The Supreme Judicial Court’s October 10, 2014 decision in Glovsky v. Roche Bros. Supermarkets, Inc., is now the high-water mark in Massachusetts for the right to access private property, over the objection of the property owner, in order to fulfill a constitutional right. The decision addresses the right of a candidate for public office to solicit signatures for ballot access outside the entrance to a supermarket, but could have important implications for the exercise of free speech in Massachusetts. It also could have implications for certain criminal defendants; our firm has represented a defendant arrested for trespass when distributing literature or protesting on private property.
When a Roche Bros. employee told Steven Glovsky, a candidate for Governor’s Counsel, that the supermarket’s policy did not allow signature solicitation on its private property, preventing him from seeking signatures to get on the ballot, he proceeded to file suit. The SJC in Batchelder v. Allied Stores Int’l, Inc., 388 Mass. 83 (1983) (Batchelder I) previously upheld a candidate’s right under the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights Article 9 to seek signatures in the common areas of a shopping mall, comparing the mall to traditional public fora like downtown areas. In Glovsky, the SJC went a step further, clarifying that whether or not a location is functionally equivalent to a traditional public forum, signature solicitation must be allowed if the interests of the candidate outweigh the interests of the property owner. The SJC found that Glovsky had a “substantial interest” in soliciting signatures on the sidewalk of the supermarket, which was the only one in town, and that allowing such solicitation would not unduly burden Roche Bros.’ property interests by, for example, disrupting its business. (Glovsky’s suit was still unsuccessful, however, because the SJC found that the supermarket had not violated the Massachusetts Civil Rights Act.)