Justia Internet Law Opinion Summaries
Johnson v. Griffin
While Johnson, CEO of VisuWell, had dinner at a Franklin, Tennessee hotel, 40-50 teenagers taking prom pictures created a disturbance. Johnson asked the chaperone to settle them down. One teenager, wearing a red prom dress, confronted Johnson, while his boyfriend filmed the interaction. The video captures Johnson saying that the student in the dress “look[s] like an idiot.” Johnson left. The boyfriend posted the video to TikTok and it was reposted to Twitter. VisuWell’s Board assured Johnson that VisuWell would stand by him. Days later, the celebrity Kathy Griffin retweeted the clip to her two million followers: “If this is Sam Johnson in Nashville, Tennessee, the CEO of @VisuWell, healthcare-tech-growth strategist, married to Jill Johnson where they may reside in Franklin, Tennessee, it seems like he’s dying to be online famous,” with a caption: “Homophobic POS in Tennessee harasses a teenager for wearing a dress to prom.” Later, Griffin tweeted pictures of Johnson with the caption: THIS Sam Johnson of Franklin Tennessee. Several VisuWell customers threatened to reevaluate their business ties. VisuWell fired Johnson and announced this decision in a reply to Griffin’s original tweet. Griffin then warned against keeping him on the Board.Johnson sued Griffin in federal court. The district court dismissed the lawsuit for lack of personal jurisdiction. The Sixth Circuit reversed. Griffin’s repeated emphasis of Johnson’s residence and VisuWell’s home base indicates that she knew that the “focal point” of her tweets concerned Tennessee. View "Johnson v. Griffin" on Justia Law
United States v. Agbi
Agbi, born and raised in Nigeria but a resident of the U.S. since 2016, acted as a middleman in a scheme to use fake online dating accounts to solicit hundreds of thousands of dollars from unwitting elderly people. Agbi collected cash at his Indianapolis apartment, took his “cut,” and transferred the rest to accounts in Nigeria. More than 30 months after his arrest, Agbi’s counsel notified the government that Agbi intended to pursue a duress defense, claiming, for the first time, that members of the conspiracy located in Nigeria had threatened Agbi’s family. The district court granted a motion to preclude the defense. At trial, two of the scheme’s victims testified that they were deceived into believing that they were in relationships and sent “hundreds of thousands of dollars.” Secret Service agents described the details of a controlled delivery and Agbi’s subsequent interview.Agbi was convicted of mail fraud, 18 U.S.C. 1341; use of a fictitious name in furtherance of mail fraud, section 1342; conspiracy to commit mail fraud, 1341, 1349; and conspiracy to commit money laundering, 1956(a)(1), 1956(h) and was sentenced to 57 months’ imprisonment. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The evidence supporting each count was legally sufficient to support a conviction. The district court appropriately employed the obstruction of justice enhancement based on its finding that Agbi knowingly submitted a “fake” police report concerning threats against his family. View "United States v. Agbi" on Justia Law
City of East St. Louis v. Netflix, Inc.
