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Rico v. Green Giant Co.

March 5, 1975

ASOCIACION DE TRABAJADORES AGRICOLAS DE PUERTO RICO ET AL., APPELLANTS
v.
GREEN GIANT COMPANY ET AL., APPELLEES.



Author: Adams

Before ADAMS, ROSENN and WEIS, Circuit Judges.

Opinion of the Court

ADAMS, C. J.: In the context of an attempt to organize migrant agricultural laborers, the Court is asked to resolve a confrontation between two protected constitutional guarantees. The plaintiffs, a union and its president, demand that they be permitted unconditionally to exercise their First Amendment rights of speech on camp premises where migrant laborers are housed. In contrast Green Giant, which employs the migrant laborers and owns the camp, insists that it is free to enforce its private property rights to exclude the plaintiffs.

Thus the Court is asked to support the position that where laborers reside seasonally in a camp, the property owner's Fifth Amendment right to control its premises must be subordinated to the extent necessary to guarantee full expression of plaintiffs' First Amendment rights of access to, and communication with, the migrant workers.

A. The plaintiffs are an unincorporated labor union, Asociacion de Trabajadores Agricolas de Puerto Rico (ATA), and its interim president, Juan Irizarry Valentin. As part of a broad organizing campaign, plaintiffs seek to enlist in the union the temporary workers in the asparagus fields near Middletown, Delaware, fields owned and operated by the defendant, Green Giant Company, a Delaware corporation. The individual defendants, Hickman, Ford, and Owsiany, are law enforcement agents of the State of Delaware.

Green Giant's property is a farm of approximately 3500 acres that fronts a state highway about two miles from Middletown, a town of 2700 inhabitants. During the crop season, which occurs annually from March to June, the fields are worked by a large number of laborers. In recent years, these laborers have been recruited from Puerto Rico.*fn1 The contractual arrangements are negotiated between Green Giant and the Government of Puerto Rico, which contracts on behalf of the laborers.

While employed by Green Giant, the workers, about 900 in number, are provided with living quarters on the Green Giant premises. A twenty-acre area contiguous with the fields is fenced off for this purpose. The camp is not generally open to the public, and Green Giant maintains a guard at the entrance to monitor visitors. A "no solicitation" rule is enforced for the alleged purpose of discouraging the proliferation of vice and shoddy merchandise on the property. There is no such rule regarding personal visitors, however.*fn2

The camp includes dormitory and mess hall arrangements, as well as facilities for leisure activities and for the sale of snacks and sundries.*fn3 Aside from an office building and an equipment storage area, the camp is used exclusively for the migrants' living quarters.

Green Giant operates a first-aid station in the camp for handling medical problems. Fire protection is provided by the Middletown Fire Department. For police protection the camp relies on Delaware State and County police services, but in addition Green Giant has contracted for supplemental services with the State Police.

Outside of working hours the laborers are not confined to the camp, and are free to go into town for amusement or to purchase items not available at the camp.*fn4

During the 1974 growing season, ATA launched an organizing campaign directed at the Green Giant laborers. An initial visit to the Green Giant camp on April 11, 1974, by ATA representatives was followed, on April 20, by a second attempt to enter the camp to speak to the migrant laborers about the benefits of unionization and the services and goals of ATA. After the ATA representatives were informed by state patrolman Owsiany that they were trespassing on posted private property, and that they incurred a risk of arrest for criminal trespass, the ATA personnel departed peaceably.

Thereafter, on April 29, 1974, plaintiffs initiated this class action for injunctive and declaratory relief in order to assure a guaranteed right of access into the company-owned labor camp. The plaintiffs' claim is based on asserted rights of association, communication and access under the First and Fourteenth Amendments, and on the Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. ยงยง 1983, 1985.*fn5

Plaintiffs maintain that the camp represents an integrated community for the workers, where nearly all their needs are met. Thus the plaintiffs contend that, as to the workers, the camp operates as a company town and stands in the shoes of the state for purposes of the First and Fourteenth Amendments, which protect plaintiffs' exercise of speech and association. Since the camp is the functional equivalent of a town, plaintiffs assert, the laborers do not relinquish any of their First Amendment rights when they cross its threshold. The argument continues that, as with any other town, those who would speak to the inhabitants must have constitutionally protected access to them where they live.*fn6

Affidavits and legal memoranda were submitted to the district court and a hearing on a preliminary injunction was held May 23, 1974. The district court concluded, in an opinion denying the preliminary injunction, that: "Because the Court finds on the present facts that the Green Giant labor camp has not assumed in any significant degree the functional attributes of public property devoted to public use, that property cannot be held to be subject to the commands of the First and Fourteenth Amendments."*fn7

On June 7, 1974, by letter to the district court, the plaintiffs made "the extraordinary request" that the hearing regarding issuance of a permanent injunction be scheduled prior to the end of June, when the migrant laborers would terminate their employment and depart. The migrant laborers' testimony, the letter claimed, would be decisive in the plaintiffs' case. Plaintiffs stated that they intended to present evidence bearing on: the physical and psychological isolation of the migrants' life in the labor camp; life in the camp as it related to work and leisure; and policies of visitation to the camp and excursions by workers out of the camp. The plaintiffs also ...


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