October 22, 2017

Ethics in the Electronic Age: Social Media Guidance for Attorneys

Do you have a LinkedIn account? How about a Facebook page? Twitter handle? Instagram? Blog? All of the above?

Have you ever considered the Rules of Professional Conduct when commenting on someone else’s Facebook post, or sharing a clever tweet, or even writing on your personal blog? If not, then you should.

Most lawyers are probably aware that there could be ethical implications to their professional use of social media, but personal use can also implicate the Rules. Learn more from Katrin Miller Rothgery of Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck in the video, below.

Ms. Rothgery’s presentation on Ethics in the Electronic Age was just one part of the 2017 Real Estate Spring Update. Purchase the full homestudy here, or call (303) 860-0608. CLE Pass Holders can access the MP3 and Video OnDemand homestudies for free. Find out more about the CLE Pass here.

Business Use of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (Drones) Expanding Exponentially

DroneDrones, also known as Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) or Unmanned Aircraft Vehicles (UAV), are not just for hobbyists anymore. Drones are devices that are used for flight in the air without an onboard pilot. Drones can be small and simple, such as remote-controlled aircraft popularized by hobbyists, or large and complex, like the surveillance aircraft used by the military in hostile areas. The military has been using drones for many years to conduct surveillance and deliver weapons in dangerous war zones. However, in the last several years, civilian and business use of drones has increased dramatically.

Non-military drone use is categorized into public aircraft operations and civil operations. Public aircraft operations are uses by public agencies or organizations of a particular aircraft for a particular purpose in a particular area. Public operation uses can include law enforcement, firefighting, border patrol, disaster relief, search and rescue, and military training. Civil operations are any operations that do not meet the statutory criteria for public aircraft operations, including business uses such as for agricultural purposes, construction, security, TV and movie industry uses, environmental monitoring, insurance, aerial photography, news media, and much more.

Because they utilize airspace for their operations, drones are regulated by the FAA. In 2013, the FAA issued a comprehensive plan for the safe integration of civil unmanned aircraft systems into the country’s airspace. In early 2015, the FAA issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for small UAS. The goal of the proposed rules is to provide a framework of regulations to allow routine use of certain small UAS while maintaining flexibility to accommodate future changes in technology. The public comment period for the proposed rules ended April 24, 2015.

Businesses wishing to utilize drones must obtain a Section 333 Exemption from the FAA. Petitions for Section 333 Exemption must be filed with and approved by the FAA before the drone may be used for business purposes. The FAA can also grant businesses the right to use airspace via Special Airworthiness Certificates. Special Airworthiness Certificates are available for research and development or experimental aircraft.

Attorney Thomas Dougherty, II, head of Lewis Roca Rothgerber’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems Industry Team, will discuss drone law at CLE on July 28, 2015. Topics to be explored include potential drone uses, FAA regulations covering drones, required information for petitions for Section 333 Exemption, Certificates of Waiver or Authorization, the FAA’s enforcement authority, and legal issues arising out of state and local laws for the use of drones. Register now by clicking the links below or calling (303) 860-0608.

CLE Program: Drones for Lawyers: The Do’s and Don’ts for Clients

This CLE presentation will take place Tuesday, July 28, 2015 at the CLE offices. Click here to register for the live program or click here to register for the webcast.

Can’t make the live program? Order the homestudy here – Video OnDemand – MP3

 

Tenth Circuit: Junk Fax Claims Against Commercial Insurer Barred by Policy Language

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Emcasco Insurance Co. v. CE Design, Ltd. on Monday, May 4, 2015.

In April 2008, Custom Mechanical Equipment, Inc., an Oklahoma company, faxed an unsolicited advertisement to CE Design, Inc. in Illinois. Rather than simply throw the fax away, CE Design sued Custom in Illinois state court and sought to certify a class of others who had received unsolicited faxes from Custom. CE Design alleged Custom breached the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), which provides $500 in damages for each violation, as well as alleging common law conversion based on the use of paper, toner, the fax machine, and CE Design staff time. Custom submitted the claim to its insurer, Emcasco, which denied coverage and declined to defend Custom. In June 2011, CE Design and Custom settled, entering into an agreement for $1,276,000 in damages ($500 for each of the 2,552 junk faxes Custom sent) whereby CE Design agreed to enforce the judgment only against Emcasco. The Illinois trial court approved the settlement in September 2011.

