SHAD ALLIANCE v. SMITH HAVEN
106 A.D.2d 189 (1985)
Shad Alliance et al., Respondents, v. Smith Haven Mall, Appellant
Appellate Division of the Supreme Court of the State of New York, Second Department.
February 4, 1985
Stroock & Stroock & Lavan (
Edward R. Korman and Naomi Siegel of counsel), for the New York Government Affairs Committee of the International Council of Shopping Centers, amicus curiae.
GIBBONS, J. P., and EIBER, J., concur with BROWN, J; NIEHOFF, J., dissents and votes to reverse the order and judgment and, inter alia, to declare that the plaintiffs have no constitutional right to distribute leaflets on the defendant's property, contrary to the defendant's wishes, with an opinion, in which RUBIN, J., concurs.
The issue to be decided on this appeal is whether the rights of free speech and petition under our State Constitution (NY Const, art I, §§ 8, 9) protect those who wish to distribute leaflets dealing with matters of public interest and concern at a large, privately owned suburban shopping mall. We conclude that the shopping mall in question — the Smith Haven Mall in Suffolk County — by virtue of its size, location and mode of operation, has undertaken the character and attributes of a downtown business district or town center such that the rights of free expression under our State Constitution require that the mall be enjoined from prohibiting the distribution of leaflets on its premises, subject only to the adoption of reasonable regulations as to the time, place and manner in which such activities may be carried out so as to minimize any interference with the mall's commercial functions.
SHAD Alliance (Sound-Hudson Against Atomic Development) is a coalition of organizations from New York City, Long Island, Westchester and the Mid-Hudson area opposed to the use of nuclear power. It seeks to prevent the operation of existing nuclear power plants and the completion of new ones through educational means and nonviolent action. Paumanok People's Organization has been formed, in its own words, in opposition to "the use of nuclear power for the generation of electricity and the manufacture and use of nuclear weaponry". It favors the use of "safe, renewable and decentralized services of energy" and seeks to promote its goals through "non-violent direct action". On two occasions during the summer of 1980, representatives of the two groups, including on one occasion both of the individual plaintiffs, stood under the portico at the main entrance to the Smith Haven Mall and began distributing leaflets which expressed their opposition to the use of nuclear power and encouraged the public to protest against the operation of the Shoreham Nuclear Power Station. On each occasion, representatives of the mall ordered the plaintiffs to desist in their activities, based upon a policy which prohibits the distribution of leaflets without the permission of the mall's management. When such permission was thereafter sought, it was denied.
Special Term, after finding that the plaintiffs' activities did not in any manner disturb the mall's operation, concluded, inter alia, that the "Mall * * * can be considered to perform the functional equivalent of a town center and the free flow and
The Smith Haven Mall is a large, privately owned and operated shopping center occupying approximately 97 acres, and containing parking for 7,000 cars. It is owned by the Prudential Insurance Company of America and is operated by a privately owned management company. The mall building itself contains about 1.4 million square feet and is occupied by three large "anchor" department stores (Abraham and Straus, Macy's and Sears) and approximately 125 other retail establishments, including several restaurants and banks, a movie theatre, a dental clinic and social services agency. The mall is protected by both the Suffolk County Police Department and a private security force. Its 1977 annual gross sales of $180 million comprised nearly 5% of all retail sales in Suffolk County, making it the county's largest retail center. According to a 1979 public relations survey, the mall draws customers from over 60 surrounding areas; nearly one half of its customers do not regularly shop at any other shopping center and an equal number visit the mall at least once each week.
The mall is typical of any large suburban shopping center, and is designed to encourage the public to linger and congregate. At the center of the mall, where its four pedestrian walkways converge, there is a shallow sunken amphitheatre designed to seat a large number of people. The amphitheatre is surrounded by a number of take-out food establishments and seating areas where shoppers and other visitors are encouraged to sit and relax. There are similar facilities at the ends of the corridors leading to the three anchor department stores.
