Justia U.S. D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Communications Law
by
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

by
Pacific Networks Corp. and ComNet (USA) LLC, which are companies owned by the People’s Republic of China, held authorizations to operate communication lines in the United States. The Federal Communications Commission revoked these authorizations based on concerns that the carriers posed national security risks and had proven themselves untrustworthy. The carriers argue that the FCC’s reasoning was substantively arbitrary and was rendered with inadequate process.   The DC Circuit denied the petition for review. The court held that the FCC adequately explained its decision to revoke Pacific Networks’ and ComNet’s authorizations, and it afforded adequate process to the carriers. The court explained that the carriers do not seriously contest the FCC’s factual determinations. Instead, they object that the Commission had never revoked a Section 214 authorization based solely on misrepresentations. The carriers cite past cases where concerns about candor or trustworthiness produced only a fine. But those cases did not involve national security risks, which plainly heighten any trustworthiness concerns. Moreover, the court wrote that the FCC reasonably explained why no realistic agreement could have worked given the carriers’ proven lack of trustworthiness. View "Pacific Networks Corp. v. FCC" on Justia Law

by
The district court issued a search warrant in a criminal case, directing appellant Twitter, Inc. ("Twitter") to produce information to the government related to the Twitter account "@realDonaldTrump." The search warrant was served along with a nondisclosure order that prohibited Twitter from notifying anyone about the existence or contents of the warrant. Although Twitter ultimately complied with the warrant, the company did not fully produce the requested information until three days after a court-ordered deadline. The district court held Twitter in contempt and imposed a $350,000 sanction for its delay. On appeal, Twitter argued that the nondisclosure order violated the First Amendment and the Stored Communications Act, that the district court should have stayed its enforcement of the search warrant, and that the district court abused its discretion by holding Twitter in contempt and imposing the sanction.   The DC Circuit affirmed. The court held that it affirmed the district court's rulings in all respects. The court wrote that the district court properly rejected Twitter's First Amendment challenge to the nondisclosure order. Moreover, the district court acted within the bounds of its discretion to manage its docket when it declined to stay its enforcement of the warrant while the First Amendment claim was litigated. Finally, the district court followed the appropriate procedures before finding Twitter in contempt of court - including giving Twitter an opportunity to be heard and a chance to purge its contempt to avoid sanctions. Under the circumstances, the court did not abuse its discretion when it ultimately held Twitter in contempt and imposed a $350,000 sanction. View "In re: Sealed Case (AMENDED REDACTED OPINION)" on Justia Law

by
In a license revocation proceeding before the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the United States sought to admit classified evidence relating to electronic surveillance it had conducted against China Telecom (Americas) Corporation (China Telecom). Pursuant to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA),the government filed this petition for a determination that the electronic surveillance was lawful and that fruits of the surveillance were admissible in the underlying FCC proceedings. After the district court granted the government’s petition, the FCC revoked China Telecom’s license in the underlying action and we then denied China Telecom’s petition for review of the FCC order without relying on or otherwise considering the classified evidence.   The DC Circuit vacated the district court order granting the government’s petition because the government’s petition no longer presents a live controversy. Accordingly, China Telecom’s appeal from the district court order is moot. The court explained that here, the district court’s review of the surveillance materials was triggered by the government’s notice of its intent to use the surveillance in a “trial, hearing, or other proceeding in or before [a] court, department, officer, agency, regulatory body, or other authority of the United States.” In response, China Telecom principally requests disclosure pursuant to section 1806(g), asserting a due process right to discover the classified materials so that it may defend itself in the underlying FCC proceeding. The court explained that any order requiring the government to disclose classified evidence at issue in an FCC revocation proceeding would be wholly ineffectual because the proceedings in which the parties sought to use that evidence have ended. View "USA v. China Telecom (Americas) Corporation" on Justia Law

by
Part of the Transportation Equity Act required the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to “consider, in consultation with the Secretary [of Transportation], spectrum needs for the operation of intelligent transportation systems. The FCC allocated that spectrum in 1999. In 2019, the FCC began a new rulemaking process to ensure that the 5.9 GHz band was put to its best use. The FCC also proposed changing the technology that would be used by intelligent transportation systems; vehicles would need to start using “vehicle-to-everything” communications (in which they send communications to cell towers and other devices) rather than the “dedicated short-range” communications originally permitted in 1999.   The Intelligent Transportation Society of America and the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (“Transportation Petitioners”) now petition for review. They argue that the court should vacate the part of the order reallocating the lower 45 megahertz of spectrum but leave in place the rest of the order dealing with what technology intelligent transportation systems use.   The DC Circuit dismissed the appeal and denied the petitions for review. The court found that the FCC adequately explained its conclusion that “30 megahertz is sufficient for the provision of core vehicle safety related [intelligent transportation system] functions. Further, the court reasoned that FCC may modify the licenses it issues when such modifications promote the public interest. View "Intelligent Transportation Society of America v. FCC" on Justia Law

by
Petitioners, the National Association of Broadcasters, sought a review of an order (“the Order”) of the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”). The Order mandated that radio broadcasters check two federal sources to verify a sponsor’s identity.The DC Circuit vacated the Order holding that the FCC has no authority to impose that verification requirement. The court wrote that the FCC’s verification requirement ignores the limits that the statute places on broadcasters’ narrow duty of inquiry. It instead tells a broadcaster to seek information from two federal sources in addition to the two sources that the statute prescribes. That is not the law that Congress wrote. Here, Congress chose the means for broadcasters to obtain the information necessary to announce who paid for programming: Ask employees and sponsors. The FCC cannot alter Congress’s choice. View "National Association of Broadcasters v. FCC" on Justia Law