CE Design brought suit against Emcasco in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma, seeking a declaratory judgment that Emcasco’s policy legally obligated it to pay the CE Design’s judgment. Emcasco then filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, seeking a declaratory judgment that it was not liable. Upon CE Design’s motion, the Illinois district court transferred the case to Oklahoma. In June 2013, both parties moved for summary judgment. Emcasco argued it had properly denied coverage and refused to defend because Custom’s fax was neither an “occurrence” causing property damage nor a “personal and advertising injury,” and alternatively argued that three policy exclusions barred coverage. CE Design responded that the policy covered Custom and no exclusion applied. After hearing arguments, the district court granted summary judgment in favor of Emcasco and denied CE Design’s motion. CE Design appealed.

On appeal, the parties agreed that Oklahoma law regarding insurance contracts governed the dispute. At oral argument, CE Design conceded the statutory violation language in the policy removed Emcasco’s duty to defend the TCPA claim. The Tenth Circuit agreed. Turning next to the conversion claim, the Tenth Circuit found that CE Design sufficiently pleaded conversion, but in doing so defeated policy coverage, since by pleading conversion CE Design acknowledged that the fax was not an “accident” for policy purposes. The Tenth Circuit next turned to CE Design’s “negligent conversion” claim, alleging conversion under a mistaken belief of right to appropriation of the property. The Tenth Circuit agreed that such “negligent conversion” could qualify as an “accident” under the policy, but CE Design’s bare allegations of mistake were not supported by anything in the record, noting that “[i]f this sufficed as an accident, it is hard to imagine what would not.” The Tenth Circuit found Emcasco had no duty to defend under the “negligent conversion” theory. Tenth Circuit similarly rejected CE Design’s Illinois Consumer Fraud Act (ICFA) claim, finding CE Design was required to prove the defendant intended the plaintiff to rely on a deceptive act in order to further an ICFA claim, and further finding such a deceptive act would trigger all of the same exceptions from Emcasco’s coverage.

The Tenth Circuit next analyzed Emcasco’s argument that its statutory violation exclusion barred coverage under all three of CE Design’s claims. The Tenth Circuit, looking at the plain language of the insurance policy, agreed that coverage would have been barred, since all of CE Design’s claims relied at their core on violations of the TCPA. Because TCPA claims were barred by the contract, all of CE Design’s claims failed.

The Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court’s grant of summary judgment to Emcasco.

Tenth Circuit: Non-Disclosure of Unedited Film Substantially Prejudiced Party Claiming Defamation

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Brokers’ Choice of America, Inc. v. NBC Universal, Inc. on Wednesday, July 9, 2014.

Tyrone Clark and his company, Brokers’ Choice of America, Inc. (BCA) sued NBC Universal and some of its employees after Dateline aired a segment called “Tricks of the Trade” that featured snippets of Clark taken from one of his two-day “Annuity University” seminars filmed at BCA’s Colorado campus. The snippets were surreptitiously recorded, and Clark asserts that they were illegally filmed. Only 112 words were taken from the two-day seminar and were used to portray Clark and BCA as teaching insurance agents to employ misrepresentations and use questionable tactics in order to dupe seniors into purchasing inappropriate annuity products. BCA claims that the statements were taken out of context in order to create a false impression and defame Clark and BCA. BCA also asserts a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claim because Dateline obtained false credentials from Alabama officials in order to surreptitiously film the seminar.

Dateline moved to dismiss the complaint, maintaining that BCA did not allege sufficient facts to show defamation. It also sought to dismiss BCA’s civil rights claims, stating that BCA’s factual allegations did not demonstrate the help received from Alabama officials was joint conduct. The court granted Dateline‘s motion. BCA appealed, contending the district court failed to credit its allegations as true and improperly made factual determinations to reach its conclusions.

