Justia U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Communications Law
by
The Fifth Circuit denied Huawei's petition for review challenging an FCC rule barring the use of government subsidies to buy equipment from companies designated security risks to communications networks. As a preliminary matter, the court dismissed Huawei's claims related to the initial designation for lack of jurisdiction based on ripeness grounds.The court concluded that the FCC reasonably interpreted its authority under the Communications Act in formulating the rule. The court found that the agency reasonably interpreted the Act's "public interest" provisions (47 U.S.C. 254(c)(1)(D), in coordination with section 201(b)), to authorize allocation of universal service funds based on the agency's exercise of limited national security judgment. Furthermore, the agency reasonably interpreted the "quality services" provision in section 254(b)(1) to support that exercise. Therefore, the court deferred to the agency's interpretation under Chevron review and rejected Huawei's argument that the agency lacked statutory authority for the rule. The court also considered the companies' other challenges under the Administrative Procedure Act and the Constitution, finding that claims regarding adequacy of notice, arbitrary and capricious review, vagueness, and due process are unavailing. View "Huawei Technologies USA, Inc. v. Federal Communications Commission" on Justia Law

by
Plaintiff filed a class action complaint alleging that 5 Star negligently, willfully, and/or knowingly sent text messages to his cell phone number using an automatic telephone dialing system without prior express consent in violation of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA). The district court dismissed the complaint for lack of standing.The Fifth Circuit reversed, concluding that plaintiff has alleged a cognizable injury in fact: nuisance arising out of an unsolicited text advertisement. The court concluded that the TCPA cannot be read to regulate unsolicited telemarketing only when it affects the home. The court also concluded that plaintiff's injury has a close relationship to common law public nuisance and, moreover, plaintiff alleges a special harm not suffered by the public at large. The court rejected the Eleventh Circuit's holding in Salcedo v. Hanna, 936 F.3d 1162, 1168 n.6 (11th Cir. 2019), and remanded for further proceedings. View "Cranor v. 5 Star Nutrition, LLC" on Justia Law

by
Local exchange carriers (LECs) can assess interexchange carriers (IXCs) access charges when LECs provide IXCs with services that enable the IXCs to exchange wireless-to-wireline calls that originate and terminate within the same Major Trading Area (MTA).In this multidistrict litigation case, IXCs Sprint and Verizon filed suit against hundreds of LECs in various courts. The Fifth Circuit held that, because the LECs filed access charge tariffs with the FCC and state regulators, the filed-rate doctrine requires Sprint, Verizon, and Level 3 to pay those charges. Therefore, the court affirmed the dismissal of Sprint and Verizon's claims for damages and affirmed summary judgment on the LECs' claims and counterclaims. However, the court vacated in part, holding that Sprint and Verizon could be entitled to declaratory relief as to at least some of the LECs. Accordingly, the court remanded the dismissal of Sprint and Verizon's claim for declaratory relief. View "In re: IntraMTA Switched Access Charges Litigation" on Justia Law

by
In regulating the practice of engineering, Mississippi restricts the use of the term “engineer.” Express operates automotive service centers in Mississippi and other states under the Tire Engineers mark. The Mississippi Board of Licensure for Professional Engineers & Surveyors informed Express that the name Tire Engineers violated Miss. Code 73-13-39 and requested that it change its company advertisement name. Express sought a declaratory judgment, citing Express’s “rights of commercial free speech guaranteed by the First Amendment”; and “rights under preemptive federal trademark law” under 15 U.S.C. 1051–1127. The district court granted the Board summary judgment. The Fifth Circuit reversed. The Board’s decision violates the First Amendment’s commercial speech protections. Because its essential character is not deceptive, Tire Engineers is not inherently misleading. The name, trademarked since 1948, apparently refers to the work of mechanics using their skills “not usu[ally] considered to fall within the scope of engineering” to solve “technical problems” related to selecting, rotating, balancing, and aligning tires. Nor is the name actually misleading. Because the name is potentially misleading, the Board’s asserted interests are substantial but the record does not support the need for a total ban on the name. Other states with similar statutes have not challenged the use of the trademark and the Board did not address why less-restrictive means, such as a disclaimer, would not accomplish its goal. View "Express Oil Change, L.L.C. v. Mississippi Board of Licensure for Professional Engineers & Surveyors" on Justia Law

by
The Fifth Circuit denied WCX's petition for review of the FCC's order denying its application for review to apply the Automatic Roaming Rule to its dispute. The court held that any alleged error that the Commission may have made in stating that WCX requested Mobile Broadband Internet Access Services was harmless and therefore did not warrant vacatur; the Commission did not act arbitrarily or capriciously in concluding that the Data Roaming Rule applied to this dispute; and the Commission's determination that AT&T's proposed rates were commercially reasonable was supported by substantial evidence and not arbitrary and capricious. View "Worldcall Interconnect, Inc. v. FCC" on Justia Law

