State action doctrine is the legal principle which holds that the constitutional amendments only apply to state and local governments, while private actors, such as corporations, can exercise discretion in regulating internal rules and regulations. In the First Amendment, this is established with the phrasing “[c]ongress shall make no law” infringing upon the freedoms of speech, religion, press, assembly, and petition.
In this case we are asked to decide whether a State, consistently with the First and Fourteenth Amendments, can impose criminal punishment on a person who undertakes to distribute religious literature on the premises of a company-owned town contrary to the wishes of the town's management. The town, a suburb of Mobile, Alabama, known as Chickasaw, is owned by the Gulf Shipbuilding Corporation. Except for that it has all the characteristics of any other American town. The property consists of residential buildings, streets, a system of sewers, a sewage disposal plant and a "business block" on which business places are situated. A deputy of the Mobile County Sheriff, paid by the company, serves as the town's policeman. Merchants and service establishments have rented the stores and business places on the business block and the United States uses one of the places as a post office from which six carriers deliver mail to the people of Chickasaw and the adjacent area. The town and the surrounding neighborhood, which can not be distinguished from the Gulf property by anyone not familiar with the property lines, are thickly settled, and according to all indications the residents use the business block as their regular shopping center. To do so, they now, as they have for many years, make use of a company-owned paved street and sidewalk located alongside the store fronts in order to enter and leave the stores and the post office. Intersecting company-owned roads at each end of the business block lead into a four-lane public highway which runs parallel to the business block at a distance of thirty feet. There is nothing to stop highway traffic from coming onto the business block and upon arrival a traveler may make free use of the facilities available there. In short the town and its shopping district are accessible to and freely used by the public in general and there is nothing to distinguish them from any other town and shopping center except the fact that the title to the property belongs to a private corporation.
About the Logan Valley Plaza: The Plaza is a large shopping mall located near the city of Altoona, Pennsylvania. The shopping center directly abuts Plank Road to the east and Goods Lane to the South. Plan Road, otherwise known as U.S. Route 220, is a heavily traveled, high speed highway. There are five entrances to the Plaza: three from Plank Road and two from Goods Lane. At the time of the case, the Plaza was occupied by two businesses, Weis Markets, Inc. and Sears, Roebuck and Co.
About Weis: Weis Markets, Inc. owns and operates supermarkets through out the United States. Weis owns an enclosed supermarket building in Logan Valley Plaza. The property includes an open pick-up porch, where Weis consumers can temporarily park and load groceries into their automobiles.
About Amalgamated Food Employees Union, Local 590: AFEU 590 is a local food employees union. The members of the union were employed by competitors of Weis.
The Lloyd Corporation owns a large retail shopping center in Portland, Oregon known as the Lloyd Center. It is bounded by public streets and owns all the land and buildings within the Center. The Lloyd Center allows certain civic and charitable organizations, such as the American Legion and The Salvation Army, to have limited use of the mall. In 1960, Center institutes its strict no handbilling policy. At a few places within the Center, small signs are imbedded in the sidewalk which state its policy.
Donald Tanner, Betsy Wheeler, Susan Roberts, and two other young people were anti-war protesters. They were trying to publicize a meeting of the Resistance Community. The Resistance Community was composed of people opposed to the draft and the Vietnam War. On November 14, 1968 the respondents distribute anti-war handbills within Lloyd Center. The distribution occurs in several places on the mall walkways. The five young people are quiet and orderly, and there is no littering. Security guards inform the respondents that they will be arrested if they do not cease and desist the distribution of said handbills. Respondents leave the premises in order to avoid arrest and continue handbilling outside.
On January 15, 1970, respondents filed an action in the United States District Court of Oregon. Respondents sought an injunction affirming their right to distribute handbills and enjoining Lloyd Corp. from interfering with that right. Chief Judge Solomon grants the injunction, stating that the Center is open to the general public and that it is found to be the functional equivalent of a public business district. On July 7, 1971, per curiam decision, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upholds the constitutionality of the injunction. It states that it is bound by the lower courts factual determination as to the character of Lloyd Center and thus it must abide by the precedents in Marsh and Amalgamated Food Employees Union. In 1972, The United States Supreme Court grants the petition for cert on January 17.
On the issue of public forum v. property rights, peaceful expression carried on in a location open generally to public use is, absent from other factors, is protected by the First Amendment. As such, public access must be given to streets, sidewalks, parks, and other similar public places that are historically associated with the exercise of free speech. Lovell v. Griffin, 303 U.S. 444 (1938); Hague v. CIO, 307 U.S. 496 (1939); Schneider v. State, 308 U.S. 147 (1939). The Court has also held that in some circumstances, property that is privately owned may be considered public for First Amendment purposes. Marsh v. Alabama, 326 U.S. 501, (1946) In Marsh, the Court ruled that a Jehovahs Witness had the right to distribute religious pamphlets in the business district of a town owned by a private corporation because that district was the functional equivalent of a business district in a municipality.
The Court extended the rationale of Marsh to include the peaceful picketing of a store in a large shopping center. Amalgamated Food Employees Union v. Logan Valley Plaza, 391 U.S. 308, (1968). A restriction of free expression in a public forum must be able to withstand strict judicial scrutiny of its effect on First Amendment rights.
A group of labor union members who engaged in peaceful primary picketing within the confines of a privately owned shopping center were threatened by an agent of the owner with arrest for criminal trespass if they did not depart. The question presented is whether this threat violated the National Labor Relations Act, 49 Stat. 449, as amended, 61 Stat. 136, 29 U. S. C. § 151 et seq. The National Labor Relations Board concluded that it did, 205 N. L. R. B. 628, and the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit agreed. 501 F. 2d 161. We granted certiorari because of the seemingly important questions of federal law presented. 420 U. S. 971.