- Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
- Area(s) of Law: First Amendment
- Date Filed: 10-21-2022
- Case #: 20-16068
- Judge(s)/Court Below: Gould, J. for the Court; Murguia, C.J.; & Freudenthal, D.J.
- Full Text Opinion
Defendants appealed from guilty verdicts for various torts including violations of civil RICO, and federal wiretapping laws. Defendants assigned error to the award of compensatory damages to Plaintiffs and the verdict on claims relating to the Federal Wiretap Act. On appeal, Defendants argued the compensatory damages award violated the First Amendment because they were acting as journalists and argued Plaintiffs had not shown a sufficient criminal or tortious purpose for liability under the Federal Wiretap Act.
Under Cohen v. Cowles Media Co., 501 US. 663 (1981), journalists are not immune from generally applicable laws when engaging in newsgathering. Furthering a RICO scheme is not a sufficient independent criminal or tortious purpose to support violations of the Federal Wiretap Act, where the purpose of the RICO scheme and the wiretapping are the same.
Beginning with the first amendment issue, the Court noted that journalists, as Defendants characterized themselves, must act within the legal bounds of generally applicable laws. The Court found the laws Defendants violated were facially valid and did not engage in viewpoint discrimination. As a result, Defendants could not invoke status as members of the press to make themselves immune from their torts. Furthermore, because the damages were awarded to compensate Plaintiffs for economic harm, not reputational or emotional harm, Plaintiffs did not have to show falsity or actual malice.
Moving to the wiretap issue, the Court noted the Federal Wiretap Act requires recording “done for the purpose of facilitating some further impropriety” separate and independent from the act of recording. The Court found Plaintiff’s asserted the same criminal or tortious purpose underlying the RICO claims and the wiretapping. Since the purpose of the RICO conspiracy was identical to the purpose of the wiretapping, the Court held that furthering the RICO conspiracy could not be a separate and independent criminal or tortious purpose supporting liability under the Federal Wiretap Act. AFFIRMED IN PART, REVERSED AND VACATED IN PART.