Justia U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals 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 this case, the plaintiff, a victim of sex trafficking, brought a putative class action against various entities, including foreign-based defendants who operated websites on which videos of her abuse were uploaded and viewed. The district court dismissed the claims against the foreign-based defendants for lack of personal jurisdiction. On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed and vacated in part, holding that the district court erred in its conclusion.The Ninth Circuit found that the plaintiff had established a prima facie case for the exercise of specific personal jurisdiction over two foreign defendants, WebGroup Czech Republic, a.s. ("WGCZ") and NKL Associates, s.r.o. ("NKL"), which operated the websites. The court concluded that the plaintiff had shown that these defendants had purposefully directed their activities toward the United States, that her claims arose from these forum-related activities, and that the exercise of jurisdiction would be reasonable.The court based its decision on several factors. WGCZ and NKL had contracted with U.S.-based content delivery network services to ensure faster website loading times and a more seamless viewing experience for U.S. users, demonstrating that they had actively targeted the U.S. market. They also profited significantly from U.S. web traffic. Furthermore, the harm the plaintiff suffered—namely, the publication of videos of her abuse on the defendants' websites—had occurred in the U.S., and a substantial volume of the widespread publication of the videos occurred in the U.S.As for the remaining foreign defendants, the court vacated the district court's dismissal of them because it was based solely on the incorrect assumption that there was no personal jurisdiction over WGCZ and NKL. The court remanded the case for further proceedings to determine whether personal jurisdiction could be asserted against these additional defendants. View "DOE V. WEBGROUP CZECH REPUBLIC, A.S." on Justia Law

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The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed the lower court's order to compel arbitration and dismiss without prejudice a series of lawsuits against several sports goods e-commerce companies (the defendants). The lawsuits were brought by several plaintiffs, who were consumers that purchased goods online from the defendants and had their personal information stolen during a data breach on the defendants' websites. The defendants moved to compel arbitration based on the arbitration provision in their terms of use. The appellate court held that the plaintiffs had sufficient notice of the arbitration provision and that the arbitration clause was not invalid under California law, was not unconscionable, and did not prohibit public injunctive relief. Furthermore, the parties agreed to delegate the question of arbitrability to an arbitrator according to the commercial rules and procedures of JAMS, a private alternative dispute resolution provider. View "PATRICK V. RUNNING WAREHOUSE, LLC" on Justia Law

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In the case before the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, Best Carpet Values, Inc. and Thomas D. Rutledge initiated a class action lawsuit against Google, LLC. The plaintiffs argued that Google, through its Search App on Android phones, displayed their websites in a way that occupied valuable space for which Google should have paid. They contended that Google received all the benefits of advertising from the use of that space. The plaintiffs made state-law claims for trespass to chattels, implied-in-law contract and unjust enrichment, and violation of California's Unfair Competition Law.The court reviewed questions certified by the district court for interlocutory review. In response to the first question, the court ruled that the website copies displayed on a user's screen should not be protected as chattel, concluding that a cognizable property right did not exist in a website copy. As a result, the plaintiffs’ trespass to chattels claim was dismissed.Addressing the third question, the court held that website owners cannot invoke state law to control how their websites are displayed on a user's screen without being preempted by federal copyright law. The court determined that the manner in which the plaintiffs’ websites were displayed fell within the subject matter of federal copyright law. It also found that the rights asserted by the plaintiffs’ implied-in-law contract and unjust enrichment claim were equivalent to the rights provided by federal copyright law. Thus, the plaintiffs’ state-law claim was preempted by federal copyright law.Given these findings, the court did not address the other certified questions. The Ninth Circuit concluded that the district court erred in denying Google’s motion to dismiss and remanded the case with instructions to dismiss. View "Best Carpet Values, Inc. v. Google LLC" on Justia Law

