Articles Posted in Communications Law

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Ella Bell, a member of the Alabama State Board of Education ("ASBE"), appealed a circuit court's dismissal of her complaint asserting claims of defamation, invasion of privacy, the tort of outrage, negligence and wantonness, and conspiracy against Cameron Smith, Advance Local Media, LLC ("ALM"), and the R Street Institute ("R Street"). In June 2017, Bell attended a special-called meeting of the ASBE concerning elementary- and secondary-education matters. Among other matters, the ASBE decided during the meeting not to renew the Alabama State Department of Education's contract with ACT Spire Solutions, which provided ACT Spire Assessments for the purpose of tracking academic progress of Alabama's public-school students in kindergarten through 12th grade. In the course of the discussion between ASBE members about that contract, Bell made some comments regarding special-education students and their effect on the aggregate test scores of public-school students throughout the state. In August, AL.com published an article written by Cameron Smith in which he addressed some of Bell's comments in the June 2017, ASBE meeting. At the conclusion of the article, AL.com included the following tagline: "Cameron Smith is a regular columnist for AL.com and vice president for the R Street Institute, a think tank in Washington, D.C." Immediately after the tagline, AL.com included the following statement: "Ella Bell's contact information may be found on the [ASBE] website" and contained an embedded link to the Web site of the ASBE. Following that statement, AL.com embedded a video of the discussion by ASBE members, which included Bell's comments that Smith addressed in the article. Bell alleged Smith made statements that he knew were false about Bell's comments in the June 2017 ASBE meeting. The Alabama Supreme Court found a fair reading of Smith's article revealed it to be an expression of opinion that did not mislead readers about the content of Bell's actual statements, it was not necessary for the circuit court to wait until the summary-judgment stage to dispose of the claims against Smith, ALM, and R Street. Therefore, the circuit court did not err in dismissing Bell's defamation suit. View "Bell v. Smith" on Justia Law

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Dothan/Houston County Communications District and Ozark/Dale County E-911, Inc. ("the districts"), sued Century Tel of Alabama, LLC ("CTA"), and Qwest Communications Company, LLC (collectively, "the defendants"), seeking, among other things, to recover E-911 charges that the defendants were alleged to have not properly billed and collected in accordance with the Emergency Telephone Service Act ("ETSA"). The defendants moved the circuit court to dismiss the complaint pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), Ala. R. Civ. P. The circuit court denied the defendants' motion. The defendants then petitioned the Supreme Court for permission to appeal from the circuit court's interlocutory order. The defendants contended that the "repealed-statute rule" prohibited the districts from suing to collect unpaid 911 charges requested to be levied prior to October 1, 2013. Specifically, the defendants argued that no cause of action could be brought for violation of a statute after that statute had been repealed. Further, the defendants argued that the districts' claims were barred because the ETSA did not authorize a private right of action against telephone-service providers for failing to bill and collect the 911 charges from subscribers. Upon review, the Supreme Court affirmed the circuit court. The Court found the statute at issue here was not repealed by subsequent acts by the Legislature, but amended, and civil actions were expressly authorized by Alabama law to bill and collect the 911 fees used by E-911 services to operate and maintain the emergency-communications system. View "Century Tel of Alabama, LLC v. Dothan/Houston Cty Comm. Dist." on Justia Law

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This appeal arose from a dispute between the Alabama Commercial Mobile Radio Services ("CMRS") Board (CMRS Board) and T-Mobile South, LLC and PowerTel Memphis, Inc. (collectively, T-Mobile) two providers of wireless telephone services, regarding emergency "911" service charges for purchasers of prepaid wireless service. From May 2003 through May 2005, T-Mobile paid the 911 service charge on behalf of its prepaid CMRS connections. In June 2005, T-Mobile ceased paying the 911 service charge for its prepaid connections. but resumed paying the service charge in 2007. T-Mobile never collected the service charge from any of its prepaid customers. T-Mobile requested a refund of CMRS service charges it had paid the CMRS Board from May 2003 through May 2005. The CMRS Board denied the request. T-Mobile then filed a declaratory judgment action against the CMRS Board and the members of the CMRS Board individually and in their official capacities, seeking a judgment declaring that the service charge did not apply to prepaid wireless service. The Board filed a motion to dismiss, which the trial court subsequently denied. The trial court eventually entered an order denying T-Mobile's summary judgment motion and granting the Board's motion. Upon review, the Supreme Court found that the legislature's intent was to impose the service charge on all CMRS connections, including those provided by T-Mobile to its prepaid customers. And under Alabama law, T-Mobile was not excused from paying the service charges. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the trial court's judgment. View "T-Mobile South, LLC v. Bonet" on Justia Law