by
Petitioners, Northstar Wireless, LLC (“Northstar”), and SNR Wireless LicenseCo, LLC (“SNR”) placed more than $13 billion in winning bids at a Federal Communications Commission  (“Commission”) auction to license wireless spectrum. The Commission determined that neither company was eligible for the very-small-business discount because both were de facto controlled by their biggest investor, the large telecommunications company DISH Network Corporation (“DISH”). Northstar and SNR (collectively, “Companies”) petitioned for a review of that decision.   Northstar and SNR have again sought our review, contending that the Commission flouted this court’s orders in SNR Wireless by not working closely enough with them to reduce DISH’s control, wrongfully found them to be controlled by DISH, and penalized them without fair notice.   The DC Circuit rejected the Companies’ challenges to the Commission’s orders. The court held that the Commission complied with the court’s previous decision by affording the Companies an opportunity to cure. The Commission also reasonably applied its precedent to the Companies and gave them fair notice of the legal standards that it would apply in analyzing their claims to be very small companies. View "Northstar Wireless, LLC v. FCC" on Justia Law

by
Petitioner challenged the Federal Communication Commission’s (“FCC”) rate cap on the provision of tandem switch services. To reduce the incentives for regulatory arbitrage and to encourage companies to transition to lower-cost Internet Protocol technologies, the FCC set a transitional tariffed rate cap of $0.001 per minute for tandem switch services. Inteliquent argued the Commission: (1) ignored its evidence supporting a rate cap of $0.0017 per minute, (2) impermissibly delegated its rate cap decision to USTelecom, a trade association, and/or (3) set the rate cap below Inteliquent’s or other providers’ costs.   The DC Circuit denied Petitioner’s petition for review holding that the FCC Order setting the rate cap for tandem switching services at $0.001 per minute was not arbitrary and capricious. The court reasoned that incentive-based regulation need not accommodate the high-cost practices of every regulated firm, particularly when exigent circumstances, in this instance widespread arbitrage, provide the impetus for the agency’s order. The court explained that here Inteliquent’s submission did not show the Commission’s rate cap was below cost for itself or for any other provider. The court concluded that Inteliquent’s petition rests upon weak data and an outdated approach to price regulation. View "Inteliquent, Inc. v. FCC" on Justia Law

by
The FCC promulgated a regulation which originally authorized the installation on private property, with the owner's consent, of "over-the-air reception devices," regardless of State and local restrictions, "including zoning, land-use, or building regulation[s], or any private covenant, homeowners' association rule or similar restriction on property." The FCC later expanded coverage to include antennas that act as "hub sites" or relay service to other locations. Petitioners, expressing concern about possible health effects from increased radiofrequency exposure, argued that the proliferation of commercial-grade antennas would increase the suffering of those with radiofrequency sensitivity—violating their rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Fair Housing Act (FHA), and the U.S. Constitution's protections of private property and personal autonomy. Petitioners also contend that the amendments would deny affected individuals fair notice and an opportunity to be heard.The DC Circuit first concluded that two of the petitioners' interests are impacted directly by the FCC's order and that CHD has associational standing. The court also concluded that the Commission's citation of and reliance on the Commission's Continental Airlines decision provided sufficient explanation for its authority to expand the regulation to hub-and-relay antennas carrying broadband Internet. The court rejected petitioners' contentions to the contrary that the order is unsupported by Section 303 of the Communications Act. Finally, the court rejected petitioners' contention that the order lacks a reasoned foundation because the Commission disregarded the human health consequences of its action. Rather, the court concluded that the Commission sufficiently explained that its order does not change the applicability of the Commission's radio frequency exposure requirements and that such concerns were more appropriately directed at its radiofrequency rulemaking. Furthermore, the Commission may also preempt restrictions on the placement of the new category of antennas now included in the regulation. Therefore, the court denied the petition challenging the FCC's order. View "Children's Health Defense v. Federal Communications Commission" on Justia Law

by
The Association of American Physicians and Surgeons maintains a website and publishes the Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons, both of which host information concerning “important medical, economic, and legal issues about vaccines,” The Association, joined by an individual, sued a Member of Congress (Schiff) who wrote to several technology and social media companies before and during the COVID-19 pandemic expressing concern about vaccine-related misinformation on their platforms and inquiring about the companies’ policies for handling such misinformation. The Association alleged that the inquiries prompted the technology companies to disfavor and deprioritize its vaccine content, thereby reducing traffic to its web page and making the information more difficult to access.The D.C. Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the complaint for lack of Article III standing. The Association has not plausibly alleged injury-in-fact; it maintains that Schiff’s actions interfered with its “free negotiations” with the technology companies but never alleged that it has made any attempts at such negotiations, nor that it has concrete plans to do so in the future. The Association’s other claimed injuries, to its financial prospects and to its speech and associational interests, are not adequately supported by allegations that any injury is “fairly traceable” to Schiff’s actions. View "Association of American Physicians & Surgeons, Inc. v. Schiff" on Justia Law