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AMERITECH v. VOICES FOR CHOICES

May 9, 2003

AMERITECH, A DELAWARE CORPORATION D/B/A SBC MIDWEST; ILLINOIS BELL TELEPHONE COMPANY, INC., AN ILLINOIS CORPORATION D/B/A SBC ILLINOIS; AND SBC PROPERTIES, L.P., A NEVADA LIMITED PARTNERSHIP, PLAINTIFFS, VS. VOICES FOR CHOICES, INC., A DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA NOT-FOR-PROFIT CORPORATION, DEFENDANT.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Charles P. Kocoras, Chief Judge, United States District Court

MEMORANDUM OPINION

This matter comes before the court on a motion for temporary restraining order ("TRO") brought by Plaintiffs Ameritech Corp., Illinois Bell Telephone Company, Inc., and SBC Properties, L.P (collectively "SEC"). For the reasons set forth below, we deny the motion.

BACKGROUND

This is a suit for defamation. SBC owns a telecommunications network that it is legally obligated to lease to competitors such as MCI and AT&T. Currently SBC is supporting a bill (the "Bill") introduced in the Illinois General Assembly that would allow SBC to raise the leasing rates it charges competitors for use of its network. Defendant Voices for Choices, Inc. ("Voices") is a not-for-profit corporation that opposes the proposed legislation. Voices is comprised of SBC competitors such as MCI and AT&T as well as by consumer groups and trade associations. Voices conducts a public lobbying campaign that claims the Bill "would . . . double your phone rates" and that "consumer phone rates in Illinois will skyrocket" if the Bill is passed. SBC claims these two statements are defamatory. Presently before the court is SBC's motion for a TRO that would generally restrain Voices from running a defamatory lobbying campaign and specifically restrain Voices from stating that the Bill would cause consumer phone rates in Illinois to double or skyrocket.

LEGAL STANDARD

Although the motion is styled as one for a TRO, in light of the relief sought, we think it more properly be considered as a motion for preliminary injunction. In any event, "[t]he standards for a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction are identical." Frederick Atkins, Inc. v. Carson Pine Scott & Co., 1999 WL 1249342, *1 (N.D.Ill. Dec. 13, 1999). To be entitled to a preliminary injunction, SBC must demonstrate:

(1) that it has a reasonable likelihood of success on the merits of its claim;

(2) that no adequate remedy at law exists;

(3) that it will suffer irreparable harm if the preliminary injunction is denied;
(4) that the irreparable harm it will suffer without preliminary injunctive relief outweighs the irreparable harm the nonmoving party will suffer if the preliminary injunction is granted; and
(5) that the injunction will not harm the public interest.

Id. (citing Platinum Home Mortgage Corp. v. Platinum Fin. Group, Inc., 149 F.3d 722, 726 (7th Cir. 1998)).

DISCUSSION

Voices resists the motion on two basic grounds. First, Voices argues that the First Amendment bars the relief that SBC seeks. Second, Voices argues that SBC cannot demonstrate the required elements for a preliminary injunction.

I. The First Amendment

Voices argues that the First Amendment's freedom of speech guarantee precludes the injunctive relief that SBC seeks (i.e. a prior restraint on Voices' public lobbying campaign). In other words, Voices argues, even assuming arguendo SBC would succeed on the merits of its defamation claims, SBC would still not be entitled to a prior restraint on Voices' campaign. The law is on Voices's side. Indeed, the Supreme Court has held that "prior restraints on speech and publication are the most serious and the least tolerable infringement on First Amendment rights." Nebraska Press Ass'n v. Stuart, 427 ...


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