The Illinois Cable and Video Competition Law requires operators to obtain statewide authorization and become a “holder” and requires anyone who wants to provide cable or video service to obtain permission from state or local authorities and pay a fee, as a condition of using public rights of way. In recent years traditional cable services have been supplemented or replaced by streaming services that deliver their content through the Internet. East St. Louis, contending that all streaming depends on cables buried under streets or strung over them, sought to compel each streaming service to pay a fee. None of the defendants were “holders.” A magistrate dismissed the complaint, concluding that only the Attorney General of Illinois is authorized to sue an entity that needs but does not possess, “holder” status.The Seventh Circuit affirmed, first concluding that it had jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. 1332(a). Normally the citizenship of any entity other than a corporation depends on the citizenship of its partners and members but, under section 1332(d), part of the Class Action Fairness Act, an unincorporated entity is treated like a corporation. The court then held that the statutory system applies to any “cable service or video service” and the defendants do not offer either. If “phone calls over landline cables, electricity over wires, and gas routed through pipes are not trespasses on the City’s land— and they are not—neither are the electrons that carry movies and other videos.” View "City of East St. Louis v. Netflix, Inc." on Justia Law
Priceline.com Incorporated n/k/a Booking Holdings, Inc., et al. v. Mississippi
"This case hinges on whether Online Travel Companies (OTCs) are encompassed by the definition of hotels found in Mississippi Code Section 41-49-3 (Rev. 2023) and are therefore subject to the tax levied against hotels in Mississippi Code Section 27-65-23 (Rev. 2017)." The chancery court found that the tax was a broad transaction tax that encompassed the OTCs. The chancery court granted partial summary judgment in favor of the State on the issue of liability, rendering the OTCs liable for more than $10 million in past due taxes. The trial court further found that the OTCs had acted willfully and knowingly and in intentional disregard and assessed penalties and interest for a total judgment of more than $50 million. The Mississippi Supreme Court found that the OTCs were not hotels as contemplated by Section 41-49-3. Therefore, the Court reversed the trial court’s grant of partial summary judgment in favor of the State on the issue of liability and renders judgment in favor of the OTCs. View "Priceline.com Incorporated n/k/a Booking Holdings, Inc., et al. v. Mississippi" on Justia Law
Liapes v. Facebook, Inc.
Liapes filed a class action against Facebook, alleging it does not provide women and older people equal access to insurance ads. The Unruh Civil Rights Act prohibits businesses from discriminating against people with protected characteristics (Civ. Code 51, 51.5, 52(a)). Liapes alleged Facebook requires all advertisers to choose the age and gender of users who will receive ads; companies offering insurance products routinely tell it to not send their ads to women or older people. She further alleged Facebook’s ad-delivery algorithm discriminates against women and older people.The trial court dismissed, finding Facebook’s tools neutral on their face and concluding that Facebook was immune under the Communications Decency Act, 47 U.S.C. 230. The court of appeal reversed. Liapes has stated an Unruh Act claim. Facebook, a business establishment, does not dispute women and older people were categorically excluded from receiving various insurance ads. Facebook, not the advertisers, classifies users based on their age and gender via the algorithm. The complaint also stated a claim under an aiding and abetting theory of liability An interactive computer service provider only has immunity if it is not also the content provider. That advertisers are the content providers does not preclude Facebook from also being a content provider by helping develop at least part of the information at issue. View "Liapes v. Facebook, Inc." on Justia Law
State of Missouri v. Biden
Plaintiffs—three doctors, a news website, a healthcare activist, and two states—had posts and stories removed or downgraded by the platforms. Their content touched on a host of divisive topics. Plaintiffs maintain that although the platforms stifled their speech, the government officials were the ones pulling the strings. They sued the officials for First Amendment violations and asked the district court to enjoin the officials’ conduct. In response, the officials argued that they only “sought to mitigate the hazards of online misinformation” by “calling attention to content” that violated the “platforms’ policies,” a form of permissible government speech. The district court agreed with Plaintiffs and granted preliminary injunctive relief. In reaching that decision, it reviewed the conduct of several federal offices but only enjoined the White House, the Surgeon General, the CDC, the FBI, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), and the Department of State. The Fifth Circuit affirmed in part, reversed in part, vacated the injunction in part, and modified the injunction in part. The court explained that the White House officials, in conjunction with the Surgeon General’s office, coerced and significantly encouraged the platforms to moderate content. As a result, the platforms’ actions “must in law be deemed to be that of the State.” Further, the court held that the CDC officials likely significantly encouraged the platforms’ moderation decisions. However, the court found that for the NIAID officials, it is not apparent that they ever communicated with the social media platforms. View "State of Missouri v. Biden" on Justia Law
