Articles Posted in Communications Law

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In 2015, the Sacramento News and Review (the newspaper), published by appellant Chico Community Publishing, Inc., investigated Sacramento’s then-Mayor Kevin Johnson and his staff’s use of city resources in the take over and eventual bankruptcy of the National Conference of Black Mayors (the National Conference). As part of that investigation, the newspaper made a request to the City of Sacramento (the City) pursuant to the Act for e-mails in the City’s possession that were sent from private e-mail accounts associated with Johnson’s office. In the City’s review of the records on its servers, it identified communications between Johnson’s office and the law firm which represented the National Conference in its bankruptcy proceedings and Johnson, along with the National Conference, in litigation connected with Johnson’s contested election as the National Conference’s president. The City flagged these e-mails as potentially containing attorney-client privileged information. It then contacted the law firm to notify it that the City was compelled to release these emails because the City had no authority to assert attorney-client privilege over the records on behalf of outside counsel. The law firm contacted the newspaper and asked it to agree the City could withhold any records it determined included attorney-client communications. The newspaper refused and contacted the City, which admitted telling the law firm that some of the emails may have been privileged. Following the newspaper’s refusal to allow the City to withhold e-mails containing attorney-client communications, the National Conference, Johnson in his official capacity as the former president of the National Conference, and Edwin Palmer in his official capacity as Chapter 7 Trustee for the National Conference filed a petition for peremptory writ of mandate against the City and its City Attorney’s Office to prevent disclosure of records to the newspaper. A requester of public records who successfully litigates against a public agency for disclosure of those records is entitled to reasonable attorney fees under the California Public Records Act. The issue this case presented for the Court of Appeal's review was whether the Act also allowed for an award of attorney fees to a requester when the requester litigates against an officer of a public agency in a mandamus action the officer initiated to keep the public agency from disclosing records it agreed to disclose. The Court concluded the answer was "no." View "Nat'l Conference of Black Mayors v. Chico Community Publishing, Inc." on Justia Law

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In 2012, a Pasadena officer shot and killed an unarmed man, resulting in multiple investigations, including by the Office of Independent Review Group (OIR). The Los Angeles Times made requests under the California Public Records Act (PRA), Gov. Code, 6250, seeking disclosure of the OIR’s 2014 report. Officers sought to enjoin the report’s disclosure. The court of appeal affirmed the denial of the officers' petition in 2015, finding that the report is a public document, and remanded for issuance of a new or modified judgment. The Times then sought attorney fees from the city under the PRA and from the two involved police officers and the Pasadena Police Officers Association, under the private attorney general statute (Code Civ. Proc., 1021.5). The trial court awarded the Times limited fees against the city and declined to award the Times any fees under section 1021.5. The court of appeal affirmed the award of limited fees under the PRA but reversed the order awarding no fees under the private attorney general statute, directing the trial court to award the Times reasonable fees against the officers and/or the Pasadena Police Officers Association. View "Pasadena Police Officers Association v. City of Pasadena" on Justia Law

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HomeAway, an online forum that allows owners to list their properties for short-term rentals and connect with individuals who want to rent a house or apartment, rather than stay in a hotel, is not a party to those rental transactions. San Francisco requires owners who rent out property to obtain a registration certificate from the treasurer; short-term renters must pay a transient occupancy tax. A recent report on short-term rentals in San Francisco showed that most owners did not comply with those requirements. San Francisco obtained a court to enforce an administrative subpoena, requiring HomeAway.com to disclose data about San Francisco rental transactions. The court of appeal affirmed the order, rejecting arguments that the subpoena violated the Stored Communications Act, 18 U.S.C. 2701–2712, which regulates the government’s ability to compel disclosure of some electronic data stored on the Internet, and that enforcing the subpoena would violate its customers’ constitutional rights. Even if HomeAway is “covered” by the Act, there is no violation because San Francisco used an authorized procedure. In addition, the subpoena does not require HomeAway to disclose electronic communications but seeks very specific information about hosts who use HomeAway to offer to rent property and about bookings. It does not command HomeAway to produce any customer's electronic communication or login information. View "City and County of San Francisco v. HomeAway.com, Inc." on Justia Law

