In a case that we reported on earlier this year, last month, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals reversed an Indiana district court’s grant of summary judgment to the Fort Wayne public transit system, Citilink, holding that the transit company’s rejection of an advertisement for a healthcare organization was unreasonable in light of Citilink’s advertising policy.
To recap, Citilink rejected an application for public bus advertising from a group called Women’s Health Link (WHL). Citilink has an advertising policy that prohibits advertisements that “express or advocate opinions or positions upon political, religious, or moral issues.” WHL provides health services to women in the Fort Wayne area, primarily through referrals. It came to the attention of the transit company that WHL is a pro-life organization that provides women with unplanned or crisis pregnancies alternatives to abortion, including adoption counseling. Citilink rejected WHL’s advertisements—which say nothing about abortion—on the grounds that abortion is a moral issue. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the transit company, finding that bus advertising space was a nonpublic forum and that the policy and its implementation were reasonable in light of the purposes of the forum.
On appeal, the Seventh Circuit rejected the lower court’s holding. Refusing to apply forum analysis to Citilink bus advertising, the Seventh Circuit simply found that the transit provider’s rejection of the WHL advertisement was unreasonable. Because the advertisement had nothing to do with abortion—according to the court, “the content of Health Link’s proposed ad lacks the faintest suggestion of a political, religious, or moral aim or agenda”—and because Citilink allowed advertising for immigrant services, anti-crime organizations, vaccination advocacy, get-out-the-vote campaigning, and other public matters, the appeals court held that Citilink’s rejection of WHL’s ads unreasonable.
Women’s Health Link, Inc. v. Fort Wayne Public Transportation Corp., ___ F.3d ___, 2016 WL 3435633 (Jun. 22, 2016).