Ask Andy: Public venue restrictions - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Reported by Andy Wise

Ask Andy: Public venue restrictions

A public place isn't always public.

A government official - even a private individual - can restrict access to a public building or venue for various legal reasons.

I started looking into this after "James" of Marion, AR, e-mailed me about an incident that he says happened at the West Memphis (AR) Municipal Auditorium.  He says a private individual rented the public arena for a dance recital. 

"James" says the individual charged admission with a sign that read "Open To The Public."  But he says a few of his family members who paid to see the recital were kicked out:

"The recital was posted out front as open to the public but after paying their money and setting down, the person who rented the building and owns the dance company had security tell them to leave. But with it being presented as open to the public was there any type of infraction of the law committed?"

First of all, I'd bet Joe Birch's salary that "James" isn't telling me the whole story here. I bet there was some sort of altercation or disruption.

But it really doesn't matter.

The PRIVATE individual who rented the PUBLIC place for the recital was well within the law to kick James' family members out.

According to multiple government and private legal sources, these are the circumstances when someone can restrict access to a public place or building:

* A private individual or organization who has rented a public location can prohibit access by anyone for any reason for the duration of the rental period.  That's even if they charged admission and had it "open to the public."  They don't even have to refund the admission price, unless they posted some kind of refund policy on site.

* A city, county, state or federal official can restrict access to a public place for any safety or security reason.  Think of the Hurricane Katrina disaster where officials housed refugees in both public and private arenas, restricting normal public access.  That involved an official disaster declaration that gave officials the power to restrict access only to the assistance of hurricane victims.

* The general language lawyers use to describe public access to public places is "...REASONABLE TIME, PLACE AND MANNER." In other words, yes, a school is a public facility. But that doesn't give you a right to walk up and down the halls with a trumpet, protesting the principal's administrative policies.

You cannot disrupt the use of a public facility for its intended purpose.

That's exactly what I think the family probably did in Arkansas. They caused a disruption at the recital, and the private renter kicked them out.

End of story.

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