Briefs & Comments

  • December 5, 2014

    Members of the Olympia Food Co-Op sued members of the co-op's board of directors for adopting a boycott of Israeli products. The board successfully had the suit dismissed under the state's anti-SLAPP law. On appeal, the libel plaintiffs are asking the Washington Supreme Court to rule that the Washington anti-SLAPP statute is unconstitutional. The Reporters Committee argued that the Washington anti-SLAPP statute, like the many anti-SLAPP laws around the country that have been held to be constitutional, protects journalists from protracted legal battles over meritless lawsuits that are designed to chill speech. The law does not violate the plaintiffs' rights to petition or of access to the courts, particularly because there is no right to file a frivolous suit, which is what the statute is intended to protect against.

  • December 4, 2014

    The Animal Legal Defense Fund sued the attorney general of Idaho over Idaho's "ag gag" law, which imposes penalties for "agricultural production interference," in essence recording images and sounds on the property of agricultural production facilities. It punishes people who investigate such facilities' cruelty to animals and other unsafe food practices. In supporting the plaintiff's push for a decision in their favor before a federal district court, the Reporters Committee argued that the Idaho law infringes on First Amendment rights of people who want to inform the public about important matters such as food safety. It fails to survive strict scrutiny because it does not further the government's interest in promoting food safety and is not narrowly tailored.

  • December 2, 2014

    A Connecticut Superior Court judge in the juvenile division, overseeing a custody dispute, issued a prior restraint order against the Connecticut Law Tribune, prohibiting a reporter from publishing information he obtained while in the courtroom and from a court document that had been posted publicly on the court website. The judge also sealed transcripts and his orders and memorandum justifying the prior restraint. The Connecticut Law Tribune appealed, and the Connecticut Supreme Court agreed to hear the appeal. The Reporters Committee and 48 media companies filed a motion to appear as amici curiae, arguing that the court violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments when it issued an order barring publication of information lawfully obtained from a court document posted on the court's own public website. We argued that there is a heavy presumption against prior restraints generally, and specifically under the U.S. Supreme Court holding in Oklahoma Publishing Co. v.

  • November 20, 2014

    An appeal of an adverse determination under the D.C. Freedom of Information Act (“DC FOIA”), by the Metropolitan Police Department (“MPD”), submitted on behalf of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. The Reporters Committee sought footage from police body cameras as the D.C. police began a pilot program to test such a system.

  • November 17, 2014

    A panel of Eleventh Circuit judges held that the Fourth Amendment applies to requests for historical cell site location information. Prosecutors obtained over two months' worth of historical location information from a cell phone provider using a court order issued under the Stored Communications Act, which permits a court to order a service provider to turn over subscriber records but does not require a finding of probable cause that a crime has been committed. The Eleventh Circuit granted rehearing en banc, and the Reporters Committee filed a brief in support of the defendant's position. The Fourth Amendment question in the case, the Reporters Committee argued, is inextricably linked to First Amendment questions. Warrantless acquisition of cell phone location data is concerning because a record of where one goes, and for how long, lays bare the processes of investigative reporting and threatens to reveal confidential sources and methods.

  • November 7, 2014

    Courthouse News Service (CNS) filed a federal lawsuit against a California state superior court for delaying access to newly filed unlimited civil complaints for days or weeks. CNS argued that the First Amendment provides a right of access to civil complaints that attaches immediately upon filing, and its reporters should be able to inspect newly filed civil complaints the day they are filed. A federal district court granted the defendant-court's motion to dismiss, finding that the type of access requested was not required under the First Amendment. The Reporters Committee and 25 other media organizations argued that a First Amendment right of access attaches to civil complaints when they are filed. The brief argued that the public has a right to know what matters are occupying space on court dockets and consuming public resources, and that complaints reveal a wealth of information about how citizens use the judicial branch.

  • November 6, 2014

    The Reporters Committee led a media coalition protesting a Seattle FBI effort to use a fake Associated Press news article and web site to ensnare a criminal suspect. The protest letter was submitted to the Attorney General and the Director of the FBI.

  • November 3, 2014

    The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, joined by a national coalition of media organizations, has filed comments on proposed Department of Defense Freedom of Information Act regulations.

