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PETA v. Cooper

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  1. Newsgathering

Update: On June 12, 2020, a federal judge ruled unconstitutional certain provisions of a North Carolina law that punishes the unauthorized disclosure of information about farms and other businesses, including to the news media. On appeal, the Reporters Committee and 17 news media organizations urged the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit to affirm the district court’s conclusion that North Carolina’s “ag-gag” law is unconstitutional, but to hold that the challenged provisions are facially invalid. In a friend-of-the-court brief filed on March 1, 2021, the media coalition argues that the district court’s conclusions related to some subsections of the law are erroneous and should be corrected.

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press filed an amicus brief in People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, et al. v. Cooper, et al., currently pending before the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina, in support of Plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment. Plaintiffs, several animal protection groups, are challenging the constitutionality of N.C. Gen. Stat. § 99A-2, which creates a cause of action against employees for recording “images or sound occurring within an employer’s premises” and who use the recording “to breach the person’s duty of loyalty to the employer.” The provision also makes “[a]ny person who intentionally directs, assists, compensates, or induces another person to violate this section . . . jointly liable.” Plaintiffs argue the North Carolina law violates the 1st and 14th Amendments, and contend that the law is preventing legitimate investigations into unethical, illegal, or unsanitary practices on a wide swath of businesses and properties.

N.C. Gen. Stat. § 99A-2 applies to all properties in North Carolina, including but not limited to agricultural facilities — the traditional target of “ag-gag” laws. The Reporters Committee’s amicus brief focuses on the impact that the law has on members of the news media, including by chilling reporter-source communications and stifling investigative journalism on any number of topics.