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Managing Retail Trespassers

Grocers, shopping centers and big box retailers are besieged every day by various sorts of trespassers who claim to have a legal right to collect money and signatures from customers. Petition circulators make money for each customer signature they can gather. Dubious charity groups seek donations in the same places. They all station themselves at store entrances, often intimidating and scaring off potential customers. In justifying their right to do these activities, these groups often rely on one case that has never applied to their activities in front of grocery or big box stores.

In 1979, a divided California Supreme Court held in the “Pruneyard” case that those who own or maintain large regional shopping centers must allow “a few orderly persons” to engage in expressive activity in a central courtyard space because the center invited the general public to congregate there, and it had displaced the traditional city downtown arena for speech. The billion dollar petition and campaign management industry immediately decided that the “Pruneyard” right must also apply to large grocery stores, even though they are rarely if ever found in large shopping centers.

No court since Pruneyard has agreed with the campaign management industry, and in 2012, the California Supreme Court held that the “Pruneyard” right to engage in expressive activity at a mall does not extend to large, typically-configured grocery stores. Ralphs Grocery Company v. UFCW Local 8, 55 Cal. 4th 1083, 1091-1093.

Similarly, persistent trespass by homeless individuals is a challenge for many retailers to handle. It is often associated with theft, vandalism, unwanted and annoying begging directed at customers, and public intoxication and disorderliness. Those who maintain shopping centers and tenant stores should collaborate to maintain parking lots and common areas without garbage or graffiti, and with bright lights. Collaboration with police command staff usually pays benefits as well. Property owners and managers, as well as tenants, can also seek restraining orders against those persons who threaten violence or create health hazards

John Dahlberg, Esq., of Dillingham & Murphy, LLC is a former police officer who helps national, regional and local clients manage these issues every day.

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