SW Legal studies in Business

FCC Has Exclusive Jurisdiction Over Dispute Between Radio Stations' Frequency
Description Minnesota appeals court held that one radio station could not sue another radio station in tort for interference with business expectance that arose from a dispute over radio frequence. Congress gave the Federal Communications Commission comprehensive power to regulate radio frequencies, so actions under state-law are preempted.
Topic Torts
Key Words Interference with Business Expectancy; Federal Preemption
C A S E   S U M M A R Y
Facts Harbor Broadcasting owned WWAX radio station. Boundary Waters Broadcasters owned WELY. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) allowed Harbor to increase WWAX's transmission power. That change posed a risk of interference to WELY's signal, so the FCC ordered WELY to change its frequency and ordered WWAX to cover the cost of that signal change. WELY refused to change its signal, so WWAX could not change its signal. Harbor sold WWAX and then sued Boundary Waters for the tort of interference with business expectancy, contending that the price received for the radio station was much lower than it would have been if WELY had complied with the FCC order to change its frequency to allow WWAX to increase its power. The trial court dismissed the suit; Harbor appealed.

Affirmed. The Federal Communications Act preempts the tort claim. Congress delegated comprehensive powers to the FCC to regulate the radio industry. The dispute over radio frequencies and whether or not the stations had followed procedure, including regulatory appeals, is a matter for the FCC to resolve, not common law courts. There are numerous technical issues involved that are the appropriate sphere of the FCC.

Citation Harbor Broadcasting, Inc. v. Boundary Waters Broadcasters, Inc., 636 N.W.2d 560 (Ct. App., Minn., 2001)

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