On certification from the Appellate Division.
For reversal -- Chief Justice Vanderbilt, and Justices Heher, Oliphant, Wachenfeld, Burling and Jacobs. For affirmance -- None. The opinion of the court was delivered by Vanderbilt, C.J.
This is a consolidated appeal from judgments of the Law and Chancery Divisions of the Superior Court holding unconstitutional statutes that require car dealers to close on Sunday and providing penalties for failure to do so. We certified the matter on our own motion pursuant to R.R. 1:10-1(a) because it is concerned with the constitutionality of statutes dealing with an important matter of public policy and further because it indicates some serious misconceptions as to the effect of our decision in State v. Fair Lawn Service Center, 20 N.J. 468 (1956).
The question here raised is whether a law which singles out automobile dealers and prohibits their business operations on Sunday is a constitutional exercise of power by the State.
The action in the Gundaker case was by suit in lieu of the prerogative writ of certiorari in the Law Division, Monmouth County, attacking the constitutionality of chapter 254 of the Laws of 1955 (approved December 28, 1955). The action in the Haber case was commenced in the Chancery Division, Bergen County, seeking a declaration of the unconstitutionality of not only chapter 254 of the Laws of 1955, but all of chapter 253 as well.
Chapter 254 of the Laws of 1955 (N.J.S. 2 A:171-1.1 et seq.) in essence prohibits dealing in new or used cars on Sunday and holds that persons who do so in violation of the act are disorderly persons and subject to a fine or imprisonment or both. It also provides for an additional penalty by way of suspension or revocation of the car dealer's license to engage in that business required by chapter 10 of Title 39 of the Revised Statutes. This statute was enacted as an entirely new provision and a supplement to chapter 171 of Title 2 A of the New Jersey Statutes.
R.S. 39:10-20, prior to its amendment by chapter 253 of the Laws of 1955, provided for the suspension and revocation of a car dealer's license after hearing for certain violations of the law and misconduct. The new act merely amended the statute by including in the causes for suspension or revocation "final conviction of the licensee for violating
any provisions of Chapter 171 of Title 2 A or of any supplement thereof (Observance of Sabbath Days)."
The facts in both cases are not substantially in dispute.
The plaintiff in the Gundaker case is engaged in the operation of a new and used automobile business in Belmar, Monmouth County. It had been its practice for many years to keep open on Sunday and to conduct business on that day just as on any other day in the week. Sunday was its biggest business day; the plaintiff claims that it sold more cars on that day than it sold on any other single day of the week and will now be caused to lose substantial revenues. In keeping open on Sunday, it was no different than many other businesses in the communities surrounding Belmar. Real estate offices, 5 and 10 cent stores, antique shops and motor boat agencies all keep their doors open for "business as usual" on Sunday.
Just prior to the enactment of the statutes in question here, competitive conditions in the automobile sales business were causing many dealers to remain open on Sundays as a matter of self-preservation to obtain a share of the available trade. These places of business were generally open 12 to 13 hours a day during the week and 8 to 9 hours a day on weekends. Hours of work of the sales personnel engaged by these dealers ranged from 60 to 77 hours per week, and the prevalence of a commission system of compensation for these salesmen tended to cause them to work long hours without adequate time off for recreational purposes.
It also appears that of the approximate 1,100 automobile dealers selling new and used cars in this State, about 900 of them are members of the New Jersey State Automotive Trade Association. In the fall of 1954, evidently for the purpose of alleviating existing conditions in the industry, this group caused a poll to be taken of its members on the subject of Sunday closing. The ballots received from 80.3% of the members showed overwhelmingly that the group were in favor of Sunday closing; 77.4% of those voicing their opinion voted in favor of it. Based upon this expression by its members, the Association had its counsel draft a bill
providing for closing of automobile agencies on Sunday. Whether this bill was enacted in the form suggested, without amendment, does not definitely appear, but the court below found that the bill was enacted into law.
After the enactment of the statutes here in issue, the plaintiff received a notice from the Belmar Police Department that it would have to close on Sunday according to the direction of the law. Gundaker has complied with the law ever since and brought this action to test the constitutional propriety of the main enactment, L. 1955, c. 254.
After trial, the court below was of the opinion that the statute, L. 1955, c. 254, was unconstitutional, that it
"was not enacted to protect a basic interest of society such as general health, safety, morals or welfare of the people, but rather * * * had as its predominant purpose a measure of control of competition in the ...