The mall also serves as the focal point for a number of community activities and gatherings, hosting over 80 promotional events each year, including exhibitions, charity auctions, recruitment efforts by both local universities and the Armed Forces, and free health-related services. In addition, the mall permits the use of its facilities for annual voter registration drives and promotional events by local towns and provides space for the mobile office of the local member of Congress. As a matter of policy, however, the management of the mall has prohibited any type of pamphleting or use of its facilities for campaigning or political gatherings.
In reaching its decision in Lloyd (supra), the court distinguished its earlier holdings in Marsh v Alabama (
In the other case distinguished by the Lloyd court (supra), Food Employees v Logan Plaza (supra), the court held that members of a labor union could picket outside a market located
A vigorous dissent was filed in Lloyd by Justice Marshall, joined by three other members of the court, in which it was argued that no reasonable distinction could be drawn between the case before them and the Logan Plaza case (supra) and that the issue simply was one of a balancing of interests between rights of property and rights of free expression in which the balance must be struck in favor of the latter (
Accordingly, it is clear that for purposes of 1st Amendment analysis, the Smith Haven Mall, regardless of its size, location or mode of operation, retains its private character, and that the policy of its management prohibiting leafleting of the type at bar cannot in any respect be considered to be violative of plaintiffs' Federally protected constitutional rights of freedom of expression.
Thus, the controversy as it comes to us requires that we engage in an independent analysis of the provisions of our own State Constitution to determine whether the separate protections afforded plaintiffs thereunder have been violated by the actions of the management of the Smith Haven Mall. In that respect, plaintiffs predicate their claim on the provisions of the State Constitution, article I, §§ 8, 9, which, respectively, protect the rights of free speech and press and freedom of assembly and petition. Those provisions read in relevant part as follows:
In many areas of personal liberties, the Federal constitutional guarantees, as they have been interpreted by the United States Supreme Court, have been found to satisfy and, in some cases, exceed the guarantees provided by the coinciding provisions of our State Constitution (People v Adams,
With respect to the rights of our citizens under our State Constitution, article I, § 8, the Court of Appeals has recognized that "at the very least, the guarantee of freedom of expression set forth in our State Constitution is of no lesser vitality than that set forth in the Federal Constitution" (Bellanca v New York State Liq. Auth.,
To date, however, there has been no occasion for the courts of our State to interpret our State Constitution with respect to the specific issue at hand, i.e., whether under our State Constitution the right of free expression may be exercised on privately owned property which has taken on the characteristics of a downtown business district or town center.
The most similar case to the one before us, but one which is clearly distinguishable on its facts, is Watchtower Bible & Tract Socy. v Metropolitan Life Ins. Co. (297 N.Y. 339, cert denied 335 U.S. 886). In Watchtower, the plaintiff, the governing body of the Jehovah's Witnesses, brought an action seeking to declare invalid a regulation of the management of a private residential development known as Parkchester. The regulation, in effect, barred solicitations and canvassing of any variety within the 171 apartment buildings making up the development, absent either the consent of the manager or the prior written consent of the tenant of a particular apartment (297 N.Y. 339, 342-343, supra). In upholding the regulation in the face of both State and Federal constitutional challenges, the Court of Appeals distinguished the then recent Supreme Court decisions in Marsh v Alabama (
While the precise question which now faces us has not before been addressed in New York, it has been considered by a number of other States. Perhaps the most prominent of these sister State cases is PruneYard Shopping Center v Robins (
In upholding the decision of California's highest court, the United States Supreme Court undertook a brief review of its past decisions in this area from Marsh v Alabama (
Finally, the court rejected the claim by the shopping center that the State was infringing upon its 1st Amendment rights by compelling it to provide a forum for the speech of others. The court noted in this regard that by its own choice, the shopping center had declined to limit the property to its personal use, and that with the general public coming and going as they pleased, it was unlikely that they would identify the views expressed by those passing out leaflets or soliciting signatures with those of the owner of the shopping center (
In addition to California, several other States, recognizing the special roles of speech and petition under their own Constitutions, have determined to allow limited intrusions upon private property for the purpose of safeguarding the effective exercise of those rights (see, Alderwood Assoc. v Washington Environmental Council,
