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Ralphs Grocery Co. v. United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 8

July 19, 2010


APPEAL from a judgment of the Superior Court of Sacramento County, Loren E. McMaster, Judge. Reversed with directions. (Super. Ct. No. 34-2008-00008682-CU-OR-GDS).

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Nicholson, Acting P. J.


In this case, a union peacefully picketed in front of a grocery store, a private forum, contrary to the grocery store's demands that the union not use the private property for its expressive activities (its "speech," using the term generally). When the grocery store sought injunctive relief against the picketing, the court denied the relief based on California's statutory scheme making it virtually impossible for an employer to obtain injunctive relief in a peaceful labor dispute.

This case presents the question of whether the state, based on the content of the speech, can force the owner or possessor of real property that is not a public forum to give an uninvited group access to the private property to engage in speech. We conclude that such legislation violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution and, therefore, is invalid.

Accordingly, we reverse and remand.


"The First Amendment to the United States Constitution provides that 'Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech . . . .' This fundamental right to free speech is 'among the fundamental personal rights and liberties which are protected by the Fourteenth Amendment from invasion by state action.' [Citations.]" (Balboa Island Village Inn, Inc. v. Lemen (2007) 40 Cal.4th 1141, 1147.) "For corporations as for individuals, the choice to speak includes within it the choice of what not to say. [Citation.]" (Pacific Gas & Electric Co. v. Public Utilities Com. (1986) 475 U.S. 1, 16 [89 L.Ed.2d 1, 12].) Forcing a speaker to host or accommodate another speaker's message violates the host's free speech rights. (Hurley v. Irish-American Gay Group (1995) 515 U.S. 557, 566 [132 L.Ed.2d 487, 498-499] (Hurley) [state cannot require parade to include group whose message the parade's organizer does not wish to send].)

The California Constitution protects, among other things, liberty of speech and private ownership of real property. The liberty of speech clause of the California Constitution states: "Every person may freely speak, write and publish his or her sentiments on all subjects, being responsible for the abuse of this right. A law may not restrain or abridge liberty of speech or press." (Cal. Const., art. I, § 2, subd. (a).) Concerning private property, the constitution states: "All people are by nature free and independent and have inalienable rights. Among these are . . . acquiring, possessing, and protecting property . . . ." (Cal. Const., art. I, § 1.)

"As a general rule, landowners and tenants have a right to exclude persons from trespassing on private property; the right to exclude persons is a fundamental aspect of private property ownership. [Citation.] An injunction [exercising the court's equity jurisdiction] is an appropriate remedy for a continuing trespass. [Citation.]" (Allred v. Harris (1993) 14 Cal.App.4th 1386, 1390 (Allred).) However, if the private property is a public forum under the California Constitution, the courts may not enjoin those who enter the private property and engage in speech, conforming with the reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions of the property owner, because, under those circumstances, the owner has no right to exclude, and, therefore, it is not a trespass. (Ibid.)

The elements of a common law trespass are (1) the plaintiff's ownership or control of the property; (2) the defendant's intentional, reckless, or negligent entry on the property; (3) lack of permission to enter the property, or acts in excess of the permission; (4) actual harm; and (5) the defendant's conduct as a substantial factor in causing the harm. (See CACI No. 2000.)

Whether the areas within shopping centers and around large retail stores are public forums for the purpose of speech under California law has been the subject of litigation for many years. In Robins v. Pruneyard Shopping Center (1979) 23 Cal.3d 899 (Pruneyard), the California Supreme Court held that the liberty of speech clause of the California Constitution protected speech in a privately-owned shopping center, subject to the owner's reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions, because the owner had created a public forum for speech. (See Fashion Valley Mall, LLC v. National Labor Relations Bd. (2007) 42 Cal.4th 850, 858 (Fashion Valley) [following Pruneyard].) The shopping center at issue in Pruneyard consisted of 21 acres, with 65 shops, 10 restaurants, and a cinema. (Pruneyard, supra, at p. 902.)

Subsequent cases decided by the Courts of Appeal have distinguished the large Pruneyard-type shopping center from large individual retail stores, even though those stores are located within a larger retail development. These cases have held that the entrance areas and aprons of these large retail stores do not present a public forum. (See, e.g., Van v. Target Corp. (2007) 155 Cal.App.4th 1375 (Van); for a detailed analysis of the cases leading to this holding, see Albertson's, Inc. v. Young (2003) 107 Cal.App.4th 106, 113-120 (Albertson's).)

In addition to the constitutional provisions that may restrict a court from granting relief to a private property owner when California's liberty of speech clause is implicated, two statutes apply to relief that may or may not be granted when the speech relates to a labor dispute. Those statutes are Code of Civil Procedure section 527.3, also known as the Moscone Act, enacted in 1975 (Stats. 1975, ch. 1156, § 1, p. 2845), and Labor Code section 1138.1, enacted in 1999 (Stats. 1999, ch. 616, § 1).

