Thursday, July 19. 2012
High Court to Decide Whether Store May Ban Religious Solicitors
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
The California Supreme Court yesterday agreed to decide how far a retailer may go in keeping religious solicitors away from its premises.
The justices, at their weekly conference in San Francisco, unanimously granted review of an April 25 decision by this district’s Court of Appeal in Ralphs Grocery Company v. Missionary Church Of The Disciples Of Jesus Christ. Div. Four upheld a permanent injunction barring church members from soliciting donations in front of the company’s El Segundo store, distinguishing the case from a prior ruling finding a free speech right to pass out leaflets in front of a retail establishment.
Ralphs sued the church for trespass in 2009, saying members had placed themselves in a fire lane bordering the customer parking lot, and had violated company rules that, among other things, prohibit “expressive activity” within 20 feet of a store entrance.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Andrew Kauffman, since retired, granted the injunction, noting that the store is in a standalone structure within a strip mall; that the company had established time, place and manner restrictions that the church refused to comply with; and that the church activity had nothing to do with Ralphs’ business.
Because the location was “a privately-owned, free-standing grocery store,” and not the functional equivalent of a...town center,” as in Robins v. Pruneyard Shopping Center (1979) 23 Cal.3d 899, the church had no constitutional right to engage in expressive activity on the company’s business premises.
The injunction prohibits the church and its members from engaging pamphleteering, solicitation, or related activities in front of the store or within 20 feet of the sidewalk or apron in front of the store.
Justice Nora Manella, writing for the Court of Appeal, distinguished In re Lane (1969) 71 Cal.2d 872, which held that a union member had a right to stand in front of a store handing out leaflets urging shoppers to boycott the store due to a labor dispute.
Manella disagreed with Ralphs, which argued that Lane is no longer controlling in light of later cases. But she agreed with the trial judge that Lane is limited to a dispute that relates to the business of the retailer.
“Here, the evidence established no relation whatsoever between the Church’s expressive activities and Ralphs’ El Segundo location,” Manella wrote. “The Church had no grievance against Ralphs, much less a labor grievance of the kind at issue in Lane. The sole message the Church wished to communicate was its need for funds to support its efforts on behalf of the poor and needy. The Church had no reason to choose Ralphs’ El Segundo store over the myriad other locations where its members could have congregated to communicate their message.”
She also agreed with Kauffman that the nature of the store’s location made the state constitutional analysis of Pruneyard inapplicable. The evidence, she said, showed that the store “was in a free-standing building located near ‘a handful’ of other retailers, that its invitation to the public was limited, and that it did not offer amenities such as plazas, walkways or central courtyards, or encourage customers to linger, meet friends, be entertained or congregate on store property for any purpose other than shopping for food and related products.”
Besides, she wrote, even if the store were equivalent to a town center, Pruneyard would allow the company to establish reasonable restrictions on the time, place, and manner in which expressive activities occurred. “The record below made clear the Church members’ disdain for any attempt to limit their activities or subject them to appropriate regulation,” she wrote.
The case is Ralphs Grocery Company v. Missionary Church of the Disciples of Jesus Christ, B231005.
Copyright 2012, Metropolitan News Company