Greater L. A. Agency On Deafness, Inc. v. Cable News Network, Inc.

Decision Date05 February 2014
Docket NumberNo. 12–15807.,12–15807.
Citation742 F.3d 414
PartiesGREATER LOS ANGELES AGENCY ON DEAFNESS, INC.; Daniel Jacob; Edward Kelly; Jennifer Olson, on behalf of themselves and all others similarly situated, Plaintiffs–Appellees, v. CABLE NEWS NETWORK, INC., incorrectly sued as Time Warner Inc., Defendant–Appellant.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Ninth Circuit


Thomas R. Burke (argued), Rochelle L. Wilcox, Janet L. Grumer, Jeff Glasser, Davis Wright Tremaine, San Francisco, CA; Ronald London, Davis Wright Tremaine, Washington, D.C., for DefendantAppellant.

Laurence W. Paradis (argued), Mary–Lee K. Smith, and Michael Nunez, Disability Rights Advocates, Berkeley, CA; Linda M. Dardarian and Jason H. Tarricone, Goldstein, Demchak, Baller, Borgen & Dardarian, Oakland, CA; Peter Blanck, Syracuse, NY, for PlaintiffsAppellees.

Karl Olson, Ram, Olson, Cereghino & Kopczynski, San Francisco, CA, for Amici Curiae Los Angeles Times Communications LLC, McClatchy Newspapers, Inc., Hearst Corporation, California Newspaper Publishers Association, and California Broadcasters Association.

John F. Waldo, Portland, OR, for Amici Curiae Washington State Communication Access Project, Oregon Communication Access Project, Association of Late Deafened Adults (ALDA), Aloha State (Hawaii) Association of the Deaf, Arizona Association of the Deaf, California Association of the Deaf, Nevada Association of the Deaf, Idaho Association of the Deaf, and Oregon Association of the Deaf.

Howard A. Rosenblum and Andrew S. Phillips, National Association of the Deaf, Silver Spring, MD; Blake E. Reid and Angela J. Campbell, Institute for Public Representation, Georgetown Law, Washington, D.C., for Amici Curiae Telecommunications for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, Inc., National Association of the Deaf, and the Hearing Loss Association of America.



McKEOWN, Circuit Judge:

This appeal—which tests the boundaries of multiple state laws and reveals tensions between California's anti-discrimination law, on one hand, and its anti-SLAPP statute, on the other—boils down to two central questions: Does California's anti-SLAPP statute, Cal.Civ.Proc.Code §§ 425.16 et seq., which permits a defendant to pursue early dismissal of meritless lawsuits arising from conduct by the defendant in furtherance of the right of petition or free speech, apply to a lawsuit seeking to secure equal access for the hearing-impaired by compelling Cable News Network, Inc. (CNN) to caption videos posted on its web site? And, if so, has the Greater Los Angeles Agency on Deafness, Inc. (GLAAD) discharged its burden to show a probability of prevailing on the merits of its claims under California's Unruh Civil Rights Act, Cal. Civ.Code §§ 51 et seq. (Unruh Act), and the California Disabled Persons Act, Cal. Civ.Code § § 54 et seq. (“DPA”)?

The magistrate judge answered no to the first question, declined to reach the second, and denied CNN's anti-SLAPP motion. CNN timely appealed. Consistent with the California legislature's express command to construe the anti-SLAPP statute broadly and our recent precedent, we hold that GLAAD's action targets conduct in furtherance of CNN's free speech rights and falls within the scope of the anti-SLAPP statute. We also conclude that GLAAD has failed to establish a probability of prevailing on its Unruh Act claims. The final question, whether the DPA applies to websites, is an important question of California law and raises an issue of significant public concern. We defer decision on GLAAD's DPA claims pending further guidance from the California Supreme Court. In a companion order published concurrently with this opinion, we certify to the California Supreme Court this remaining dispositive question of state law.

I. Statutory and Regulatory Framework for Captioning

Captions in media broadcasts come in various shapes and sizes. They can identify content, speakers, sound effects, music, and emotions and may be either open or closed. “Closed” captions, unlike their “open” counterparts, are activated by the viewer and can be turned on and off. Closed Captioning of Video Programming, 23 FCC Rcd. 16674, 16675 (2008) (declaratory ruling, order, and notice of proposed rulemaking). In the online context, closed captioning is defined as [t]he visual display of the audio portion of video programming.” 1 Closed Captioning of Video Programming Delivered Using Internet Protocol, 47 C.F.R. § 79.4(a)(6) (2012). Such closed captioning—which GLAAD seeks in its action—“provides access to individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing.” Closed Captioning of Internet Protocol–Delivered Video Programming: Implementation of the Twenty–First Century Communications & Video Accessibility Act of 2010, 77 Fed.Reg. 19480–01, 19480 (Mar. 30, 2012) (to be codified at 47 C.F.R. pts. 15, 79) (final rule).