Similarly, our Court of Appeals has acknowledged the special role that free speech and exchange of ideas plays in the democratic process of our State and has consistently recognized that the free speech provisions of our Constitution may, in fact, provide even broader protections than are provided under the 1st Amendment (see, Matter of Beach v Shanley,
Turning to the case before us, we see no sound basis for denying the citizens of New York the right of free expression enjoyed by them under our State Constitution, article I, §§ 8, 9 when they have entered a shopping center like the Smith Haven Mall which, because of its location and mode of operation, has become clothed with all of the attributes of the traditional downtown business area or town center (Marsh v Alabama,
We would note, however, that our holding should not be construed as a blanket sanction to engage in expressive activity on any privately held property or to engage in unrestricted activity thereon. Rather, there are sound limitations upon the situations in which private property may be intruded upon. The Supreme Court of New Jersey, for example, in its opinion in State v Schmid (
Obviously, the Smith Haven Mall is first and foremost designed to serve as a center for commercial activity. But it is clear as well that the mall was designed to serve as a gathering place and events center. Its intended use from its inception was to serve multiple purposes. The manner in which the mall has functioned makes it clear that its invitation to the public is a
Based upon the foregoing analysis, we conclude that, under the facts at bar, our State Constitution, article I, §§ 8, 9 protect the right of the plaintiffs to engage in leafleting at the Smith Haven Mall subject to reasonable regulation as to the time, place and manner of such activity.
Accordingly, the judgment appealed from should be affirmed.
In this case plaintiffs who have a respected and important cause to espouse seek to compel defendant, the owner of a shopping mall, to furnish them, rent free, with space in the mall where they may distribute leaflets advocating their beliefs. They assert that the provision of the Bill of Rights contained in the New York State Constitution guaranteeing the exercise of free speech gives them the right to make such demand of defendant and requires defendant to accede to it.
The United States Supreme Court, in a case which is indistinguishable from the case at bar, when called upon to pass on the issue of whether such right exists under the free speech clause of the Federal Constitution, concluded that such provision, which was designed to protect the individual against action by governmental authorities, and not by private persons, does not bestow a right on persons desiring to distribute leaflets (espousing a cause in which they believe) to do so on the property of a large, privately owned suburban shopping mall and does not compel the owner of such a shopping center to allow such leafleting on its property (see, Lloyd Corp. v Tanner,
Recognizing that such ruling by the United States Supreme Court prevents them from relying upon the Federal Constitution, plaintiffs have turned to the New York Constitution in the
Special Term labeled this case as one of "novel impression" involving "the right of free speech versus the right of privacy" (SHAD Alliance v Smith Haven Mall,
But, the issue we are called upon to decide involves more than a simple balancing of conflicting rights. Before any such balancing may be undertaken it must be determined whether plaintiffs have any right under the New York State Constitution to insist on being permitted to distribute their leaflets on defendant's privately owned property.
Until Special Term decided this case no court in this State had ever ruled in a reported decision that an individual's constitutional right of free speech could be exercised on the private property of another individual against the owner's wishes. Indeed, all of the reported cases hold to the contrary. Special Term's ruling in the instant case, which impresses us as a "good result oriented" decision, flies in the face of well-established principles of law announced by our Court of Appeals as well as by the highest court in the land and, in our view, constitutes a usurpation of power by a court of this State. Therefore, we cannot vote to affirm that decision.
In short, we conclude, as did the United States Supreme Court when interpreting the Federal Constitution, (1) that when the framers of New York's Constitution prepared the Bill of Rights,
There is no dispute concerning the operative facts.
Plaintiffs SHAD Alliance (SHAD) and Paumanok People's Organization (PPO) are organizations which oppose the use of nuclear energy to generate electricity. Plaintiffs Hank Glaser and Carol Cina are individuals who, in the past, have handed out leaflets opposing nuclear power. The defendant Smith Haven Mall (Mall) is a shopping center located in Suffolk County, Long Island, New York, owned by the Prudential Insurance Company of America and operated by a privately owned management company.
On two occasions, namely, July 5, 1980 and August 16, 1980, representatives of SHAD and PPO went to the Mall, stood under the portico at the main entrance to the Mall and began handing out leaflets opposing the use of nuclear power. On both of the above dates, the plaintiffs were stopped from leafleting by a representative of the defendant pursuant to a Mall policy which prohibits leafleting without the permission of the Mall manager. Thereafter, the plaintiffs sought permission to distribute their leaflets but were refused. This action ensued.
