Fifth Circuit backs FCC on fine issued to manufacturer of radar jamming device.

Most companies are content to lose a case once or twice. But some don’t get the message, and just keep on running up against the wall.

Rocky Mountain Radar (RMR) makes a jammer intended to help motorists evade police radar. It is different from a radar detector (legal in 49 states), which merely signals the presence of a radar beam. The RMR jammer does more. It not only detects the radar beam, but modifies it and sends it back to confuse the police radar device so it cannot register the car’s speed. The driver sails by, with a friendly wave for the officer.

The FCC announced 14 years ago that such jamming devices are illegal. RMR ignored the memo and kept on selling the product. A short time later, the FCC’s then-named Compliance and Information Bureau cited RMR for marketing an unlawful “intentional radiator” – FCC-speak for what most of us call a transmitter.

RMR raised a Clintonian defense. The FCC rules define an intentional radiator as a device that “intentionally generates and emits” radio-frequency (RF) energy. Not guilty, said RMR. Our device does not “generate” RF. Rather, it simply picks up the RF from the police radar and sends it back. Not being an intentional radiator, the jammer is not subject to FCC regulation. QED.

The Bureau disagreed. The device does “generate” a signal, it said. The incoming police beam just serves as a power source. Besides, said the Bureau, the purpose of the device is to cause harmful interference to a licensed service (police radar), which is illegal no matter how we classify the unit.

RMR sought review by the full Commission, which backed the Bureau. Next, RMR appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, whose 1999 decision backed the Commission.

At that point RMR had lost in every available forum except the U.S. Supreme Court. Actually it tried that one, too, but the Court declined to hear the case.

Scholars of communications law are accustomed to ambiguity and uncertainty. But here, for once, there was none. Few principles have been established so plainly: radar jammers are illegal. Some might disagree on whether this is the right outcome, but no one could seriously think the law is otherwise.

Except, apparently, the people at RMR.

By 2007, their product was back on the market. This time FCC fined RMR $25,000 and issued warnings to its distributors.   Apparently believing the best defense is a good offense, RMR sued the FCC in a federal district court in Texas, where it not only sought to overturn the fine, but also alleged the FCC had unlawfully interfered with its contractual relationships.  The FCC countered with a demand for the $25,000. 

RMR’s strategy failed, for lack of a good offense to begin with. The district court decided it lacked jurisdiction over RMR’s claims, but not the FCC’s. The court ordered RMR to pay the money.

By now we can anticipate RMR’s next step: another appeal. This time it went to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit (which hears appeals from U.S. district courts in Texas). RMR went back to square one: it argued, yet again, that its device does not “generate” RF signals. Up to that point its record on this issue, by our count, was zero for five. 

Make that zero for six: in a recent decision from the Fifth Circuit, RMR lost yet again. This court, too, found the company had violated the FCC rules and ordered it to pay the money.

RMR’s next stop, we suspect, will be another try at the U.S. Supreme Court. The nine folks up there probably have better things to do, and the odds are they will turn down RMR yet again. But RMR seems unable to hear the word “No.” And they still have 11 more Federal courts of appeals to try  . . .

[Blogmeister note: The photo displayed above was provided to us by Decatur Electronics.]