The Tenth Circuit first examined the court’s dismissal of BCA’s claims. The Tenth Circuit determined that BCA had alleged sufficient facts to support its defamation claims, noting that the correct inquiry was not the district court’s determination that the statements were substantially true but rather whether the characterization of BCA was substantially true, a question of fact to be determined by a jury. Because Dateline had contested discovery of its unedited video, the only evidence that could have been used to determine whether the characterization was substantially true, the Tenth Circuit turned its inquiry to the video.

After a lengthy discussion, the Tenth Circuit determined that Colorado’s media privilege statute, C.R.S. § 13-90-119, required disclosure of the video. The Tenth Circuit found that BCA would be substantially prejudiced by non-disclosure, and noted that the statute is to be used as a shield to protect confidential informants, not a sword to defeat potentially viable claims. The “probable falsity” test was unwarranted where no confidential informant existed.

As to BCA’s § 1983 claims, the Tenth Circuit found no merit. The Tenth Circuit noted that the government frequently engages in deception to further investigative interests, and the Alabama officials’ furnishing of broker licenses to the Dateline crew amounted to no more than investigative deception.

The dismissal of the § 1983 claim was affirmed. The dismissal of the defamation claim was reversed, and the case was remanded for further proceedings consistent with the opinion.

Tenth Circuit: Multiple Consolidated Petitions to Review FCC Rulemaking Order Denied

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in In re FCC: 11-161 on Friday, May 23, 2014.

In late 2011, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC or Commission) issued a Report and Order and Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (Order) comprehensively reforming and modernizing its universal service and intercarrier compensation systems. Petitioners, each of whom were parties to the FCC’s rulemaking proceeding below, filed petitions for judicial review of the FCC’s Order. The Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation consolidated the petitions in this court.

In the Joint Universal Service Fund Principal Brief, Additional Universal Service Fund Issues Principal Brief, Wireless Carrier Universal Service Fund Principal Brief, and Tribal Carriers Principal Brief, petitioners assert a host of challenges to the portions of the Order revising how universal service funds are to be allocated to and employed by recipients. After carefully considering those claims, [the Tenth Circuit finds] them either unpersuasive or barred from judicial review. Consequently, [the Tenth Circuit denies] the petitions to the extent they are based upon those claims.

Full case available here.

Bills Regarding Recall Elections, Foreclosure Cure Funds, Protecting Rape Victims, and More Signed

The 2014 Legislative Session ended last Wednesday, but Governor Hickenlooper continues to sign legislation that passed through both houses this term. To date, the governor has signed 190 bills and vetoed two. He is expected to sign several more bills in the coming days and weeks. Summaries of bills signed on Friday, May 9, 2014 and Monday, May 12, 2014 are provided here.

