Action in lieu of prerogative writs.
This is an action in lieu of prerogative writs (mandamus) to compel the reinstatement of the plaintiffs in the New Jersey State Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, Inc. (hereinafter called "State P.B.A.") and in the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association of the City of Newark, New Jersey, Local No. 3 (hereinafter called "Local #3"). Plaintiffs also seek a declaratory judgment that a certain bylaw as well as the forfeiture of their membership is void.
One of the five plaintiffs, Joseph Zack, died prior to the hearing in this matter but, by agreement, his rights in a benefit plan called "Plan B" were tried by consent.
The factual circumstances leading up to this present controversy are as follows: Prior to November 3, 1961 the plaintiffs were all members in good standing of both the State P.B.A. and Local #3. They were also members of another organization known as the "Fraternal Order of Police." Presumably, because of their membership in this latter organization, each of the plaintiffs received a letter under the signature of the president of Local #3, notifying him of his automatic forfeiture of membership. No hearing was held in the local prior to such notification of forfeiture.
The bylaw of the State P.B.A. upon which this automatic forfeiture was based is article VIII, section 1, and provides as follows:
"Any member of any local of this association who shall join or become a member of any organization in or outside of the police department of which he is a member, except only the New Jersey State Chiefs Association, the purpose of such organization being to represent policemen in matters affecting their economic welfare, shall thereby automatically forfeit his membership in a local and in this association and all rights and benefits thereunder."
It should be noted here that there is considerable confusion in the record as to whether Local #3 ever adopted this bylaw. This will be discussed in more detail below.
After notification of their ouster by Local #3, the plaintiffs retained counsel who sought a review from the State
P.B.A. and a hearing was scheduled. The hearing, taken stenographically by a certified shorthand reporter, proved abortive because counsel for plaintiffs was refused permission to represent them. The plaintiffs and members of the State P.B.A. judiciary committee indulged in a rather prolonged argument throughout the proceeding. At the end of this "hearing" the judiciary committee held: "We concur with the ruling of the Executive Board of Local #3 in suspending the five named members for their actions."
Plaintiffs then instituted the present action for their reinstatement and a declaration as to the validity of the bylaws in question. Counsel was conscious of the reluctance of our courts to interfere in matters involving "social rights," as distinguished from economic or property rights, and so the plaintiffs contend that their forfeiture of membership deprives them of various financial benefits under both a retirement and a death benefit plan. The nature of their interests is explained in items 10 and 11 of the stipulation of facts filed by counsel, which are as follows:
"10. These plaintiffs, while members of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, Newark, N.J. Local Number 3, contributed to two beneficiary plans. First of these plans was a death benefit plan called 'Plan B.' Upon the death of any member of the association, each member participating in the benefit plan would be obliged to contribute the sum of $1.00 and the proceeds of the contribution, less a certain amount held in reserve, was paid to the family of the deceased policeman. Plaintiffs have paid from $100.00 to $400.00 into this Plan and contend they have an economic interest therein. Upon reaching age 65, a ...