Manhattan Community Access Corporation v. Halleck

139 S. Ct. 1921 (2019)

Facts

Public access channels are available for private citizens to use. Since the 1970s, public access channels have been a regular feature on cable television systems throughout the United States. Congress passed and President Reagan signed the Cable Communications Policy Act of 1984. It authorized state and local governments to require cable operators to set aside channels on their cable systems for public access. Time Warner (now known as Charter) operates a cable system in Manhattan. Under state law, Time Warner must set aside some channels on its cable system for public access. New York City (the City) has designated a private nonprofit corporation named Manhattan Neighborhood Network (D) to operate Time Warner’s public access channels in Manhattan. Ps produced public access programming in Manhattan. They made a film about D’s alleged neglect of the East Harlem community. P submitted the film for airing on d’s public access channels. D televised the film. Based on multiple complaints about the film’s content, D temporarily suspended P from using the public access channels. D ultimately suspended Ps from all MNN services and facilities. Ps sued D in Federal District Court claiming a violation of their First Amendment free-speech rights based on the content of their film. D moved to dismiss in that D is not a state actor and therefore is not subject to First Amendment restrictions on its editorial discretion. The District Court agreed and dismissed Ps' First Amendment claim. The Second Circuit reversed. The court stated that the public access channels in Manhattan are a public forum for purposes of the First Amendment. Reasoning that “public forums are usually operated by governments,” the court concluded that D is a state actor subject to First Amendment constraints. The court granted certiorari to resolve disagreement among the Courts of Appeals on the question of whether private operators of public access cable channels are state actors subject to the First Amendment.