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HomeAway, an online forum that allows owners to list their properties for short-term rentals and connect with individuals who want to rent a house or apartment, rather than stay in a hotel, is not a party to those rental transactions. San Francisco requires owners who rent out property to obtain a registration certificate from the treasurer; short-term renters must pay a transient occupancy tax. A recent report on short-term rentals in San Francisco showed that most owners did not comply with those requirements. San Francisco obtained a court to enforce an administrative subpoena, requiring HomeAway.com to disclose data about San Francisco rental transactions. The court of appeal affirmed the order, rejecting arguments that the subpoena violated the Stored Communications Act, 18 U.S.C. 2701–2712, which regulates the government’s ability to compel disclosure of some electronic data stored on the Internet, and that enforcing the subpoena would violate its customers’ constitutional rights. Even if HomeAway is “covered” by the Act, there is no violation because San Francisco used an authorized procedure. In addition, the subpoena does not require HomeAway to disclose electronic communications but seeks very specific information about hosts who use HomeAway to offer to rent property and about bookings. It does not command HomeAway to produce any customer's electronic communication or login information. View "City and County of San Francisco v. HomeAway.com, Inc." on Justia Law

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Verizon Wireless obtained approval from the City of San Diego (the City, together respondents) to construct a wireless telecommunications facility (WCF, the Project) in Ridgewood Neighborhood Park (the Park), a dedicated park. Don't Cell Our Parks (DCOP), a not-for-profit entity, filed a petition for writ of mandate challenging the City's determination. The trial court denied the petition, concluding that under San Diego City Charter section 55 (Charter 55), the City had control and management of dedicated parks and the discretion to determine whether a particular park use would change the use or purpose of the Park and thus require a public vote. The Court of Appeal concluded the Project did not constitute a changed use or purpose that required voter approval. DCOP also claimed the Project did not qualify under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) for a categorical exemption under CEQA Guidelines section 153031 which pertained to the construction of new small facilities. The Court rejected this argument too, and thus affirmed the trial court in full. View "Don't Cell Our Parks v. City of San Diego" on Justia Law

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The owners of Pine Meadow Golf Course in Martinez sold the property to a developer. The city approved construction of a 99-unit single-family home subdivision, with improvements. Objectors circulated a petition opposing the planned development, seeking a referendum to reverse the approval. The owners and developer alleged that objectors used the name Friends of Pine Meadow to deceive fellow citizens into believing they were friends with the golf course owners, and attempted to inform people “about the true nature of the Friends of Pine Meadow.” The owners and developers filed suit, alleging interference with prospective economic advantage and defamation and seeking damages and injunctive relief. The trial court granted the objectors’ special motion to strike plaintiffs’ complaint under Code of Civil Procedure section 425.16, the anti-SLAPP (Strategic Law Suit Against Public Participation) law. The court of appeal affirmed, rejecting an argument that the claims arose out of commercial speech, which is not protected activity under the anti-SLAPP law. The statute makes no reference to commercial speech. Every claim in the complaint seeks to punish and/or suppress speech that relates to an official proceeding about a public issue. View "Dean v. Friends of Pine Meadow" on Justia Law