Friday, May 9, 2014

  • HB 14-1327 – Concerning Measures to Expand the Deployment of Communication Networks and, in Connection Therewith, Enacting the “Broadband Deployment Act” and Making an Appropriation, by Reps. Angela Williams & Carole Murray and Sens. Mark Scheffel & Lois Tochtrop. The bill, highly praised by the governor, sets statewide policy regarding deployment of broadband technology.
  • SB 14-158 – Concerning the Harmonization of Statutory Recall Election Provisions with the Recall Provisions in the State Constitution to Reflect the Manner in which Contemporary Elections are Conducted, and, in Connection Therewith, Aligning Circular Regulation and Petition Requirements with Initiative and Referendum Circulator and Petition Requirements, by Sens. Pat Steadman & Matt Jones and Rep. Dickey Lee Hullinghorst. The bill eliminates certain conflicts between the state and federal constitutions regarding recall elections and makes changes to the procedure for recall elections.
  • SB 14-160 – Concerning Removing Limitations on a Transitional Living Program for a Person with a Brain Injury, by Sen. Linda Newell and Rep. Dianne Primavera. Currently, Medicaid waiver recipients with traumatic brain injury can receive transitional living services for 6 to 12 months. The bill removes the time limit for the services.
  • SB 14-161 – Concerning the Modernization of Provisions of the “Uniform Election Code of 1992” that Ensure Voter Access for Eligible Electors and, in Connection Therewith, Reducing the Deadline by which a Voter Registration Application Must be Submitted via Certain Methods, Altering Procedures Pertaining to National Change-of-Address Searches, Allowing Emergency Ballots to be Obtained for Nonmedical Reasons, Amending Provisions Relating to Military and Overseas Voters, Increasing the Penalty for Providing False Residential Information, Making the Aiding or Abetting the Provision of False Residential Information a New Felony Offense, and Making and Reducing Appropriations, by Sens. Jessie Ulibarri & Mike Johnston and Rep. Dickey Lee Hullinghorst. The bill makes several changes to the state’s Uniform Election Code of 1992.
  • SB 14-165 – Concerning the Percentage at Which to Rate the Student Academic Growth Standard for the Purpose of Licensed Personnel Performance Evaluations in the 2014-15 Academic Year, by Sens. Mike Johnston & Andy Kerr and Reps. Carole Murray & Cherylin Peniston. The bill allows a local school board to determine what percentage, if any, of a teacher’s performance evaluation must be based on student academic growth.
  • HB 14-1034 – Concerning the Creation of a Wine Packaging Permit to Allow Certain Alcohol Beverage Licensees to Package Wine Produced by Another Manufacturer, and, in Connection Therewith, Making an Appropriation, by Rep. Angela Williams and Sen. Cheri Jahn. The bill allows licensed wineries to package wine produced by other wineries.
  • HB 14-1061 – Concerning Sentences Imposing Monetary Payments in Criminal Actions and, in Connection Therewith, Eliminating Prison Sentences for Persons who are Unable to Pay Criminal Monetary Penalties, by Rep. Joseph Salazar and Sen. Lucia Guzman. The bill changes procedures for criminal defendants who fail to pay monetary fines.
  • HB 14-1095 – Concerning the Colorado Bureau of Investigation’s Authority to Investigate Computer Crime, and, in Connection Therewith, Making an Appropriation, by Reps. Daniel Kagan & Bob Gardner and Sen. Linda Newell. The bill authorizes the CBI to investigate cyber crime.
  • HB 14-1101 – Concerning a Partial Business Personal Property Tax Exemption for Community Solar Gardens, by Rep. Max Tyler and Sen. Gail Schwartz. Beginning in 2015, the bill exempts electricity generated by a community solar garden from property tax.
  • HB 14-1130 – Concerning the Disposition of Moneys Charged to Borrowers for Costs to be Paid in Connection with Foreclosure, by Rep. Beth McCann and Sen. Jessie Ulibarri. The bill establishes procedures for handling cure statements in foreclosure and directs that overpayments of funds paid to cure a debt in foreclosure must be returned to the borrower.
  • HB 14-1162 – Concerning Protection of the Victim of a Sexual Assault in Cases where a Child was Conceived as a Result of the Sexual Assault, and, in Connection Therewith, Making Legislative Changes in Response to the Study by and the Report of the Recommendations from the Task Force on Children Conceived Through Rape, by Rep. Lois Landgraf and Sen. Morgan Carroll. The bill adds several protections for victims of sexual assault who conceive children as a result of the assault, including allowing termination of the aggressor’s parent-child relationship even when no conviction occurred and requires victims and children to be referred to by their initials in termination proceedings.
