Leave Shoppers Alone, Ralphs Tells Activists

     BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (CN) – Solicitors are illegally setting up donation tables at Ralphs Grocery and scaring off customers, the supermarket giant claims in court.
     An Oakland-based nonprofit founded in 2009, NuCreations Outreach says it operates youth centers and food pantries throughout California. The organization claims to have helped more than 320 disadvantaged youth last year and says it passed out approximately 1,500 food baskets to needy families in Bakersfield.
     The company attributes its success to its “unique technique of fundraising,” which involves volunteers setting up donation tables at local shopping centers.
     But Ralphs, an Ohio-based grocery chain does business in California under the names Foods Co. and Food-4-Less, says this strategy interferes with its polices.
     Individuals and groups that want to engage in “expressive activity” at Ralphs must apply for permission before they can enter the chain’s property, according to the complaint.
     “Among other things, the rules prohibit any persons seeking to engage in expressive activity on store property (such as solicitors for donations or union picketers) from passing out commercial literature or soliciting donations,” the complaint states (parentheses in original).
     Ralphs says its “rules also require that individuals engaging in expressive activity position themselves at least 20 feet from any store entrance.”
     Other groups obey the same rules that NuCreation flouts, Ralphs says.
     “Defendants have stationed themselves on grocery store premises to solicit donations from customers,” the complaint states. “The solicitors have stood in or near the fire lane area in front of each of the two exits, set up a table, and placed metal boxes on it to collect change from plaintiffs’ customers.”
     Though store employees have given NuCreation volunteers copies of the rules, explained that Ralphs forbids solicitation, and asked them to leave, the solicitors allegedly refuse to listen.
     Ralphs says that the solicitation hurts its business in many ways.
     “On at least one occasion, for example, on of defendants’ solicitors entered the store, sat in an aisle in the middle of the store, and began eating a sandwich [which was not purchased at the store]; when a store manager asked the individual to leave, the solicitor yelled ‘fuck you,’ made physical threats to the manager, began following him around the store, and refused to leave the premises,” the complaint states (brackets in original).
     Ralphs also accuses the solicitors of “harassing customer and thereby discouraging them from shopping at plaintiffs’ locations.”
     Many customers have allegedly complained about the solicitors, Ralphs says. But when its employees called the police for help, the police refused to make the solicitors leave because they mistakenly believed the solicitors have a right to be there.
     Ralphs seeks a temporary restraining order, a preliminary injunction, and a permanent injunction preventing the defendants from soliciting donations at any of its stores.
     The chain sued NuCreations Outreach, treasurer Damone Daniel, president Alresa Henry Daniel and field supervisor Cleveland Grable in Kern County Superior Court.
     Ralphs is represented by Timothy Ryan with Morrison & Foerster of Los Angeles.

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