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MCC Iowa, LLC v. City of Iowa City

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

April 4, 2018

MCC Iowa, LLC, doing business as Mediacom Plaintiff- Appellant
v.
City of Iowa City; ImOn Communications, LLC, formerly known as JB and SG Communications, LLC Defendants - Appellees Charter Communications, Inc. Amicus on Behalf of Appellant(s) Iowa League of Cities Amicus on Behalf of Appellee(s)

          Submitted: October 19, 2017

          Appeal from United States District Court for the Southern District of Iowa - Davenport

          Before GRUENDER and BENTON, Circuit Judges, and TUNHEIM, [1] District Judge.

          BENTON, Circuit Judge.

         MCC Iowa, LLC, doing business as Mediacom, provides cable and telecommunications services in Iowa City. Mediacom sued the City of Iowa City and ImOn Communications, LLC. The district court[2] granted summary judgment to the City and ImOn. Mediacom appeals. Having jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1291, this court affirms.

         I.

         Mediacom-the only cable provider in the City-has a franchise agreement with the City, as required by federal and state law. See 47 U.S.C. § 541(b); Iowa Code § 477A.2(1). The agreement requires Mediacom to pay fees and provide cable services to almost all the City.

         In 2015, ImOn-provider of cable and telecommunications in other Iowa cities-publicly stated an intent to provide services, including cable, in the City. The City Council passed three resolutions to facilitate ImOn's construction of a fiber-optic network, including access to public rights-of-way. The next month, ImOn began providing internet to City residents. The next year, it began providing telephone service. ImOn has not provided cable services in the City and has not applied for a cable franchise. It claims to have abandoned plans to provide cable services in the City.

         Mediacom believed the City and ImOn were colluding to its disadvantage. In Iowa, if another cable provider applies for a franchise in a municipality, the incumbent provider (here, Mediacom) can apply for a state certificate of franchise authority for that municipality. Iowa Code § 477A.2(6). This guarantees the incumbent provider the "same . . . terms and conditions" the new provider gets. Id.

         Mediacom sued the City, later adding ImOn as a defendant. The lawsuit sought declarations that the resolutions were void and that the City could not permit a potential cable provider to construct a "cable system" without acquiring a cable franchise. Mediacom also alleged contract violations, tortious interference, civil conspiracy, and Equal Protection violations, all depending on whether ImOn could lawfully build a fiber-optic network without a franchise.

         Both parties moved for summary judgment. Mediacom also moved for discovery. The district court denied the discovery motion and granted summary judgment to the City and ImOn. The court ruled that "ImOn is not presently required to seek a cable franchise" because it "is not now delivering cable programming."

         This court reviews de novo the district court's grant of summary judgment. Torgerson v. City of Rochester, 643 F.3d 1031, 1042 (8th Cir. 2011) (en banc). Summary judgment is proper if the court finds "there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a).

         II.

         Title VI of the Communications Act requires a franchise only before providing cable service, not before constructing the infrastructure to provide it. "[A] cable operator may not provide cable service without a franchise." 47 U.S.C. ยง 541(b)(1) (emphasis added). But Mediacom argues that local franchising authorities (LFAs) may require a franchise earlier than federal law does. And ...


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