In their amended complaint, the plaintiffs seek injunctive and declaratory relief directing the defendant to permit them to distribute leaflets at the Mall. The relief is predicated upon NY Constitution, article I, §§ 8, 9 and 11 (any claim under this latter section has been abandoned). After issue was joined defendant moved for summary judgment dismissing plaintiffs' complaint in its entirety on the ground that the above-enumerated sections of the New York Constitution do not confer upon plaintiffs any
In its decision, Special Term asked the question: "In view of the Supreme Court decisions in Hudgens [Hudgens v National Labor Relations Bd.,
Special Term answered that question in the affirmative. It alluded to decisions of a number of sister States, some of which have interpreted their respective State Constitutions so as to permit certain expressive activity at privately owned shopping centers and some of which have held otherwise, and distinguished prior New York Court of Appeals cases involving the purported right of individuals to engage in expressive activity on private property where our Court of Appeals had ruled against the existence of the right. Special Term then adopted the precise reasoning that was rejected by the United States Supreme Court when it refused to compel private property owners to permit the distribution of leaflets under the 1st Amendment, and granted plaintiffs' cross motion for summary judgment.
As we have already indicated, we are unable to agree with Special Term's conclusion.
Analysis of the issues before us must begin with a recitation of certain facts and principles which we consider to be irrefutable.
1. The Mall is privately owned, private property, operated for the commercial benefit of Prudential Insurance Company and its tenants and, under well-established principles of law, the property cannot be said to have been dedicated to public use.
2. The defendant is not engaged in performing any functions or services of a governmental nature.
3. The individual plaintiffs are private citizens who are seeking a court-ordered, rent-free outlet on the defendant's private property for the dissemination of their ideas.
4. No "State action" of any kind is present in this case.
5. Historically, our State's courts, and particularly the Court of Appeals, have not hesitated to differentiate between the protection afforded by the United States Constitution and the Constitution of the State of New York where State action is
6. However, where no State action has been involved our Court of Appeals has refused to hold that the Bills of Rights provisions of the Federal or State Constitution are applicable. The reason is abundantly clear. The constitutional protections contained in the Bills of Rights were adopted to serve as restrictions upon the power of the Federal or State Governments — they erect no shield against merely private conduct, however discriminatory or wrong (see, e.g., Matter of Wilson,
7. On two occasions where our Court of Appeals has been called upon to determine whether the constitutional guarantee of freedom of speech imposes upon a private property owner the duty of making its property available to others to enable them to exercise that guarantee, the court has refused to so hold. Thus, in Watchtower Bible & Tract Socy. v Metropolitan Life Ins. Co. (297 N.Y. 339, 342, cert denied 335 U.S. 886), the ministers of Jehovah's Witnesses sought to distribute their literature door-to-door in "a residential community called Parkchester, which is said to be the largest of its kind in the world". The Court of Appeals held that a regulation prohibiting the entry into any apartment building for the purpose of canvassing, peddling, soliciting contributions or distributing literature except upon written consent or invitation of a tenant did not violate the free speech provisions of the Federal or State Constitutions. In reaching that conclusion the court said, in part (297 N.Y. 339, 348, supra): "The distribution which this defendant's regulation inhibits was not on streets, sidewalks or other public or quasi-public places". This language points up the fact that our Court of Appeals views the Bill of Rights in our State Constitution as the United States Supreme Court views the Bill of Rights in the Federal Constitution, namely, as being directed at governmental action, or its equivalent, in some form. The opinion did not proceed on any balancing of rights analysis in which the "right" of free speech was in that case deemed to be subordinate to the right of a private property owner to control the use of its
The foregoing decisions have prompted the authors of New York Jurisprudence to write (20 NY Jur 2d, Constitutional Law, § 274): "It is a firmly established principle of constitutional law that the state and federal constitutional guaranties of freedom of speech protect the individual against action by governmental authorities, not by private persons."
