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Planned Parenthood of Monmouth County Inc. v. Cannizzaro

Decided: May 2, 1985.


Selikoff, J.s.c.


This matter requires the Court to resolve a classic dispute: What is the equipose between the rights of freedom of speech and assembly, guaranteed by our State Constitution, when balanced against similarly guaranteed rights of privacy and property?

An Order to Show Cause with Verified Complaint seeking restraints was filed on June 1, 1984 by plaintiff Planned Parenthood of Monmouth County, Inc. A Temporary Restraining Order was signed, which required in part that defendants and:

all persons or organizations acting in concert or combination with the named defendants, desist and refrain from invading or trespassing upon the property of the Plaintiff known as 69 East Newman Springs Road, Shrewsbury, New Jersey; from gathering, parading, patrolling and picketing the property of the Plaintiff in such a manner as to disrupt, intimidate or harass the executive staff, employees or patients of the Plaintiff and specifically from using obscene or abusive language or insults or epithets directed at the PLANNED PARENTHOOD's medical and executive staff or at patients desiring to use their professional services and at their employees and refrain from making loud accusations and shouting statements which are abusive at the aforesaid staff, physicians or patients; from intentionally interfering with the flow of traffic into and out of the Plaintiff's premises by blocking or obstructing ingress into

or egress from same. The pickets may picket or patrol on the sidewalk or streets abutting the Plaintiff's premises with five (5) feet between pickets.

On August 1, 1984, the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey determined it lacked subject matter jurisdiction and remanded the matter to this Court. The individual defendants answered the Complaint on August 10, 1984. Defendant Monmouth County Right to Life Committee, Inc. answered on August 13, 1984. Defendant New Jersey Right to Life Committee, Inc. answered on August 17, 1984. Orders were entered subsequently, which continued restraints until a Plenary Hearing could be held. The Plenary Hearing commenced on March 19, 1985. At its conclusion, the Complaint was dismissed as to defendant New Jersey Right to Life Committee, Inc. R. 4:40-1.

Four witnesses testified on behalf of plaintiff. Among them were the Executive Director of Planned Parenthood, two of its employees, and the owner of the real property situated diagonally to the west of plaintiff's property. Five of the named defendants also testified. The essential facts are not in dispute. Planned Parenthood is a voluntary non-profit private health agency, which is the sole occupant and owner of property located at 69 East Newman Springs Road, Red Bank, New Jersey. Among the number of different services provided by plaintiff during the past ten years are pregnancy testing; breast testing; gynocological examinations; education programs for its clientele; PAP smears; venereal disease testing; diabetes testing; training programs for counsellors and volunteers; pregnancy counselling and first trimester pregnancy terminations, otherwise known as abortions.

Although plaintiff is a private entity, it accepts a certain amount of public grant funds. Plaintiff obtains approximately 50 per cent of its funding from Federal, State and County governments. In the past year alone, plaintiff has received approximately $36,000.00 from the County of Monmouth. These grants, however, are earmarked for specific purposes. The Federal funds are utilized by plaintiff for providing its

contraceptive services while the funds from the County of Monmouth are used exclusively for providing community education services pursuant to the terms of the grant. In addition to receiving public grants, plaintiff enjoys a preferred tax status as a non-profit organization.

There are two entrances to the Planned Parenthood facility. One is from the private parking lot situated on plaintiff's property at the rear of the building. Access to that parking lot is from a side street, Haddon Place. There is also an entrance to the building that fronts the public sidewalk on East Newman Springs Road. Most of the clients and employees of Planned Parenthood arrive at the building by automobile. There are a small number of people who access the facility by walking or by taking public transportation. The principal entrance to the facility is from the parking lot at the rear of the building.

There is no doubt that the defendants, individually, and as a group, are sincere in their beliefs regarding abortion. Defendants have been actively picketing the Planned Parenthood facility over a period of some five to six years. The Court finds that the defendants' picketing is conducted on a regular basis. While I recognize that some organizations and individuals who are not named defendants have participated in the picketing at the Planned Parenthood facility, I find that all picketing activity is actively coordinated and supervised under the organized direction of the defendant Monmouth County Right to Life Committee.

The bulk of the picketing activity over the past few years has been conducted at the rear of the plaintiff's building. There has also been a limited amount of picketing on the sidewalk in front of the premises on Newman Springs Road. Picketers have not only paraded with signs but they have also engaged in loud shouting. Both the shouters and signs have referred to the employees of Planned Parenthood as "murderers". People have been exhorted to stop plaintiff from "killing babies". The Executive Director of Planned Parenthood testified that on

more than one occasion, she was taunted as the "lamp shade lady" by picketers, presumably making a grotesque comparison to Holocaust atrocities. The witness stated she was particularly upset because she is Jewish. Potential clients of Planned Parenthood have been accosted and exhorted by defendants not to enter the premises but rather to stop and listen to their positions on abortion.

Prior to the Temporary Restraining Order of June 1, 1984, defendants roamed freely about the plaintiff's property, placing leaflets onto automobiles and enlisting anyone who would listen to their point of view. On one occasion, several defendants entered the plaintiff's building, ostensibly to make an appointment for the rendering of services. A shouting and shoving match ensued and the picketers had to be forcibly ejected from the premises.

Plaintiff contends that it is entitled to permanent injunctive relief because its private property is being trespassed upon by defendants; that it has standing to assert the privacy rights of those who would be its clients; that it is a private entity and thus not subject to the strictures imposed by the Federal and State Constitutions regarding acquiescence to the picketers' activities.

Defendants argue that the Planned Parenthood facility is a public facility. As such, defendants assert that their expressional activity must be afforded the broadest measure of protection by the State and Federal Constitutions.

Initially, the issue of plaintiff's standing must be addressed. The right of privacy is constitutionally guaranteed and protected by both the Federal and State Constitutions. See Griswold v. Connecticut, 381 U.S. 479, 85 S. Ct. 1678, 14 L. Ed. 2d 510 (1965) (right of privacy among penumbra of rights guaranteed by Federal Constitution), and Right To Choose v. Bryne, 91 N.J. 287 (1982) (right of privacy is protected in a variety of areas by New Jersey Constitution).

In Griswold, the Supreme Court held, among other things, that doctors had standing to raise the constitutional rights of married persons with whom they had a professional relationship. Plaintiff correctly argues that as the employer of its staff members and as the provider of services to its clientele, it has standing to assert their legal claims. It is now well settled that New Jersey Courts may "hold that where the plaintiff is not simply an interloper and the proceeding serves the public interest, standing will be found." In re Quinlan, 70 N.J. 10, 35 (1976), cert. den., 429 U.S. 922, 97 S. Ct. 319, 50 L. Ed. 2d 289 (1976).

It would not be realistic to expect that each individual client, each individual staff member, each individual physician must institute a separate action to protect their rights of privacy. I find that both parts of the Quinlan standing test are met and that Planned Parenthood may assert the privacy rights of its personnel and clients.

Both plaintiff and defendants readily concede that the substantive issues can be resolved by the test set forth in State v. Schmid, 84 N.J. 535 (1980). There, Princeton University prosecuted Schmid for distributing and selling political materials on its main campus contrary to a no solicitation regulation. Schmid was convicted of trespass and appealed. Our ...

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