Pruneyard Shopping Center v. Robins

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Pruneyard Shopping Center v. Robins
Seal of California.svg.png
Court:U.S. Supreme Court
Text:Text of decision
The act of gathering signatures on petitions is constitutionally protected in shopping centers
Case history
Filed:June 9, 1980
Trial court:Superior Court of San Francisco
Appellate court:California Supreme Court
Appellate court:U.S. Supreme Court
Robins v. Pruneyard is a 1979 decision of the Supreme Court of the State of California. The decision held that "speech and petitioning, reasonably exercised" is constitutionally protected in shopping centers under the California Constitution "even when the centers are privately owned." The California Supreme Court decision was appealed to the Supreme Court of the United States, where the decision was upheld in June 1980 in a unanimous decision written by Chief Justice William Rehnquist[1]

In the wake of the Pruneyard decision, it is often said that the California Constitution has a broader interpretation of free speech than does the U.S. Constitution.[2]

Impact of Pruneyard

Although 39 other states have free speech clauses in their constitutions that look like California's — indeed, California borrowed its clause from a similar one in the New York Constitution — at least 13 of those states have declined to follow California in extending the right of free speech into private shopping centers.[3] In refusing to follow Pruneyard, the state supreme courts of New York and Wisconsin both attacked it as an unprincipled and whimsical decision.[4] Only New Jersey, Colorado, and Massachusetts have followed California, albeit with some reservations.

Subsequent, related decisions

In 2001, a 4-3 majority of the Court significantly narrowed Pruneyard by holding for a variety of reasons that California's free speech right does not apply to private apartment complexes — yet, they also refused to overrule Pruneyard.[5] Thus, California's right of free speech in private shopping centers still survives.

Shopping centers located in California have filed a number of lawsuits subsequent to Pruneyard hoping to overturn it or narrow its scope.[6] Since Golden Gateway, decisions by the intermediate California Courts of Appeal have generally limited the scope of the Pruneyard rule to the actual facts of the original case. For example, starting in 1997, the parking lots of many Costco warehouse club stores in California became sites of conflict involving a large number of political activist groups who had gradually become aware of their rights under Pruneyard. In 1998, Costco's management imposed several restrictions, including a complete ban on soliciting at stand-alone stores, a rule that no group or person could use Costco premises for free speech more than 5 days out of any 30, and the complete exclusion of solicitors on the 34 busiest days of the year.

In 2002, these restrictions were upheld as reasonable by the Court of Appeal for the Fourth Appellate District, and the Supreme Court of California denied review.[7] Costco's stand-alone stores lacked the social congregation attributes of the multi-tenant shopping center at issue in Pruneyard. As for the restrictions on the stores in shopping centers, they were held to be reasonable because Costco had developed a strong factual record at trial which proved that hordes of unwanted solicitors had significantly interfered with its business operations — they had damaged its reputation, obstructed access to its stores, and traumatized Costco employees.

In 2007, the Supreme Court of California confronted the Pruneyard decision once more, in the context of a complex labor dispute involving San Diego's Fashion Valley Mall and the San Diego Union-Tribune. On December 24, 2007, a 4-3 majority of a sharply divided court once again refused to overrule Pruneyard, and instead, ruled that under the California Constitution, a union's right of free speech in a shopping center includes the right to hand out leaflets urging patrons to boycott one of the shopping center's tenants.[8]

See also


  1. Syllabus of the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Pruneyard v. Robins
  2. Rights to table
  3. Josh Mulligan, Finding A Forum in the Simulated City: Mega Malls, Gated Towns, and the Promise of Pruneyard, 13 Cornell J. L. & Pub. Pol'y 533, 557 (2004). This article is an excellent overview of Pruneyard's progeny.
  4. See SHAD Alliance v. Smith Haven Mall, 488 N.E.2d 1211 (N.Y. 1985) and Jacobs v. Major, 407 N.W.2d 832 (Wis. 1987).
  5. Golden Gateway Ctr. v. Golden Gateway Tenants Ass'n, 26 Cal. 4th 1013 (2001).
  6. Joseph R. Grodin, Calvin R. Massey, and Richard B. Cunningham, The California State Constitution: A Reference Guide (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1993), 26.
  7. Costco Companies, Inc. v. Gallant, 96 Cal. App. 4th 740 (2002).
  8. Fashion Valley Mall v. National Labor Relations Board