Federal Trade Commission v. Credit Bureau Center, LLC
Brown’s credit-monitoring business used a “negative option feature” on its websites, offering visitors a free credit report but automatically enrolling them in a $29.94 monthly subscription when they applied for that report. Information about the monthly membership was buried . Brown’s contractors created website traffic by posting Craigslist advertisements for fake rental properties and directing applicants to the websites for a “free” credit score. The FTC sued under Federal Trade Commission Act (FTCA) section 13(b), which authorizes restraining orders and permanent injunctions to enjoin conduct that violates its prohibition of unfair or deceptive trade practices. On its face, section 13(b) authorizes only injunctive relief but the Commission long interpreted it to permit restitution awards—an interpretation adopted by the Seventh Circuit and others.The district court entered a permanent injunction and ordered Brown to pay more than $5 million in restitution. The Seventh Circuit overruled its precedent and held that section 13(b) does not authorize restitution awards.The Supreme Court granted certiorari and held that section 13(b) does not authorize equitable monetary relief. On remand, the Commission argued that the Court’s decision had significantly changed the law and successfully requested the reimposition of the restitution award under the Restore Online Shoppers’ Confidence Act and FTCA section 19. The Seventh Circuit modified the new judgment. Its direction that any funds remaining after providing consumer redress shall be “deposited to the U.S. Treasury as disgorgement” exceeds the remedial scope of section 19, which is limited to redressing consumer injuries. View "Federal Trade Commission v. Credit Bureau Center, LLC" on Justia Law
Baysal v. Midvale Indemnity Co.
Midvale created an “instant quote” feature on their websites. Anyone who supplied basic identifying information could receive a quote for auto insurance. Each site would auto-fill some information, including the number of the applicant’s driver’s license. Anyone could enter a stranger’s name and home address, which caused the form to disclose the number of the stranger’s driver’s license. Midvale discontinued the autofill feature after observing unusual activity suggesting misuse, and notified people whose information had been disclosed improperly. Three people who received Midvale’s notice filed a purported class action under the Driver’s Privacy Protection Act, 18 U.S.C. 2721–25.The district court held that the plaintiffs lacked standing, having failed to show a concrete injury traceable to the disclosure. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, noting that whether the Act applies at all is questionable. Its principal rule is directed to state officials rather than private actors. A driver’s-license number is not potentially embarrassing or an intrusion on seclusion. It is a neutral fact derived from public records, a fact legitimately known to many private actors and freely revealed to banks, insurers, hotels, and others. Plaintiffs have not plausibly alleged that Midvale’s disclosure of their numbers caused them any injury, and the disclosure of a number in common use by both public and private actors does not correspond to any tort. View "Baysal v. Midvale Indemnity Co." on Justia Law
In re: Sealed Case (AMENDED REDACTED OPINION)
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
Heath v. Wisconsin Bell, Inc.
The 1996 E-Rate program (Schools and Libraries Universal Service Support program, Telecommunications Act 110 Stat. 56), is intended to keep telecommunications services affordable for schools and libraries in rural and economically disadvantaged areas. The program subsidizes services and requires providers to charge these customers rates less than or equal to the lowest rates they charge to similarly situated customers. Heath brought a qui tam action under the False Claims Act, 31 U.S.C. 3729, alleging that Wisconsin Bell charged schools and libraries more than was allowed under the program, causing the federal government to pay more than it should have. The district court granted Wisconsin Bell summary judgment.The Seventh Circuit reversed. While Heath’s briefing and evidence focused more on which party bore the burden of proving violations than on identifying specific violations in his voluminous exhibits and lengthy expert report, Heath identified enough specific evidence of discriminatory pricing to allow a reasonable jury to find that Wisconsin Bell, acting with the required scienter, charged specific schools and libraries more than it charged similarly situated customers. It is reasonable to infer that government funds were involved and that if the government knew of actual overcharges, it would not approve claims. View "Heath v. Wisconsin Bell, Inc." on Justia Law