8. The "most basic of all the rules of constitutional construction (since it is the rule that all other rules may be said to be designed to implement) is the principle that a constitution is to be given the effect and meaning contemplated by its framers and by the people who adopted it, to be gathered if possible from the plain and ordinary meaning of the words used" (20 NY Jur 2d, Constitutional Law, § 22, and cases cited therein).
9. Just as the decisions of the United States Supreme Court construing the Federal Constitution as it pertains to the guarantee of freedom of speech do not bind the State courts in their interpretation of parallel provisions in the State Constitution, so, too, the decisions of sister State courts interpreting the Constitutions of their respective States do not bind the New York courts in their interpretation of the free speech provisions of the New York State Constitution.
10. Freedom of speech plays a vitally important role in our system of law and Government. This freedom is necessary to the enjoyment of the benefits of a free society and indispensible to political freedom. However, inviolable as is the right of free speech, it is not an absolute right which may be indiscriminately exercised under all the circumstances and conditions or which may be exercised everywhere.
11. If it is held that the free speech clause of the New York Constitution compels the defendant to make its property available to the plaintiffs for their purposes, it must follow that the defendant will be compelled to make its private property available rent free to every individual, group, or organization, irrespective of the nature of the ideas being advocated and without regard to whether the Mall owners agree or disagree with the ideas espoused by the individual or group. The Constitution does
Special Term, without discussing the history of our State's Bill of Rights, declared that the intrusion on the right to privacy of the Mall and its tenants by allowing plaintiffs to distribute their leaflets is minimal. Of course, if the Constitution does not confer the right to exercise free speech on private property, it is irrelevant that the intrusion on the property owner's rights is minimal. What is more, although in the case of plaintiffs, the intrusion may be minimal, if this court construes the free speech provisions of the New York State Constitution as bestowing the right upon those espousing causes to do so on defendant's property, the intrusion by other groups may not be so minimal. In the State of Connecticut chaos erupted at the West Farm Mall when the Ku Klux Klan demonstrated there in the wake of a lower court decision to the effect that the mall could not bar such groups from exercising their right of free speech on its premises. People were injured, property was destroyed and the disturbance was not quelled until the West Hartford and New Britain SWAT teams arrived and sealed off most of the mall's entrances.
In that case the Supreme Court of Connecticut reversed the lower court holding and ruled that the courts of that State could not direct that the right of free speech in the State Constitution may be exercised upon private property consisting of a large regional shopping center, contrary to the wishes of its owners (Cologne v Westfarms Assoc.,
12. The time, place and manner restrictions permitted by Special Term impose a burden on the shopping center owner and cannot be enforced by it without cost to the shopping center, e.g., maintenance and clean up of the Mall and/or litigation expenses which will be incurred by the shopping center's owner if it is
With the preceding principles in mind we now proceed to examine the constitutional provisions on which plaintiffs base their claim that they have the right to distribute leaflets on defendant's private property.
The State Constitution, article I, § 8, reads as follows:
Section 9 of article I provides, in relevant part: "No law shall be passed abridging the rights of the people peaceably to assemble and to petition the government, or any department thereof".
As we have already noted, the most fundamental of all rules of constitutional construction is the principle that a constitution is to be given the effect and meaning contemplated by its framers and by the people who adopted it, to be gathered if possible from the plain and ordinary meaning of the words used.
An examination of the language of the freedom of speech constitutional provision quoted above readily discloses that while the framers thereof proclaimed that every citizen was to have the right to "freely speak, write and publish his sentiments on all subjects" they also made it clear in the very same sentence that the only infringement on that right that the Constitution was designed to prohibit was by the government.
New York State Constitution, article I, the Bill of Rights, was added in 1821. As part of this Bill of Rights the State's first free
The New York State Bill of Rights found in NY Constitution, article I, is, in essence, the same as that contained in the first 10 amendments to the Federal Constitution and the purpose of the New York State Bill of Rights is the same as that of the Federal Bill of Rights, namely, to secure and/or preserve certain individual rights against interference by government exercising its awesome powers. Although the language in the New York Constitution differs slightly from that of the United States Constitution, it cannot fairly be denied that the framers of the language of both Bills of Rights chose substantially similar language designed to make it plain that such Bills were intended to protect the people from interference by their governments. Down through the years on numerous occasions the courts have expressed their recognition of the objective sought to be accomplished by the framers.