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The plaintiff, a survivor of childhood sex trafficking, filed a class action suit against a group of foreign and domestic corporations, alleging that they violated federal and California laws by distributing videos of her sexual abuse on the internet. The defendants included the owners and operators of two pornography websites based in the Czech Republic. The plaintiff argued that the court had personal jurisdiction over the foreign defendants under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 4(k)(2), which allows for jurisdiction over a foreign defendant if the claim arises under federal law, the defendant is not subject to jurisdiction in any state's courts, and exercising jurisdiction is consistent with the U.S. Constitution and laws. The district court dismissed the case, ruling that it lacked personal jurisdiction over the foreign defendants.The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed in part and vacated in part the district court's dismissal. The court found that the plaintiff had established a prima facie case that the Czech website operators had purposefully directed their websites at the United States. The court also held that the plaintiff's claims arose from the defendants' forum-related activities, and that the defendants failed to show that the exercise of personal jurisdiction would be unreasonable. Therefore, the court reversed the district court's dismissal of the action against the Czech defendants for lack of personal jurisdiction.The court also vacated the district court's dismissal of nine additional foreign defendants. The district court had dismissed these defendants solely on the grounds that there was no personal jurisdiction over the Czech defendants. The appellate court instructed the district court to address on remand whether personal jurisdiction could be asserted against these additional defendants. View "DOE V. WEBGROUP CZECH REPUBLIC, A.S." on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs appealed the dismissal of their class action, alleging that the Ford Motor Company (“Ford”) made unlawful recordings of their private communications in violation of the Washington Privacy Act (“WPA”).   The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s judgment. The panel rejected Plaintiffs’ request for remand to the Washington state court because it was based on the flawed argument that Ford “self-rebutted the assertion of Art. III jurisdiction” when it alleged that plaintiffs failed to plead a statutory injury under the WPA in its motion to dismiss. The injury-in-fact prong of Article III standing and the merits of a WPA claim are separate inquiries. With respect to constitutional injury-in-fact, the complaint’s allegations plausibly articulated an Article III injury because they claimed a violation of a substantive privacy right. Article III standing was thus satisfied, and the district court properly retained jurisdiction. Turning to the merits of the WPA claim, the panel rejected Plaintiffs’ claim that a violation of the WPA itself is an invasion of privacy that constitutes remediable injury. An invasion of privacy, without more, is insufficient to meet the statutory injury requirements of WPA Section 9.73.060. Plaintiffs must allege an injury to “his or her business, his or her person, or his or her reputation.” The court found that Plaintiffs failed to do so here. View "MARK JONES, ET AL V. FORD MOTOR COMPANY" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff appealed from the district court’s partial judgment granting a motion to dismiss in favor of Defendant, Reward Zone USA, LLC (Reward Zone), in a putative class action lawsuit brought under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA). In Plaintiff’s second cause of action, which is the subject of this opinion, Plaintiff alleged a violation of the TCPA because she received at least three mass marketing text messages from Reward Zone which utilized “prerecorded voices.”   The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s dismissal. The court held the text messages did not use prerecorded voices under the Act because they did not include audible components. The panel relied on the statutory context of the Act and the ordinary meaning of voice, which showed that Congress used the word voice to include only an audible sound, and not a more symbolic definition such as an instrument or medium of expression. The panel addressed Plaintiff’s appeal of the district court’s dismissal of another cause of action under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act in a simultaneously-filed memorandum disposition. View "LUCINE TRIM V. REWARD ZONE USA LLC, ET AL" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed a lawsuit under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act alleging that Defendants sent text messages to a cell phone number that she had placed on the National Do-Not-Call Registry and provided to her thirteen-year-old son. The district court concluded that Plaintiff lacked Article III standing because she failed to allege that she was the “actual user” of the phone or the “actual recipient” of the text messages.   The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court’s dismissal. The panel held that the owner and subscriber of a phone with a number listed on the Do-Not-Call Registry has suffered an injury in fact sufficient to confer Article III standing when unsolicited telemarketing calls or texts are sent to the number in alleged violation of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act. The panel held that the owner and subscriber of the phone suffers a concrete, de facto injury when their right to be free from such communications is violated, even if the communications are intended for or solicited by another individual and even if someone else is using the phone at the time the messages are transmitted. View "KRISTEN HALL V. SMOSH DOT COM, INC., ET AL" on Justia Law

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The Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”) has long monitored local telephone companies’ “access stimulation.” In 2011, the FCC issued rules to address this phenomenon, defining when carriers engage in access stimulation and restricting the rates that they could charge. After local carriers found loopholes in this regulatory system, the FCC revisited and updated these rules, issuing the Updating the Intercarrier Compensation Regime to Eliminate Access Arbitrage (“Access Arbitrage Order”), 34 FCC Rcd. 9035 (2019). Wide Voice, LLC (“Wide Voice”), rearranged its business model and call traffic path in coordination with closely related entities, HD Carrier and Free Conferencing. Wide Voice petitions for review of the FCC’s order, specifically arguing that the FCC unreasonably concluded that it violated Section 201(b) by restructuring its business operations to continue imposing charges that were otherwise prohibited.   The Ninth Circuit denied the petition for review. The panel held that the FCC properly exercised its authority under § 201(b) to hold Wide Voice liable for circumventing its newly adopted rule in the Access Arbitrage Order when the company devised a workaround. Contrary to Wide Voice’s assertions, the FCC need not establish new rules prohibiting the evasion of its existing rules to find a Section 201(b) violation. The panel rejected Wide Voice’s contention that it restructured its business to comply with, rather than evade, the FCC’s new rules. Finally, the panel rejected Wide Voice’s contention that even if the FCC was permitted to find its conduct “unjust and unreasonable,” it did not have fair notice that its practices were unlawful, and therefore the FCC violated its right to due process. View "WIDE VOICE, LLC V. FCC, ET AL" on Justia Law

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The district court ruled that Sections 553 and 605 do not apply when a pirated program is transmitted via Internet streaming. The Ninth Circuit, however, concluded that Plaintiff, a middleman distributor of entertainment display rights, failed to meet its burden on summary judgment to provide evidence sufficient to demonstrate a genuine issue of material fact regarding the method of transmission of the program at issue. Accordingly, the panel declined to reach the merits and affirmed on that alternative ground. View "G AND G CLOSED CIRCUIT EVENTS V. ZIHAO LIU" on Justia Law