Last month, a federal district court in Tennessee denied a motion for preliminary injunction filed by a man who wished to picket a Planned Parenthood location in a business park in Memphis. The court determined that the private street on which the plaintiff, John Brindley, intended to picket was not a public roadway and therefore was not a traditional public forum requiring content neutral speech regulations.
Planned Parenthood’s offices are located on Virginia Run Cove, a two-lane street that serves multiple businesses located within the park. The park is zoned as a planned unit development, and the street serves the businesses located within the park. Brindley sought to protest Planned Parenthood on Virginia Run Cove, but was asked to move by a police officer on the premise that Virginia Run Cove is a private street. Brindley subsequently moved to a nearby public street, but was dissatisfied that his protest location was nearly 300 feet from his target audience, Planned Parenthood. Brindley subsequently filed his complaint in federal district court.
In conducting a forum analysis to determine whether Virginia Run Cove was a public forum for First Amendment purposes, the court noted that some public fora are privately-owned. These areas include public sidewalks that run across private property, sidewalks on private university campuses, and even the streets of corporate-owned communities. However, the court observed, private areas are not converted into public fora where the owner of the property allows a more limited use of the property.