Key Decisions

May 2012 – Church Members Did Not Have A Right To Solicit

(filed under: | May 16, 2012)

Church Members Did Not Have A Right To Solicit Donations In Front Of A Grocery Store

Ralphs Grocery Company v. Missionary Church of the Disciples of Jesus Christ
(Cal. Ct. of App., 2d Dist.), filed April 25, 2012

Ralphs operated a grocery store. It was stand-alone building with a private sidewalk/apron that ran between the storefront and a fire lane that bordered the customer parking lot. People are invited onto the property solely to shop for food and related products. The particular store did not offer amenities such as plazas, walkways or central courtyards containing benches, and Ralphs did not encourage customers to linger, meet friends, be entertained or congregate on store property for any purpose other than shopping.

Members of the Missionary Church of the Disciples of Jesus Christ regularly placed themselves in front of the entry/exit doors of the grocery store to solicit donations without first seeking permission from store management or attempting to comply with Ralphs’ rules for expressive activity.

Ralphs filed suit for trespass, seeking to enjoin the Church’s activities on its property. Ralphs and the Church filed cross-motions for summary judgment.

In opposing Ralphs’ motion, the Church placed its reliance on the case of In re Lane, 71 Cal.2d 872 (1969) and expressly disclaimed reliance on the case of Robins v. Pruneyard Shopping Center, 23 Cal.3d 899 (1979).

The trial court granted Ralphs’ motion. The Court of Appeal affirmed.

In the Lane case, the California Supreme Court held that a store owner could not prevent a labor union from picketing on a privately owned sidewalk in front of a store. The Court observed that the sidewalk was open to members of the public who were invited to use it to access the store. Thus, members of the public could exercise their First Amendment rights to freedom of speech.

In the Pruneyard case, the California Supreme Court held that the right to speak could be exercised inside a large shopping mall where members of the public were invited to congregate and socialize.

In rejecting the Church’s reliance on the Lane case, the court reasoned that the evidence established no relation whatsoever between the Church’s expressive activities and the particular location. 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’ store over the myriad other locations where its members could have congregated to communicate their message.

Since the Church had disclaimed reliance on the Pruneyard case and did not present evidence equating the Ralphs premises with the shopping center considered in the Pruneyard case, the court did not address it.