  • November 3, 2014

    Photographer Paul Raef was prosecuted under California Vehicle Code 40008, basically an anti-paparazzi law that imposes additional penalties on violators of generally applicable reckless driving laws when those violators are driving with the intent to gather news for commercial purposes. The Reporters Committee and seven other groups argued that the law imposes an additional punishment for driving while being a journalist and threatens the First Amendment right of newsgathering. It punishes both paparazzi and members of the mainstream media who are traveling with the intent of gathering news. The law could be used to harass journalists. The amicus coalition submitted a letter brief to the Court of Appeal, Second Appellate District, Division Four, asking for the court to grant Raef's petition for transfer or, in the alternative, for a writ of mandamus. The court denied Raef's petition for transfer and for writ of mandamus.

  • October 24, 2014

    A 19-year-old American, Mohammed Hamzah Khan, was arrested as he tried to fly from the United States to Turkey (ultimately to go to Iraq or Syria), and he was charged with attempting to provide material support to terrorist organizations. The government moved to have Khan's detention hearing closed to the public, because privacy interests of third-party minors would be implicated. The government filed its motion and brief under seal, so the precise justification to close the hearing was unknown. The Reporters Committee wrote a letter to express concern about closing the detention hearing, arguing that there is a well-established First Amendment right of access to preliminary proceedings in criminal cases, which may only be overcome by an overriding interest based on findings that closure was essential to preserve higher values and was narrowly tailored to serve that interest.

  • September 24, 2014

    Freelance journalist Wayne Anderson had his "embed" status terminated by the military, and he was removed from Afghanistan. Anderson claimed the termination was in retaliation for his coverage of a conflict between Afghan and American soldiers. His case was dismissed by a federal judge over jurisdictional and service issues. In this brief on appeal, the Reporters Committee argued that Anderson sufficiently pleaded a First Amendment retaliation claim, as a pro se litigant, and the District Court should not have dismissed the claim so early.

  • September 24, 2014

    Proprietors of Dancing Deer Mountain, a wedding venue in Oregon, sued a Google reviewer, Christopher Liles, for libel following his negative review of his experience at a wedding there. The Oregon Court of Appeals held that some of the defendant's statements were actionable, such as calling the plaintiff "rude" and "crooked," while the defendant argued that those were non-actionable statements of opinion. This filing was asking the Oregon Supreme Court to review the Court of Appeals decisions. The Reporters Committee argued that the Oregon Supreme Court should accept the defendants Petition for Review because of the importance of clarifying what non-actionable opinion is in the state. The Court of Appeals decisions created confusion as to what may be stated in an online review and what will expose a commenter to liability. Such confusion could limit free speech and have serious consequences for public debate.

  • September 22, 2014

    The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press sent a letter on behalf of 44 news organizations to the Department of Justice urging officials to include police interaction with the press and public in the investigation of the events surrounding the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., in August.

  • September 22, 2014

    The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau ("CFPB") asked for comments regarding a proposed policy whereby it would post consumer complaint narratives in its online Consumer Complaint Database on an opt-in basis. Previously, only aggregate data from complaints submitted to the CFPB was available through the database. The CFPB's proposed policy statement changed this by allowing consumers to have any narrative included in their complaint publicly published on an opt-in basis. The Reporters Committee, joined by a coalition of news media organizations, submitted comments arguing that all consumer complaint narratives should be published. The disclosure of such comments "would assist journalists who seek to supplement the numbers already made available through the Database with the powerful firsthand experiences of individual consumers," and therefore the public interest weighs heavily in favor of their disclosure, the letter argued.

  • September 17, 2014

    The Washington Travel Clinic and a doctor sued Yelp reviewer John Kandrac for libel for statements he made about his poor experience at the clinic. Kandrac moved to dismiss the complaint under the D.C. anti-SLAPP statute. The D.C. Superior Court dismissed almost all of his claims, but allowed one to survive. At issue in this filing was whether the denial of a special motion to dismiss under the D.C. anti-SLAPP statute is immediately appealable under the "collateral order doctrine." The Reporters Committee argued that a special motion to dismiss under the D.C. anti-SLAPP statute is immediately appealable. Allowing for immediate appeal in such a case furthers the purposes of the anti-SLAPP statute, which is designed to allow journalists to quickly dispose of meritless suits designed to chill speech.