"The duty of the courts being to construe, not adopt, a constitution, a constitutional restriction is, within its defined limits, to be rigidly enforced according to its letter and its spirit. The courts must enforce the constitution as written, not as they think it might have been written, and must bear in mind that words in a constitution must be taken to have been used with some definite intent and purpose" (20 NY Jur 2d, Constitutional Law, § 25).
Therefore, in interpreting the New York State Constitution as it applies to the facts of this case we are not authorized or empowered to impose our personal concepts of what is "right" or "fair", or what public policy should be, or to consider whether the provision differently conceived and framed would yield results more consonant with fairness and reason. We take the
We consider it rather farfetched to suggest that the words chosen in drafting NY Constitution, article I, § 8, which are clearly aimed at curbing the immense power of the State, would convey to an intelligent, careful voter the notion that the owner of a private, large shopping center which is not exercising governmental powers but is seeking only to advance its commercial interests and those of its tenants, is also governed by the restrictive language "no law shall be passed to restrain or abridge the liberty of speech".
While it is true that constitutional law is "a progressive science" (see, People v Nebbia, 262 N.Y. 259, 270, affd
Not surprisingly, extensive research has uncovered no New York cases which have extended any provision of this State's Bill of Rights to private action between two (or more) private citizens. The lack of any such authority stems from the obvious fact, already noted, that the Bill of Rights simply does not apply
In the instant case, all agree that the defendant owns a large shopping mall in Suffolk County and that in order to promote the commercial interests of the Mall owner and its tenants the owner encourages certain activities of a noncommercial nature on the Mall premises. However, it is undisputed that the property is privately owned and the owner is taxed as a private property owner. The owner of the property has not dedicated any part of it to the public and the owner has not assumed the attributes "of a state-created municipality and the exercise * * * of semi-official municipal functions as a delegate of the State" (see, Lloyd Corp. v Tanner,
The view that we take is not a startling or reactionary one. It is a view which we believe demonstrates a respect for history and sound precedent. It is a view espoused not only by the United States Supreme Court but by other State courts. For example, in Cologne v Westfarms Assoc. (
After discussing the decisions handed down on the subject in various States, a majority of the members of the Connecticut court found that the issue was an open one whose outcome was dependent upon the intent of the framers of the Constitution and concluded that Connecticut's free speech provisions were "`designed as a safeguard against acts of the state and do not limit the private conduct of individuals or persons'" (
In arriving at its conclusion herein, Special Term did not discuss the objective sought to be accomplished by the New York State Bill of Rights. Rather, Special Term seems to have taken the United States Supreme Court's statement of its recognition
In so doing, Special Term merely adopted the argument advanced by plaintiffs which boils down to the following: "Plaintiffs do not contend that the State Constitution must be applied to private property as a general principle. Rather, plaintiffs contend that this shopping center cannot reasonably be viewed as a private space despite its private ownership. Having been operated and designed as the functional equivalent of a town center, the shopping center cannot escape the town's obligation to accommodate free speech under the State Constitution."
It will be noted that plaintiffs recognize that it is "the town's obligation to accommodate free speech under the State Constitution" (emphasis added). But, they seek to impose the town's obligation on the private property owner by arguing that the private property owner operates his property "as the functional equivalent of a town center". In short, starting with the premise that the Smith Haven Mall has become the equivalent of a town center, plaintiffs argue that this requires that the Mall be treated as though it is public property for State constitutional free speech purposes. We do not believe that we can, in common sense and good reason, extend constitutionally protected free speech to privately owned shopping centers merely because the public is invited, and encouraged, to enter upon the property of such centers for the purpose of doing business. One cannot, by the mere act of waving the magic wand of "functional equivalent" over the Smith Haven Mall, convert it from private property which is used for commercial purposes into public property which falls under the interdiction of the Constitution of the State. We turn to the words of the United States Supreme Court written in response to the very argument presented by plaintiffs herein (Lloyd Corp. v Tanner,
"Respondents contend, however, that the property of a large shopping center is `open to the public,' serves the same purposes as a `business district' of a municipality, and therefore has been dedicated to certain types of public use. The argument is that such a center has sidewalks, streets, and parking areas which
"The argument reaches too far. The Constitution by no means requires such an attenuated doctrine of dedication of private property to public use. The closest decision in theory, Marsh v. Alabama, supra, involved the assumption by a private enterprise of all of the attributes of a state-created municipality and the exercise by that enterprise of semi-official municipal functions as a delegate of the State. In effect, the owner of the company town was performing the full spectrum of municipal powers and stood in the shoes of the State. In the instant case there is no comparable assumption or exercise of municipal functions or power.
