Friday, August 13, 2010
C.A.: Mall’s Rules on Conversation With Strangers Unconstitutional
By STEVEN M. ELLIS, Staff Writer
The Third District Court of Appeal has revived a Christian youth pastor’s suit against a Placer County shopping mall that had him arrested when he declined to stop talking about his faith with three young women.
The court on Wednesday held that rules at the Westfield Galleria at Roseville prohibiting peaceful, consensual, spontaneous conversations between strangers in mall common areas about topics not related to the mall, its tenants or their sponsored activities were unconstitutional.
Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, who faces an Aug. 25 confirmation hearing in her bid to become California’s next chief justice, wrote that the rules were content-based restrictions that violated the California Constitution’s guarantee of the right to free speech. Reasoning that the mall was a public forum, the justice said that the restrictions were not necessary to serve a compelling interest.
Matthew Snatchko was forcibly detained and turned over to the Roseville police when he declined a request by mall security to end a conversation he was having with three women in their late teens in one of the mall’s common areas.
Snatchko, who often went to the mall hoping for opportunities to share his Christian faith, engaged the women after they agreed to talk to him about the principles of his faith. Although he was not creating a scene, distributing literature, soliciting money or contributions, asking the women to join his church or blocking mall patrons, he was asked to leave when a security officer, called by an employee of a nearby store, apparently overheard the conversation.
Declining to do so, Snatchko was handcuffed by mall security, and then booked and released by Roseville police. All charges against him were later dismissed.
Snatchko filed suit against the mall and its security provider, Professional Security Consultants, alleging they violated his right to free speech under Art. I, Sec. 2 of the California Constitution. The section provides that “[e]very person may freely speak, write and publish his or her sentiments on all subjects, being responsible for the abuse of this right,” and the California Supreme Court has held that its protections are broader than those afforded by the First Amendment and include the right of free speech, reasonably exercised, in a privately-owned shopping mall.
Westfield moved for summary judgment, arguing that its rules governing noncommercial expressive activity were reasonable time, place, and manner rules that had been lawfully adopted and enforced.
Placer Superior Court Judge Larry D. Gaddis agreed with Westfield and granted the motion.
Cantil-Sakauye, however, said the rules were content-based because they allowed conversation between strangers on matters related to the mall, its tenants and their sponsored activities, while prohibiting conversation between strangers unrelated to such matters absent the mall’s express permission.
Applying strict scrutiny, she rejected the mall’s argument that the rules served a compelling interest in reducing mall congestion or providing a “stress-free shopping atmosphere,” or a First Amendment interest in “remaining neutral on volatile political and social issues.”
The justice also said the rules—even if content-neutral—could not survive intermediate scrutiny, and were overbroad and vague.
“[T]he Rules preclude strangers from talking about everything from their political, social, environmental or religious views to their views on current sports events…or even the weather,” she opined. “Given the wide variety of reasons people go to shopping malls and the range of possible conversations between individuals at the mall, Westfield’s prohibition of strangers spontaneously talking to each other on topics unrelated to the mall substantially burdens far more protected speech than is necessary to meet Westfield’s safety and convenience concerns.”
Justices Ronald B. Robie and M. Kathleen Butz joined Cantil-Sakauye in her opinion.
The case is Snatchko v. Westfield LLC, C055985.
Copyright 2010, Metropolitan News Company