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Print Page No Vintage Cars, Please
by Ron Davis

Fans of classic cars have apparently seen the last of weekend displays of those vehicles at a Woodland Hill, CA, shopping center. That’s because the center’s owners have won a court ruling that has stopped the locally popular event.

The shopping center is El Camino, and its owners had objected to the shows on grounds that the car owners were trespassing on private property. Encouraging the shows were the owners of a coffee shop that is a tenant of the shopping center. The crowds of car buffs who came to view and display the vehicles were obviously good for the coffee shop’s business.

But the center’s owners obviously believed the event was getting out of hand. Large crowds, often in excess of several hundred people, came to view the classic cars. The shows attracted owners and admirers of vintage, exotic and reconditioned models.

When the owners of the center failed at efforts to stop the trespass on their property, they sued, arguing that spectators blocked sidewalks and filled parking lots. The center’s owners noted that they had not given their permission or consent for the car shows. Yet, they added, the shows continued.

So the center’s owners sued on grounds that the car owners and their fans were trespassing and creating a continuing private nuisance, thus interfering with the shopping center’s “use and enjoyment.”

The owners also pointed out that the decision to stop the car shows results from “the number of people milling around the cars created a heightened chance for either personal injury or property damage.”

Finally, the owners maintained that a car show, even one attended by several hundred people, does not implicate a public issue within the meaning of the constitutionally granted rights. Instead, they added, the evidence illustrates a case for trespass and nuisance.

In response, the coffee-shop owners contended that the weekly gatherings for the car shows constituted protected constitutional rights. Those rights, they said, are free speech and petitioning activities. And, they added, the nuisance charge “disregards their rights to be in areas open to the general public, to communicate freely, to associate with one another, and to express themselves.”

A California court ruled that a private “self-proclaimed” car show with a few hundreds attendees is not a matter of public interest. Added the judge, “[The center’s owners own the property in question, and [the tenant] is on the property for purposes that are not permitted by [the center’s owners], to wit, the car show.”

On appeal of that ruling, a higher court agreed, explaining, “Using a shopping center’s parking areas for car enthusiasts to look at each other’s automobiles simply is not conduct that concerns a topic of widespread public interest and contributes in some manner to a public discussion of the topic, [but] it does not relate to an ongoing controversy of interest to a definable segment of the public in a manner that warrants protection by a statute that embodies encouragement of participation in matters of public significance, nor does it even concern an issue in which the public at large is interested”

(Regency Centers, L.P. v. The Village Coffee Roaster, 2011 WL 857028 [Cal.App. 2 Dist.])

Decision: April 2011
Published: May 2011

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