"Nor does property lose its private character merely because the public is generally invited to use it for designated purposes. Few would argue that a free-standing store, with abutting parking space for customers, assumes significant attributes merely because the public is invited to shop there. Nor is size alone the controlling factor. The essentially private character of a store and its privately owned abutting property does not change by virtue of being large or clustered with other stores in a modern shopping center. This is not to say that no differences may exist with respect to government regulations of rights of citizens arising by virtue of the size and diversity of activities carried on within a privately owned facility serving the public. There will be, for example, problems with respect to public health and safety which vary in degree and in the appropriate government response, depending upon the size and character of a shopping center, an office building, a sports arena, or other large facility serving the public for commercial purposes. We do say that the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment rights of private property owners, as well as the First Amendment rights of all citizens, must be respected and protected. The Framers of the Constitution certainly did not think these fundamental rights of a free society are incompatible with each other. There may be situations where accommodations between them, and the drawing of lines to assure due protection of both, are not easy. But on the facts presented in this case, the answer is clear.
"We hold that there has been no such dedication of Lloyd's privately owned and operated shopping center to public use as to entitle respondents to exercise therein the asserted First Amendment rights."
To sum up, unless a citizen's exercise of free speech is impaired by a governmental act or its equivalent, the Bill of Rights simply does not come into play and that fact is not altered by the nature (person, partnership, corporation) or size of the offending private citizen. Inasmuch as the Bill of Rights was not intended to be applicable to private conduct, it is of no moment whether or not the Mall can be characterized as the functional equivalent of a town center.
Although we are not required either to follow or to repudiate the decisions of the courts of sister States when we interpret our own Constitution, or even to discuss them, we believe it advisable to comment on the California holding in Robins v Pruneyard Shopping Center (
In the Robins case (supra), suit was brought against the owners of a private shopping center for an injunction to prevent denial of use of the premises for soliciting signatures for a petition to the Government. By a vote of 4 to 3, the Supreme Court of California ordered that the shopping center owner "be enjoined from denying access to circulate the petition" (
It is noteworthy that in reaching that conclusion the California Supreme Court gave absolutely no recognition to the fundamental principle, discussed above, which both the United States Supreme Court and the courts of this State have announced and followed down through the years, namely, that the guarantees of freedom of speech contained in the Federal and New York State Bills of Rights protect the individual against action by governmental authorities, and not by private persons, and that unless there is State action present, or the private person performs, in
Thus, the California court appears to have founded its decision on the premise that under the California Constitution no showing of State action was necessary and that what was involved in the Robins case (supra) was simply a balancing of rights, i.e., that of free speech versus that of private property or privacy. As we have already said, Special Term in this case appears to have taken a similar course in arriving at its decision. In that balancing equation, the California court and Special Term deemed the free speech right to be paramount, but subject to regulation. There is an underlying difficulty with, or weakness in, our adopting and applying that approach to this case. As we have previously noted, a balancing of conflicting rights is not to be embarked upon until it is established that there are conflicting rights. The fundamental issue to be decided in this case is whether the freedom of speech right found in the New York State Constitution applies on private shopping center property. Until it is demonstrated that plaintiffs have such a right there is nothing to balance. So if, as we say, the New York State Constitution does not bestow such a right, no balancing of rights is involved. Simply stated, the leafleteer has no enforceable right of free speech on private property. By contrast the private property owner does have property and privacy rights which he can enforce against the leafleteer.