To secure better access to video programming for the hearing-impaired, Congress passed the Telecommunications Act of 1996, Pub.L. No. 104–104, 110 Stat. 56 (1996) (the 1996 Act) (codified as amended at 47 U.S.C. § 613). The 1996 Act directed the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”) to impose a closed captioning requirement for video programming broadcasted on television. Id. In line with this congressional directive, the FCC adopted rules and implementation schedules for closed captioning of television programming. SeeClosed Captioning & Video Description of Video Programming, 13 FCC Rcd. 3272, 3273 (1997) (report and order).

In 2010, in response to the growing presence of video programming on the Internet, Congress enacted the Twenty–First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (“CVAA”), Pub.L. No. 111–260, 124 Stat. 2751 (2010) (codified at 47 U.S.C. § 613). The CVAA amended the 1996 Act and directed the FCC to revise its regulations to require closed captioning of certain online video programming. See47 U.S.C. § 613(c)(2). In January 2012, during the pendency of this appeal, the FCC promulgated its online captioning rules, which took effect on March 30, 2012. SeeClosed Captioning of Internet Protocol–Delivered Video Programming, 77 Fed.Reg. at 19480–81. The FCC's 2012 captioning rules require closed captioning of “full-length video programming delivered using Internet protocol ... if the programming is published or exhibited on television in the United States with captions.” 47 C.F.R. § 79.4(b). Under the 2012 captioning rules, online video clips—defined as [e]xcerpts of full-length video programming,” id. § 79.4(a)(12)—are excluded from the online captioning requirement, see id. §§ 79.4(a)(2), (b). The 1996 Act, as amended by the CVAA, and the FCC's 2012 captioning rules do not authorize a private right of action to enforce alleged violations of the online captioning requirement and instead provide that the FCC “shall have exclusive jurisdiction with respect to any complaint” alleging such violations. 47 U.S.C. § 613(j); 47 C.F.R. § 79.4(f).

II. GLAAD's Lawsuit

CNN is a wholly owned subsidiary of Turner Broadcasting System, Inc., which “is ultimately wholly owned by Time Warner Inc. CNN operates, a publicly accessible web site containing online news videos. Most of these online videos are short video clips that excerpt programming previously broadcasted on television by CNN; some of the videos are shown exclusively on Approximately 100 to 120 video clips are posted on every day, and the site features a searchable web archive of thousands of news videos. Although text articles accompany some of these online videos, none of them had closed captions at the time GLAAD brought this action.

In December 2010, GLAAD requested that Time Warner Inc. (“Time Warner”) caption all of the videos on its news web sites, including, to provide hearing-impaired visitors full access to the online videos. CNN responded that it offered a number of text-based services and explained that CNN would be “ready to provide whatever web access” then-pending federal rulemaking actions regarding the captioning of online videos “ultimately required.”

Unable to reach an agreement with CNN over closed captioning, GLAAD filed this putative class action in California state court in June 2011, six months before the FCC promulgated the 2012 online captioning rules. In its Complaint, GLAAD allegedthat CNN 2 violated the Unruh Act and the DPA by intentionally excluding deaf and hard of hearing visitors from accessing the videos on For these violations, GLAAD requests damages, declaratory relief, fees and costs, and a preliminary and permanent injunction “requiring [CNN] to take steps necessary to ensure that the benefits and advantages offered by are fully and equally enjoyable to persons who are deaf or have hearing loss in California.” 3

CNN removed this action to federal court, and the parties consented to jurisdiction before a magistrate judge. CNN filed a motion to strike under California's anti-SLAPP law, arguing that GLAAD's Unruh Act and DPA claims arose from conduct in furtherance of CNN's free speech rights and that GLAAD had failed to establish a probability of prevailing on its claims. The magistrate judge denied CNN's anti-SLAPP motion on the ground that CNN's conduct was not in furtherance of its free speech rights. Although acknowledging CNN's constitutionally protected right to publish online news videos, the magistrate judge found that CNN's speech merely “lurk[ed] in the background” of GLAAD's action. The magistrate judge also rejected CNN's contention that GLAAD's requested closed captioning requirement would deprive CNN of editorial control by forcing it to adopt an error-prone and costly technology. Relying on the D.C. Circuit's dicta in Motion Picture Association of America, Inc. v. FCC, 309 F.3d 796, 803 (D.C.Cir.2002) ( “MPAA ”), the magistrate judge observed that “closed...

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