The Moscone Act limits the equity jurisdiction of the courts in cases involving labor disputes. (Sears, Roebuck & Co. v. San Diego County Dist. Council of Carpenters (1979) 25 Cal.3d 317, 321 (Sears II).) (We refer to this case as Sears II because that is how it is referred to in most cases and literature on the subject, even though there is no reason here to discuss the prior decision arising from that case.) The Moscone Act declares that conduct relating to a "'labor dispute,'" such as peaceful picketing, "shall be legal, and no court nor any judge nor judges thereof, shall have jurisdiction to issue any restraining order or preliminary or permanent injunction which, in specific or general terms, prohibits any person or persons, whether singly or in concert, from [engaging in the specified conduct]." (Code Civ. Proc., § 527.3, subd. (b).) The Moscone Act defines "'labor dispute'" broadly. (Code Civ. Proc., § 527.3, subd. (b)(4).)

Without referring to the Moscone Act, Labor Code section 1138.1 restricts the authority of the courts to issue a preliminary or permanent injunction in a case involving a labor dispute. It requires the court in such a case to hold a hearing with live witnesses and to make findings of fact as prerequisites to issuing an injunction. (Lab. Code, § 1138.1, subd. (a).) Before a court may grant injunctive relief in a labor dispute, the court must make all of the following factual findings:

"(1) That unlawful acts have been threatened and will be committed unless restrained or have been committed and will be continued unless restrained, but no injunction or temporary restraining order shall be issued on account of any threat or unlawful act excepting against the person or persons, association, or organization making the threat or committing the unlawful act or actually authorized those acts.

"(2) That substantial and irreparable injury to complainant's property will follow.

"(3) That as to each item of relief granted greater injury will be inflicted upon complainant by the denial of relief than will be inflicted upon defendants by the granting of relief.

"(4) That complainant has no adequate remedy at law.

"(5) That the public officers charged with the duty to protect complainant's property are unable or unwilling to furnish adequate protection." (Lab. Code, § 1138.1, subd. (a).)

With this legal background in mind, we turn to a discussion of the facts and procedure unique to this case.


Plaintiff Ralphs Grocery Company (Ralphs) owns Foods Co, a large warehouse grocery store located in Sacramento in a retail development called College Square. The employees of Foods Co are not represented by a union. Defendant United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 8 (the Union) has negotiated with Ralphs to make Foods Co a union store, but the parties reached an impasse.

The store has only one entrance for customers. In front of the entrance of Foods Co is a sidewalk or apron that extends out about 15 feet to the asphalt of a driving lane that separates the apron from the parking lot. The entrance area (including the exit door) is about 31 feet wide.

Around the corner on the left side of the Foods Co building, looking at the building from the front, there is a courtyard area with three benches and a large circular planter. The benches are up against the side of the Foods Co building. Beyond the courtyard is a separate building with a hair salon, a nail salon, and a beauty supply store. College Square, not Foods Co, maintains the courtyard area. There was no evidence that the Union was using or intended to use this courtyard area for its speech.

On the right side of Foods Co, attached to the Foods Co building, are an empty retail space and two fast-food restaurants. Several more retail establishments are located in College Square, some of them restaurants with outside seating. A large parking lot serves the customers of all the retail establishments in College Square.

Foods Co opened on July 25, 2007. On that day, between eight and 10 agents of the Union picketed the store, encouraging people not to shop at Foods Co because it is not a union store. They walked back and forth in front of the doors, carrying picket signs and handing out flyers. The Union's agents returned generally five days each week and engaged in the same activities, staying about eight hours.

In January 2008, Ralphs gave to the Union a memorandum containing Foods Co's rules for speech on the premises. The rules prohibited distribution of literature, physical contact with any person, and display of signs larger than two feet by three feet. The rules also prohibited speech within 20 feet of the store entrance and banned all speech during specified hours of the day and for a week before designated holidays.

The Union's agents generally did not adhere to Foods Co's rules for speech. They handed out flyers and stood within five feet of the doors. Foods Co management called the Sacramento Police Department and asked the officers to remove the Union's agents. The officers gave the Union's agents a copy of Foods Co's rules for speech and told Foods Co management that giving the rules to the Union's agents was all they would do at that point because the Sacramento Police Department is unwilling to remove peaceful picketers from Ralphs's property. After the officers left, the Union's agents continued to violate Foods Co's rules.

Several other groups or individuals have used Foods Co's entrance area and apron, as well as the parking lot, to engage in speech. Groups or individuals have solicited money for causes, panhandled, gathered signatures on petitions, and sold, at various times, subscriptions to a newspaper, DVDs, and tamales or burritos.

On April 15, 2008, Ralphs filed a complaint against the Union in the Sacramento Superior Court. The complaint alleged trespass and sought declaratory and injunctive relief to prevent the Union from using Ralphs's property as a forum for expression of the Union's views. Ralphs applied for a temporary restraining order, which the trial court denied. However, the court issued an ...

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