As noted earlier, in the Watchtower case (297 N.Y. 339, cert denied 335 U.S. 886, supra), our Court of Appeals did not adopt a balancing of interests analysis. It proceeded on the basis that the private property owner was not under any constitutional
In short, we read the California case as being based on a premise we cannot accept, namely, that notwithstanding the absence of State action in some form, individuals have a constitutional right of free speech on private property merely because the owner has invited large numbers of the general public to come onto the property. That kind of reasoning has no support in the language of the New York Constitution and the cases which have interpreted the provisions of our Bill of Rights. Such reasoning, carried to its logical extreme, would mean that the public can demand the right to engage in expressive activities on the property of every establishment which is open to the public and which attracts a considerable number of patrons. That may well be a noble policy for our State to have, but if such a policy is to be adopted, the initiative must come from the Legislature. It is not for the courts to proclaim the existence of such policy by extending the Constitution beyond its proper bounds.
What is more, although the California court made reference to the free speech provision of its State Constitution, as well as the right to petition provision, the case dealt with the right of petition. California Constitution, article 1, § 3 declares: "The people have the right to * * * petition government for redress of grievances". Unlike our constitutional provision, that language says nothing to the effect that "[n]o law shall be passed abridging the rights of the people * * * to petition the government" (NY Const, art I, § 9). Therefore, the California Constitution right of petition clause is considerably broader than that of our State and, in the eyes of the majority of that State's highest court, its language warranted the conclusion (1) that the right to petition in California "is * * * vital to a basic process in the State's constitutional scheme — direct initiation of change by the citizenry through initiative, referendum, and recall" (Robins v Pruneyard Shopping Center,
It should also be observed that the subsequent decision of the United States Supreme Court in Prune Yard Shopping Center v Robins (
Obviously, once the California Supreme Court had interpreted its Constitution as bestowing the right on individuals to gather their petitions on private property, the only question left for the United States Supreme Court was whether or not a proper balance had been struck between the conflicting rights of the individuals and the property owners. Such a balance was found to exist. The Supreme Court held that the individuals could exercise the right of speech which the California court had said they possessed under the State Constitution without violating any of the shopping center owner's Federal constitutional rights. But, the United States Supreme Court did not reverse its previous decision in the Lloyd case (
The reasoning of the Supreme Court of California in the Robins case (supra), which is predicated on an unacceptable premise vis-à-vis our Constitution, is certainly far less persuasive than that of the United States Supreme Court in the Lloyd case (supra), which is founded on time-honored principles of constitutional law.
The conclusion we have reached does not mean that now that large shopping centers have sprung up on our landscape, there may not be good cause for the State, in the exercise of its police power, to extend, in some fashion, the citizens' right to exercise freedom of speech on the property of such centers. But, that calls for a delicate balancing of interests, and that balance, as we have said, must be struck by the Legislature rather than the courts. Plaintiffs' "right" to have a forum available to them for dissemination of their leaflets must be reconciled with defendant's rights to realize the full potential of the investment made in its property without significant economic loss or other risk, and the defendant's further interest in not being forced to
In Murphy v American Home Prods. Corp. (
Such an attitude or approach is not limited to new causes of action. For, as stated by the Connecticut court in Cologne v Westfarms Assoc. (
So it is in the situation presented to us by this case. If, upon consideration of the relative interests of the parties involved, the Legislature finds that the public policy of this State requires that individuals such as plaintiffs be afforded a rent-free forum for the dissemination of their ideas upon the private property of some or all of its citizens, that body can enact reasonable regulations so providing. However, any infringement upon the property rights of the citizenry of the State should not be brought about on an ad hoc basis by the courts telling the owner of the property to adopt its own standards of reasonableness which will, in all likelihood, have to be reviewed in subsequent litigation.
For the reasons set forth above, we vote to reverse the order and judgment appealed from, to grant defendant's motion for summary judgment, deny plaintiffs' cross motion for the same relief and to declare that plaintiffs have no constitutional right to distribute leaflets on the defendant's property contrary to the wishes of the defendant.
Order and judgment (one paper) of the Supreme Court, Suffolk County, dated April 4, 1983, affirmed, with costs payable by the appellant.
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