  • HB 14-1181 – Concerning the Sunset Review of the Nurse-Physician Advisory Task Force for Colorado Health Care and, in Connection Therewith, Continuing the Task Force Through September 1, 2020, by Rep. Sue Schafer and Sen. John Kefalas. The bill repeals the sunset of the Nurse Physician Advisory Task Force, which evaluates the medication prescribing authority of nurse practitioners.
  • HB 14-1266 – Concerning the Penalties for Certain Value-Based Offenses, and, In Connection Therewith, Reducing an Appropriation, by Reps. Beth McCann & Bob Gardner and Sens. Linda Newell & Steve King. The bill makes adjustments to the penalties of certain value-based crimes, such as criminal mischief, fraud by check, and others.
  • HB 14-1284 – Concerning Registration with the Department of Revenue of Distinguished License Plates Issued to Members of the Colorado General Assembly, by Reps. Max Tyler & Don Coram and Sens. Nancy Todd & Larry Crowder. The bill proscribes procedures for the Department of Revenue to use when issuing legislative license plates.
  • HB 14-1290 – Concerning an Addition to the Definition of “Other Outlet” to Enable the Operation of a Remotely Located Telepharmacy Outlet, by Rep. KC Becker and Sen. Ellen Roberts. The bill allows telepharmacy practices for patients who communicate remotely with pharmacy outlets and specifies rules related to telepharmacy practices.
  • HB 14-1291 – Concerning Authorizing a Charter School to Employ a School Security Officer by Contract to Carry a Concealed Handgun if the Person has a Valid Conceal Carry Permit, by Reps. Mike McLachlan & Stephen Humphrey and Sens. Scott Renfroe & Lois Tochtrop. The bill allows charter schools to employ armed security officers.
  • HB 14-1295 – Concerning Residential Mortgage Foreclosures, and, in Connection Therewith, Requiring a Single Point of Contact and Prohibiting Dual Tracking, by Rep. Beth McCann and Sen. Jessie Ulibarri. The bill, which generally applies to servicers of mortgage loans, amends residential foreclosure statutes.
  • HB 14-1307 – Concerning the Recategorization of Mineral County for the Purpose of Statutory Provisions Fixing the Salaries of County Officers, by Rep. Edward Vigil and Sen. Larry Crowder. The bill reclassifies Mineral County for the purpose of establishing salaries for certain officials.
  • HB 14-1312 – Concerning Efforts to Reduce the Number of Foreclosures in Colorado, and, In Connection Therewith, Continuing the Foreclosure Deferment Program, by Rep. Angela Williams and Sen. Jessie Ulibarri. The bill extends the Foreclosure Deferment Program until September 1, 2015.
  • HB 14-1319 – Concerning the Creation of an Outcomes-Based Funding Model for Higher Education, and, in Connection Therewith, Making and Reducing Appropriations, by Reps. Mark Ferrandino & Chris Holbert and Sens. Kent Lambert & Nancy Todd. The bill creates a new mechanism for allocating state funds to institutions of higher education.
  • HB 14-1329 – Concerning the Exemption of Certain Internet-Protocol-Enabled Services from Oversight by the Public Utilities Commission, and, in Connection Therewith, Making an Appropriation, by Reps. Angela Williams & Carole Murray and Sens. Andy Kerr & Mark Scheffel. The bill deregulates certain telecommunications products, including voice-over-internet-protocol, most long distance services, certain operator services, and more.
  • HB 14-1330 – Concerning an Update of Telecommunications Terminology for Intrastate Telecommuncations Services, by Rep. Angela Williams and Sen. Lois Tochtrop. The bill amends statutory terms used in telecommunications regulation.
  • HB 14-1331 – Concerning the Regulation of Basic Local Exchange Service as it Affects Effective Competition, and, in Connection Therewith, Making an Appropriation, by Reps. Angela Williams & Carole Murray and Sens. Jeanne Nicholson & Andy Kerr. The bill modifies the statutory framework for regulation of local phone service.
  • HB 14-1345 – Concerning Authority for the Department of Higher Education to Transfer Moneys Allocated to the Governing Board of an Institution of Higher Education Between the Governing Board’s Spending Authority for College Opportunity Stipends as a Result of Increases or Decreases in Student Enrollment at the Institution of Higher Education, by the Joint Budget Committee. The bill allows the Department of Higher Education to make certain limited monetary transfers.
  • HB 14-1354 – Concerning the Ability of a County Clerk and Recorder to Seek Judicial Review of Final Action by the Secretary of State Relating to Elections, by Reps. John Buckner & Bob Gardner and Sens. Irene Aguilar & Larry Crowder. The bill allows a county clerk and recorder to seek judicial review in district court of certain Secretary of State actions related to elections.

