Justia Alabama Supreme Court Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Communications Law
In 1992, Leslie Hill pleaded guilty to five misdemeanor counts of distributing obscene material for renting adult videos at a video-rental store he owned. In November 2013, Hill was arrested in Homewood on a misdemeanor charge of harassing communications. Pursuant to that arrest, the Sheriff's Department determined that, based on Hill's 1992 convictions, he was required to register as a sex offender under the Sex Offender Registration and Community Notification Act ("SORNA"). Hill refused to do so on the ground that the 1992 convictions did not qualify as sex offenses under SORNA. The Sheriff's Department collaborated with WVTM-TV on a weekly televised news segment entitled "To Catch a Predator;" the Department would “select somebody that we were either having trouble finding or somebody that had refused to come register or whatever the case may be. . . .And we would type up a script for the Sheriff to read, and then we would take it over to his office and he would read it basically in front of one of the TV cameras in his office to run on TV." Hill was featured on the December 6, 2013, segment of "To Catch a Predator." After the December 6 broadcast, Hill, through his attorney, contacted the district attorney’s office expressing his opinion that his 1992 convictions did not constitute a sex offense under SORNA. A deputy district attorney agreed and requested that the warrants be recalled. On December 10, 2013, both warrants issued against Hill were recalled. Neither Hill nor his attorney contacted WVTM after the December 6 broadcast to inform it that the warrants against Hill had been recalled. On a December 13 airing of the program, a news anchor stated the warrants against Hill had been recalled. Nevertheless, Hill sued Sheriff Hale, a deputy and lieutenant, and WVTM, alleging state-law claims of defamation, false light, negligent training and supervision, and the tort of outrage against all defendants. In appeal no. 1180343, Birmingham Broadcasting (WVTM-TV) appealed a $250,000 judgment entered on a defamation verdict against it. In appeal no. 1180370, Hill appealed the dismissal of all the claims Hill asserted against three members of the Jefferson County Sheriff's Department ("the Sheriff's Department") on the basis of state immunity. After review, the Alabama Supreme Court reversed judgment in appeal no. 1180343 and rendered judgment in favor of WVTM, and affirmed judgment in appeal no. 1180370. View "Birmingham Broadcasting" on Justia Law
Blanks et al. v. TDS Telecommunications LLC
Jason Blanks, Peggy Manley, Kimberly Lee, Nancy Watkins, Randall Smith, Trenton Norton, Earl Kelly, Jennifer Scott, and Alyshia Kilgore (referred to collectively as "the customers") appealed the denial of a motion to compel arbitration and a declaratory judgment entered in an action brought by TDS Telecommunications LLC, and its two affiliates, Peoples Telephone Company, Inc., and Butler Telephone Company, Inc. (referred to collectively as "the Internet providers"). The customers subscribed to Internet service furnished by the Internet providers; their relationship was governed by a written "Terms of Service." The customers alleged that the Internet service they have received was slower than the Internet providers promised them. At the time the customers learned that their Internet service was allegedly deficient, the Terms of Service contained an arbitration clause providing that "any controversy or claim arising out of or relating to [the Terms of Service] shall be resolved by binding arbitration at the request of either party." In the declaratory-judgment action, the trial court ruled that the Internet providers were not required to arbitrate disputes with the customers. The Alabama Supreme Court determined the arbitration clause in the applicable version of the Terms of Service included an agreement between the Internet providers and the customers that an arbitrator was to decide issues of arbitrability, which included the issue whether an updated Terms of Service effectively excluded the customers' disputes from arbitration. Accordingly, the Supreme Court reversed the trial court's denial of the customers' motion to compel arbitration and its judgment declaring the updated Terms of Service "valid and enforceable," and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Blanks et al. v. TDS Telecommunications LLC" on Justia Law
Facebook, Inc. v. K.G.S.
This case stemmed from the adoption of "Baby Doe" by his adoptive mother, K.G.S., which was contested by Baby Doe's birth mother, K.R. ("the birth mother"). Details of that contested adoption were reported by the Huffington Post, a Web-based media outlet, and were also disseminated through a Facebook social-media page devoted to having Baby Doe returned to the birth mother. K.G.S. filed an action in Alabama circuit court seeking, among other things, an injunction against Facebook, Inc., and certain individuals to prohibit the dissemination of information about the contested adoption of Baby Doe. These appeals followed the entry of a preliminary injunction granting K.G.S. the relief she sought. In appeal no. 1170244, the Alabama Supreme Court concluded the preliminary injunction entered against Facebook was void for lack of personal jurisdiction; therefore, Facebook's appeal of the preliminary injunction was dismissed and the trial court was instructed to dismiss K.G.S.'s claims against Facebook. In appeal no. 1170294, the Supreme Court reversed the order entering the preliminary injunction against defendant Renee Gelin was reversed for lack of notice, and the case was remanded with instructions to the trial court to dissolve the preliminary injunction issued against Gelin. In appeal no. 1170336, the Supreme Court reversed the preliminary injunction against Kim McLeod, and remanded this case with instructions to the trial court to dissolve the preliminary injunction issued against McLeod. View "Facebook, Inc. v. K.G.S." on Justia Law
Bell v. Smith
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
Century Tel of Alabama, LLC v. Dothan/Houston Cty Comm. Dist.
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
T-Mobile South, LLC v. Bonet
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