Inc. and Hulu, LLC, two popular video streaming companies. The municipalities sought to enforce a provision of the New Jersey Cable Television Act (CTA), which requires cable television entities to pay franchise fees to municipalities. The CTA, however, does not provide an express right of action for municipalities to enforce its provisions. The court had to determine whether the CTA implies such a right. The court concluded that it does not and affirmed the judgment of the District Court. The court found that the CTA expressly vests all enforcement authority in the Board of Public Utilities (BPU) and that it would be inconsistent with the purposes of the CTA to infer the existence of a private right of action for municipalities. The court rejected the municipalities' argument that the New Jersey Constitution recognizes that municipalities have powers of "necessary or fair implication", stating that this cannot change the plain meaning of statutes or provide municipalities with statutory enforcement authority that would directly conflict with the statute. View "Borough of Longport v. Netflix Inc" on Justia 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