On certification to the Superior Court, Appellate Division.
For reversal -- Chief Justice Wilentz and Justices Clifford, Handler, Pollock, O'Hern and Garibaldi. For affirmance -- None. The opinion of the Court was delivered by Clifford, J.
[93 NJ Page 114] This case presents a challenge to judicial intervention in the internal disciplinary proceedings of the Most Ancient and Honorable
Society of Free and Accepted Masons of New Jersey (Masons). At issue is whether membership in a fraternal organization warrants judicial protection from unreasonable interference and, if so, what constitutes such unreasonable interference. The trial court, finding that the plaintiff's suspension from the Masons violated the Masonic Code for Trials, ordered plaintiff reinstated and also enjoined the Masons from imposing punishment other than as prescribed in the Code for Trials. The Appellate Division modified and affirmed that determination. We granted certification on defendants' petition, 91 N.J. 196 (1982), and denied plaintiff's cross-petition, 91 N.J. 197 (1982). We reverse.
The Masonic fraternity is composed of local lodges throughout the state and a Grand Lodge, whose members are the current and former elected officials of the local lodges. The Grand Master heads the society. Provisions known as Landmarks, which may not be amended or revised, embody the governing principles of the Masons. Landmark 3 empowers the Grand Master to "suspend, at his pleasure, the operation" of any Masonic rule or regulation other than a Landmark; to "create lodges by his warrant and arrest the warrant of any lodge"; and to "convene a lodge at any time or place and do Masonic work therein * * *." Landmark 8 subjects every Mason to the jurisdiction of the lodge within whose territory he resides.
The Masonic Code for Trials contains the procedures for internal discipline. Pertinent to this appeal are sections 13-05, which provides that "no brother shall be suspended (except for nonpayment of dues), nor expelled, except after due trial and opportunity to defend himself", and 13-14, which reads in part, "A member of a lodge, or an unaffiliated Mason, is subject to the penal jurisdiction of any lodge within whose territorial limits he may reside."
John Rutledge joined the Masons in 1954 as a member of Harmony Lodge No. 18. In 1975 he was elected to a one year term as Grand Master of the Grand Lodge. Richard Gulian, one of the defendants herein, succeeded him in that position. In 1976, the trustees of the Grand Lodge filed a civil complaint against Rutledge in the Chancery Division, alleging misappropriation of commissions from two travel agencies owed to the Grand Lodge while Rutledge was Grand Master. Trial of that case resulted in a judgment of $18,800 against Rutledge.
While that charge was pending, Gulian, as Grand Master, issued an edict in a letter to Rutledge dated March 11, 1977, forbidding Rutledge from attending the upcoming annual meeting of the Grand Lodge. The purpose of the edict was "to prevent a disturbance of the peace and harmony of the fraternity." Several weeks later, Gulian issued another edict suspending Rutledge from exercising all the rights and privileges of a Master Mason until Gulian's successor was elected in April, 1977. Gulian's successors continued the suspension.
On April 17, 1977, after being physically barred from entering the annual meeting, Rutledge filed a complaint in Chancery Division against the Masons, seeking a judicial order vacating the suspension and authorizing his admission to the annual meeting. The court denied the temporary restraining order because Rutledge had been merely suspended rather than expelled, but retained jurisdiction of the case. It ruled that once a summons was served by Rutledge and an answer filed, a date for filing Masonic charges might be set. Rutledge eventually filed an amended complaint, which the defendants answered. In response to a motion by Rutledge on March 23, 1978, the court noted that "none of the parties is liable for the delay in filing Masonic charges", and ordered that those charges be brought within 30 days of April 11, 1978.
On May 7, 1978, the Grand Lodge filed Masonic charges of misappropriation of funds and un-Masonic conduct against Rutledge, and on September ...