May 12, 2014

  • HB 14-1008 – Concerning the Authorization of the Colorado Water Resources and Power Development Authority to Make Loans to Private Entities for Purposes of Forest Health Projects, by Rep. Millie Hamner and Sen. Gail Schwartz. The bill, recommended by the Wildlife Matters Review Committee, allows the Colorado Water Resources and Power Development Authority to make loans to private entities for forest health projects.
  • HB 14-1010 – Concerning Corrections to Statutory Provisions Relating to the Prescribed Burning Program Administered by the Division of Fire Prevention and Control in the Department of Public Safety, by Rep. Millie Hamner and Sen. George Rivera. The bill changes naming of “prescribed burn managers” to “certified burners” and removes certified burners from the list of people who can be in supervisory roles at prescribed burns.
  • SB 14-164 – Concerning Aerial Firefighting Efforts Through the Division of Fire Prevention and Control in the Department of Public Safety, and, in Connection Therewith, Implementing Recommendations Made by the Division Regarding the Colorado Firefighting Air Corps, by Sens. Morgan Carroll & Steve King and Reps. Bob Gardner & Mike McLachlan. The bill directs the Division of Fire Prevention and Control to maximize its aerial firefighting capacity.

For a list of Governor Hickenlooper’s legislative decisions, click here.

Tenth Circuit: FCC’s Actions Not Abuse of Discretion

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals published its opinion in Council Tree Investors, Inc. v. Federal Communications Commission on Friday, January 3, 2013.

Petitioners Council Tree Investors, Inc., a communications investment firm, and Bethel Native Corporation, a small wireless carrier (collectively, “Council Tree”), sought review of two orders issued by the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC” or “the Commission”) — the D Block Waiver Order (the “Waiver Order”) issued in 2007 and a Waiver Reconsideration Order issued in 2012.  Council Tree specifically requested nullification of Auction 73, the FCC’s auction of the 700-MHz wireless spectrum conducted in early 2008 pursuant to the Waiver Order.

Council Tree filed a Petition for Reconsideration of the Waiver Order (the “Waiver Reconsideration Petition”) with the FCC in 2007, as well as a Supplement to the Waiver Reconsideration Petition (the “Supplement”) in 2011. In its Waiver Reconsideration Order, the FCC dismissed the Waiver Reconsideration Petition as moot and dismissed the Supplement as untimely.

The Tenth Circuit held the FCC’s actions were not arbitrary, capricious, or an abuse of discretion and dismissed Council Tree’s petition, as it pertained to the Waiver Order, and denied its petition, as it related to the Waiver Reconsideration Order.

SB 13-287: Amending Certain Provision Relating to Telecommunications

On Monday, April 29, 2013, Sen. Jeanne Nicholson introduced SB 13-287 – Concerning Telecommunications. This summary is published here courtesy of the Colorado Bar Association’s e-Legislative Report.

The high cost support mechanism reimburses some of the cost of providing telephone services to rural areas. The bill adds broadband internet service in unserved and underserved areas to the services that are reimbursable.

As introduced, the bill exempts voice-over-internet-protocol service and internet-protocol-enabled service from regulation by the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) and exempts broadband service from state sales tax. It also exempts basic local exchange service from regulation in geographic areas in which the PUC has determined that effective competition exists.

The bill clarifies that this exemption does not affect an entity’s rights and obligations under federal law, nor does it affect the PUC’s authority with respect to: Wholesale telecommunications rates; services; agreements; providers; tariffs; the resolution of disputes regarding intercarrier compensation; or oversight of the implementation of a next-generation 911 plan with regard to interoperability and performance, operational, and system standards.

The bill was introduced on April 29 and assigned to the State, Veterans, & Military Affairs Committee. On May 1, the State, Veterans, & Military Affairs amended the bill and sent it to the full Senate for consideration on 2nd Reading.

Since this summary, the bill lost with amendments on Second Reading in the Senate. It was laid over until May 10, 2013.

HB 13-1059: Exempting Telecommunications Equipment Used in the Provision of Telecommunications from Sales and Use Tax

On January 9, 2013, Rep. Cheri Gerou introduced HB 13-1059 – Concerning a Sales and Use Tax Exemption for Equipment Used by a Telecommunications Provider in the Provision of Telecommunications ServicesThis summary is published here courtesy of the Colorado Bar Association’s e-Legislative Report.

The bill creates a sales and use tax exemption for a telecommunications provider’s equipment that is used directly in the provision of telephone service, cable television service, broadband communications service, or mobile telecommunications service.