by
The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment dismissing plaintiff's complaint for failure to state a claim against Verizon under the Stored Communications Act (SCA), 18 U.S.C. 2701–2712. The court applied an objective standard to the good faith requirements found in sections 2702(c)(4) and 2707(e)(1) of the SCA and asked if Verizon's conduct was objectively reasonable. The court held that, taking all factual allegations as true and construing the facts in the light most favorable to plaintiff, Verizon acted in an objectively reasonable manner. In this case, Verizon only released the non-content information tied to plaintiff's cell phone number after it received a signed and certified form indicating that the request involved the danger of death or serious physical injury to a person, necessitating the immediate release of information, an alleged arson, and victims who were within the home when it was set on fire. Moreover, the government official who submitted the form listed his identifying information. Therefore, Verizon was protected from liability under the SCA or any other law for releasing the records both by the immunity provided by section 2703(e) and the complete defense created by section 2707(e)(1). View "Alexander v. Verizon Wireless Services, LLC" on Justia Law

by
CenturyLink filed suit against Sprint for damages resulting from Sprint's refusal to pay $8.7 million in access charges. Sprint counterclaimed, seeking a declaration that it was not required to pay CenturyLink the higher statutory "tariff" rates under federal and state laws. The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's conclusion that Sprint was required to pay CenturyLink the challenged tariff-rate access charges. In this case, the district court did not clearly err in finding Sprint was operating as an interexchange carrier in providing its VoIP-to-traditional-format transfer service, rather than as an information-service provider. Therefore, Sprint was obligated to pay for the federal tariff rates billed by CenturyLink. The court noted that, because Sprint failed to raise preemption on appeal, the state law tariffs could not be challenged here. The court also affirmed the district court's conclusion that Sprint engaged in unjust and unreasonable practices when it retroactively clawed-back funds by not paying charges it undisputedly owed. View "CenturyTel of Chatham, LLC v. Sprint Communications Co." on Justia Law

by
This case arose from a New York Times article about Senator Rand Paul, which briefly quotes Walter Block, an economics professor. Block filed suit against defendants asserting claims for defamation and false light invasion of privacy. Although Block does not dispute that he made the statements at issue, he argues that the article takes the statements so far out of context as to make them untrue and defamatory. The district court granted a special motion to strike under Louisiana Code of Civil Procedure article 971 (anti-SLAPP law), dismissed the complaint, and awarded defendants attorney's fees. In Lozovyy v. Kurtz, the court interpreted Louisiana law and concluded that “the Louisiana Supreme Court would recognize that Article 971’s ‘probability of success’ standard does not permit courts to weigh evidence, assess credibility, or resolve disputed issues of material fact.” Because the district court lacked the benefit of the court's recent guidance in Lozovyy, the court vacated and remanded for the district court to apply the standard. On remand, the district court should consider whether Block has established a genuine dispute of material fact on each element of his claims. View "Block v. New York Times Co." on Justia Law

by
Plaintiff filed suit against DISH for violations of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, 47 U.S.C. 227, because DISH called plaintiff's cell phone 15 times to collect an unpaid balance. The district court granted partial summary judgment sustaining plaintiff's claims in regards to seven of the calls. The remaining calls were later settled. Concluding that the court has jurisdiction over the appeal, the court held that making a call in which a prerecorded voice might, but does not, play is not a violation of the TCPA. Instead, the prerecorded voice must “speak” during the call. DISH proferred that calls 2 through 5 did not result in a prerecorded voice being used because no prerecorded voice was played as these calls were not met by a positive voice. DISH conceded that phone calls number 1, 6, and 7 created TCPA liability. The court concluded that the district court erred in granting partial summary judgment to plaintiff for the seven calls where summary judgment should be granted to DISH on four of the seven calls and DISH conceded liability as to the remaining three calls. View "Ybarra v. Dish Network, L.L.C." on Justia Law

by
This case involved the rights to broadcast the Floyd "Money" Mayweather, Jr. v. Ricky Watton WBC Welterweight Championship Fight. On appeal, defendants challenged summary judgment in favor of J&J on its Federal Communication Act (FCA) claims pursuant to 47 U.S.C. 553 & 605. J&J alleged that defendants violated sections 553 and 605 by receiving and displaying the fight without first paying a licensing fee to J&J. The court concluded that J&J failed to meet its summary judgment burden under section 553 where there was at least a dispute of material fact as to whether defendants fell into the "safe harbor," that precluded the imposition of liability on the majority of cable recipients - customers of cable providers. This exclusion constrained the reach of the statute by exempting from liability those individuals who receive authorization from a cable operator. The court joined the majority of circuits in holding that section 605 does not encompass the conduct presented here: the receipt or interception of communications by wire from a cable system. The court concluded that the plain language of the statute compelled this interpretation. Accordingly, the court reversed and remanded. View "J&J Sports Productions, Inc. v. Mandell Family Ventures L.L.C., et al." on Justia Law