Legal Principle at Issue
Whether large shopping plazas are "public forums" where all citizens have a First Amendment right to petition and engage in peaceful expression. Picketing as protected free expression and the distinction between public forum v. property rights were also at issue.
Reversed and remanded. Petitioning party received a favorable disposition.
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.
Importance of Case
The Court found that the similarities between the company towns business block in Marsh and the Logan Valley Plaza supports the contention that the Plaza is a public forum. In the Courts view, the roadways outside and within the mall are equivalent to the streets and sidewalks provided for the public by the company in Marsh.
Further, the Court rules that in much the same way that a municipality can make reasonable time, manner, and place regulations governing the exercise of First Amendment rights in its business district, the Plaza can also make those same types of restrictions. However, the fact that the injunction has the effect of relegating the picketers to the berms surrounding the parking lot exposes it as a non-narrowly tailored, unconstitutional First Amendment restriction. The injunction made it virtually impossible to communicate with the patrons of Weis and to limit the effect of the picketing to Weis only. Reversed and remanded.
The Court also notes that the scope of its holding is limited to speech that is directed specifically at patrons of the shopping mall.
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.
A restriction of free expression in a public forum must be able to withstand strict judicial scrutiny of its effect on First Amendment rights.