Statutory towns, cities, and counties are currently authorized to create a similar sales and use tax exemption. The bill does not change this authority, but the law is reorganized to be consistent with other instances where a local government has authority to enact an exemption based on a state exemption. Assigned to the Business, Labor, Economic, & Workforce Development Committee.

Tenth Circuit: Defenses Do Not Confer Federal Question Jurisdiction

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Firstenberg v. City of Santa Fe on Tuesday, October 9, 2012.

Arthur Firstenberg allegedly suffers from electromagnetic hypersensitivity (EHS), which requires him to avoid exposure to sources of electromagnetic radiation. One source is cell-phone towers, sometimes called “base stations,” which emit a form of energy known as radiofrequency (RF) radiation. After an AT&T Mobility Services, LLC upgrade to 3G increased the amount of RF radiation coming from its base stations, Firstenberg petitioned for a writ of mandamus in New Mexico state court, naming the City of Santa Fe and AT&T as defendants. AT&T did not apply for or obtain special exceptions from the City prior to initiating the upgrade. Mr. Firstenberg believed this was improper under § 14-3.6(B)(4)(b) of the City’s Land Development Code, which requires the City’s Board of Adjustment to approve an additional special exception if there is a “more intense use” of an existing structure.

In Firstenberg’s petition, he mentioned Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments of the Constitution under his argument section. He did not mention them in his cause of action or prayer for relief sections. The state court issued a writ of mandamus ordering the City to prohibit the 3G broadcasts unless and until special exceptions were granted or to show cause why it had not done so. AT&T and the City then removed the action to federal district court and each filed a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). The district court concluded it had federal question jurisdiction and dismissed both claims, holding that the federal Telecommunications Act of 1996 (TCA) preempted the City’s authority to regulate AT&T’s upgrade.

Before oral argument in the Tenth Circuit, the court “asked the parties to file supplemental briefs addressing whether Mr. Firstenberg’s complaint was sufficiently ‘well-pleaded’ to satisfy the requirements for federal-question jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1331.” To arise under federal law, Firstenberg’s complaint  (his petition for mandamus) must have established that federal law created his cause of action or that his right to relief necessarily depended on resolution of a substantial question of federal law. The Tenth Circuit went through the federal laws mentioned in the complaint and held that all those issues were only mentioned as an anticipated defense (the TCA) or as responses to that defense. Because defenses, whether anticipated or asserted, are not enough to confer federal jurisdiction, the court reversed the dismissal and remanded the case to the district court to remand the case to state court.

Tenth Circuit: FCC Denial of Petition for Regulatory Forbearance Pertaining to Telecommunications Services Was Reasoned and Reasonable

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals published its opinion in Qwest Corp. v. FCC on Monday, August 6, 2012.

The Tenth Circuit denied the petition for review. Petitioner  sought “review of an order of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) denying Petitioner’s petition for regulatory forbearance pursuant to 47 U.S.C. § 160(a). Petitioner filed a petition with the FCC in March 2009 seeking relief from certain regulations pertaining to telecommunications services that it provides in the Phoenix, Arizona, metropolitan statistical area (MSA). The FCC denied the petition, citing insufficient evidence of sufficiently robust competition that would preclude Petitioner from raising prices, unreasonably discriminating, and harming consumers. Petitioner challenges the FCC’s decision only as it pertains to Petitioner’s mass-market retail services in the Phoenix MSA. The Court denied the petition, finding that the Phoenix Order was a reasoned and reasonable decision.

Colorado Supreme Court: PUC Considered All Mandated Factors in Setting Rates for Basic Residential Phone Service with Evidence to Support Decision

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in Colorado Office of Consumer Counsel v. Colorado Public Utilities Commission on April 30, 2012.

Basic Residential Telephone Service Regulation—Maximum Rate Setting.

The Supreme Court reversed the district court’s judgment, holding that the Colorado Public Utilities Commission (PUC) regularly pursued its authority in setting maximum rates for basic residential telephone service pursuant to CRS § 40-15-502(3)(b). The PUC considered all of the statutorily mandated factors in setting the rates and there was substantial evidence supporting its decision.

Summary and full case available here.