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Manhattan Cmty. Access Corp. v. Halleck

Supreme Court of the United States

February 25, 2019, Argued; June 17, 2019, Decided

No. 17-1702.

Opinion

 [*1926]  [**411]   Justice Kavanaugh delivered the opinion of the Court.

The Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment constrains governmental actors and protects private actors. To draw the line between governmental and private, this Court applies what is known as the state-action doctrine. Under that doctrine, as relevant here, a private entity may be considered a state actor when it exercises a function “traditionally exclusively reserved to the State.” [***5]  Jackson v. Metropolitan Edison Co., 419 U. S. 345, 352, 95 S. Ct. 449, 42 L. Ed. 2d 477 (1974).

This state-action case concerns the public access channels on Time Warner’s cable system in Manhattan. Public access channels are available for private citizens to use. The public access channels on Time Warner’s cable system in Manhattan are operated by a private nonprofit corporation known as MNN. The question here is whether MNN—even though it is a private entity—nonetheless is a state actor when it operates the public access channels. In other words, is operation of public access channels on a cable system a traditional, exclusive public function? If so, then the First Amendment would restrict MNN’s exercise of editorial discretion over the speech and speakers on the public access channels.

Under the state-action doctrine as it has been articulated and applied by our precedents, we conclude that operation of public access channels on a cable system is not a traditional, exclusive public function. Moreover, a private entity such as MNN who opens its property for speech by others is not transformed by that fact alone into a state actor. In operating the public access channels, MNN is a private actor, not a state actor, and MNN therefore is not subject to First Amendment constraints on its editorial discretion. [***6]  We reverse in relevant part the judgment of the Second Circuit, and we remand the case for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

Since the 1970s, public access channels have been a regular feature on cable television systems throughout the United States. In the 1970s, Federal Communications Commission regulations required certain cable operators to set aside channels on their cable systems for public access. In 1979, however, this Court ruled that the FCC lacked statutory authority to impose that mandate. See FCC v. Midwest Video Corp., 440 U. S. 689, 99 S. Ct. 1435, 59 L. Ed. 2d 692 (1979). A few years later, Congress passed and President Reagan signed the Cable Communications Policy Act of 1984. 98 Stat. 2779. The Act authorized state and local governments to require cable operators to set aside channels on their cable systems for public access. 47 U. S. C. §531(b).

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139 S. Ct. 1921 *; 204 L. Ed. 2d 405 **; 2019 U.S. LEXIS 4178 ***; 27 Fla. L. Weekly Fed. S 912; 2019 WL 2493920

MANHATTAN COMMUNITY ACCESS CORPORATION, et al., Petitioners v. DEEDEE HALLECK, et al.

Notice: The LEXIS pagination of this document is subject to change pending release of the final published version.

Prior History:  [***1] ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE SECOND CIRCUIT

Halleck v. Manhattan Cmty. Access Corp., 882 F.3d 300, 2018 U.S. App. LEXIS 3089 (2d Cir. N.Y., Feb. 9, 2018)

Disposition: 882 F. 3d 300, reversed in part and remanded.

CORE TERMS

channels, public access, private entity, First Amendment, state actor, public forum, cable, regulated, property interest, cable system, public-access, cases, public function, state-action, entity’s, editorial, producers, cable franchise, nonprofit, easement, designated, television, delegated, licenses, opened, private property owner, private property, state law, contracts, dedicated

Constitutional Law, Fundamental Freedoms, Freedom of Speech, Scope, Civil Procedure, Defenses, Demurrers & Objections, Motions to Dismiss, Failure to State Claim, Appeals, Standards of Review, Bill of Rights, State Application, Civil Rights Law, Elements, Color of State Law, Participation as State Action, Traditional State Functions, State-Authorized Actions, Forums, Section 1983 Actions, Color of State Law, Regulatory Powers