WinCo sues to stop signature-gatherers at Highway 99 store

Suit says there has been "aggressive behavior ... annoying customers"

By Brooks Johnson, Columbian Business Reporter

Published:

 

When WinCo’s employee owners say “no solicitors,” they mean it.

The Hazel Dell WinCo grocery store on Highway 99 has gone to court to keep signature-gatherers off its property, with a judge on June 30 approving a temporary restraining order.

On June 28, a “bearded man,” whose identity is not known, began to “harass and bother WinCo’s customers by seeking to stop such customers at the entrance …to get the customers to sign various petitions and initiatives,” according to a complaint filed in Clark County Superior Court last week. The court documents don’t say what causes the man was advocating.

“WinCo excludes from its property (both the store and parking lot) all petitioners, picketers or solicitors seeking to do business with or engage anyone other than WinCo itself,” wrote attorneys with Miller Nash Graham & Dunn LLP in the court filing.

The store manager asked the man to leave, but he stayed put. The manager then called the Clark County Sheriff’s Office, but deputies said they needed a court order to take action, according to filings. The bearded man came back with a second signature-gatherer the next day. The two refused to leave, and the sheriff’s office again said nothing could be done without a court order.

“WinCo has received numerous customer complaints about the defendants’ actions … and WinCo’s business has been damaged as a result,” according to the filing. The manager wrote there has been “aggressive behavior … annoying customers.”

A judge granted a temporary injunction to keep the signature-gatherers 100 feet from the entrance pending a July 15 hearing. However, “WinCo does not have any identification or contact information to give notice of this hearing.”

One of the men gathering signatures was reportedly gathering signatures last year and was given a cease-and-desist letter. The manager wrote in a filing the man “indicated that they were not going to be scared off by a cease-and-desist letter this year.”

WinCo is fighting a similar court battle at a Spokane Valley store and says it has a precedent to prevent political speech on its property.

“Any picketers or signature-gatherers who wish to voice their opinions in public can access the public sidewalk that borders WinCo’s parking lot and the public street,” reads the restraining order.