Freedom of Speech

Mall rules that prohibit conversations between strangers about topics unrelated to mall activities are content-based rules that are unconstitutional. Matthew Snatchko v. Westfield LLC et al., (No. C059985 California Courts of Appeal, Third Appellate District, August 11, 2010).

Hoping for opportunities to share his faith, the plaintiff went to a large regional shopping mall owned and operated by the defendant.  While he was in the common area of the mall, plaintiff approached three young women and asked them if they would be willing to talk with him and upon receiving their consent, engaged them in conversation.  He did not raise his voice or otherwise create a scene.  He did not distribute any literature; he did not solicit money or other contributions.  He did not block mall patrons.  A security officer approached the individuals and asked the plaintiff to stop what he was doing or leave the mall.  The plaintiff continued to refuse and the security officers placed the plaintiff under arrest.  He was handcuffed and escorted to a security office.  He was then turned over to the local police department.

Plaintiff filed an action against the defendant for false imprisonment as well as other causes of action. 

The trial court granted defendant’s motion for summary adjudication based upon a finding that the defendants’ rules were reasonable in time, place, and manner restrictions were content neutral. 

The appeals court found the trial court erred in its ruling and directed to vacate its order granting summary adjudication.   It further held that rules of a large regional shopping mall that prohibit peaceful consensual spontaneous conversations between strangers in common areas of the mall about topics that are not related to the activities of the mall do not withstand a strict scrutiny analysis.  Therefore, the rules were found to be unconstitutional under the California Constitution which guarantees the right to free speech.

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