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Area 51 used Alameda city property for events it planned for third-party companies. PM assisted the city with managing the license arrangements. Due to problems connected with Area 51 events, the city ceased doing business with it. Area 51 had committed to third-party entities based on PM’s previous confirmation of the city’s willingness to license space. Area 51 sued. Defendants (city, PM, and individuals) filed a demurrer and a motion to strike under Code of Civil Procedure section 425.16, the anti-SLAPP (strategic lawsuit against public participation) statute. The court denied that motion and granted the demurrer. The court of appeal reversed in part. While the thrust of the claims against the city is breach of contract, the individual defendants were not contracting parties; the sole basis for asserting liability against them is what they did on behalf of the city. That conduct is expressive in nature (emails confirming dates, and announcing termination of the leasing relationship), which qualify as “written or oral statement[s] . . . made in connection with an issue under consideration . . . by a[n] . . . executive . . . body,” under the anti-SLAPP law. Area 51 could not show a probability of prevailing on the merits. The case was remanded for consideration of an award of attorneys’ fees and costs. View "Area 51 Productions, Inc. v. City of Alameda" on Justia Law

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In the underlying operative complaint, plaintiff Dalia Rojas pleaded two causes of action against defendants HSBC Card Services Inc. and HSBC Technology & Services (USA) Inc. (together HSBC) based on HSBC's alleged violations of Rojas's right to privacy under the California Invasion of Privacy Act (Privacy Act). Rojas alleged that HSBC intentionally recorded certain of her confidential telephone conversations in violation of: section 632(a), which prohibited one party to a telephone call from intentionally recording a confidential communication without the knowledge or consent of the other party; and section 632.7(a), which prohibited the intentional recording of a communication using a cellular or cordless telephone. Rojas appealed the grant of summary judgment in favor of HSBC. The Court of Appeal agreed with Rojas that, because HSBC did not meet its initial burden under Code of Civil Procedure section 437c (p)(2), the trial court erred in granting HSBC's motion for summary judgment. Accordingly, that judgment was reversed and the matter was remanded with directions to enter an order denying HSBC's motion. View "Rojas v. HSBC Card Services" on Justia Law

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In the underlying operative complaint, plaintiff Dalia Rojas pleaded two causes of action against defendants HSBC Card Services Inc. and HSBC Technology & Services (USA) Inc. (together HSBC) based on HSBC's alleged violations of Rojas's right to privacy under the California Invasion of Privacy Act (Privacy Act). Rojas alleged that HSBC intentionally recorded certain of her confidential telephone conversations in violation of: section 632(a), which prohibited one party to a telephone call from intentionally recording a confidential communication without the knowledge or consent of the other party; and section 632.7(a), which prohibited the intentional recording of a communication using a cellular or cordless telephone. Rojas appealed the grant of summary judgment in favor of HSBC. The Court of Appeal agreed with Rojas that, because HSBC did not meet its initial burden under Code of Civil Procedure section 437c (p)(2), the trial court erred in granting HSBC's motion for summary judgment. Accordingly, that judgment was reversed and the matter was remanded with directions to enter an order denying HSBC's motion. View "Rojas v. HSBC Card Services" on Justia Law

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Bartholomew publishes Christian ministry music and is a volunteer national spokesperson and the opening act for "Mission: PreBorn" concerts. Bartholomew wrote a pro-life song, “What Was Your Name,” produced a video for the song, and created an account with YouTube, agreeing to be bound by its terms of service. Bartholomew uploaded the video to YouTube, which assigned a URL so that it could be viewed on the internet. Bartholomew publicly shared the URL. By the time YouTube removed it, she claims, the video had been viewed over 30,000 times. The URL for Bartholomew’s video opened an internet page with the image of a distressed face and a statement: This video has been removed because its content violated YouTube’s Terms of Service.’ The screen did not refer to Bartholomew. It contained a hyperlink to a list of examples and tips, YouTube’s “Community Guideline Tips.” Bartholomew sued, claiming that the statement and the Guidelines harmed her reputation (libel per quod). The court of appeal affirmed dismissal, reasoning that, given the breadth of YouTube’s terms of service, and even taking into consideration Bartholomew’s profession, the statement cannot be deemed to subject her to “hatred, contempt, ridicule, or obloquy, or [cause her] to be shunned or avoided” or tend to “injure [her] in [her] occupation.” View "Bartholomew v. YouTube, LLC" on Justia Law