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K-T Marine Inc. v. Dockbuilders Local Union 1456 of N.Y. and N.J.

Decided: June 27, 1990.


McGann, J.s.c.


This opinion decides the issue whether, in the course of legitimate "informational" picketing at the job site of the plaintiff corporation, the defendant union may conduct similar picketing on the sidewalk in front of the residence of the president of plaintiff corporation, which residence is located many miles distant from the job site. This court determines that it may not for reasons which follow.

K-T Marine was awarded a contract by the County of Monmouth to repair the abutments of Bridge S-2 which spans the Shrewsbury River between Rumson and Sea Bright. After the work commenced, "informational" picketing was instituted by the defendant local at and about the job site in Sea Bright. The purpose of the picketing was to bring to the attention of the public the fact that plaintiffs workers were not being paid "prevailing rates"*fn1 which the union has filed with the State Department of Labor. There are five employees on the job each day. They are non-union.

A Complaint was filed by plaintiff seeking a restriction on the extent and manner of picketing. After a hearing, an injunction pendente lite was imposed limiting the number of pickets at any given time at the job site to 10 and generally enjoining their interference with the legitimate business of plaintiff and those having legitimate reasons for access to the job site.

During the course of the hearing John Brown (president of plaintiff corporation) and his wife, Patricia Brown, testified that a picket line had been established by the union in front of their home on Harmony Road in Middletown Township on the day before the hearing. Mrs. Brown testified that at about 8:30 a.m. 15 men walked down Harmony Road to the house carrying signs advising the casual reader that K-T Marine and John Brown were not paying prevailing wages. Mrs. Brown's small children were about to leave for school. She was apprehensive and sent them across the lawn to a neighbor's property to avoid the group of men. She then called the local police who responded and instructed the men where they could and could not walk with their signs. Essentially they were told to stay on the sidewalk and on the grass strip between sidewalk and street; not to block the driveway nor to interfere with any pedestrians using the sidewalk. The men complied. Mrs. Brown left her

house. By the time she returned at 2:00 p.m. only two pickets were left.

Mr. Brown testified that his six-year-old child was afraid of the gathering of the men and that neighboring children and adults asked what was going on. He stated that he is a shareholder, president and an employee of the corporation. His wife holds no interest or position in the corporation. He is not one of the regular workers on the job site, but has visited the site some six to ten times since the work began in early May.

The business agent of the union testified that prior to picketing of the residence he had called the Middletown Township Police Department to ask if there were any local ordinances or policies regarding picketing and was told that there were none save that neither street, nor sidewalk, nor driveway could be obstructed and that there could be no trespass on the property inside of the sidewalk.

The court reserved decision on whether to enjoin picketing at the home and solicited briefs on the issue from counsel. Anticipating a quick decision, the union agreed that it would voluntarily refrain from such picketing for a short period of time. This opinion resolves the issue.

There is no doubt that "informational" picketing is a matter of constitutional right. Its exercise is inhibited by tort concepts of libel, slander, trespass, assault and nuisance. It is also restricted by laws making certain conduct criminal or violative of disorderly persons prohibitions. The exercise of that constitutional right found in the First Amendment of the United States Constitution (and, in this context, more expansively in Article 1, Paragraph 6 of the New Jersey Constitution) exists without any reference to the so-called Anti-Injunction Act -- N.J.S.A. 2A:15-51 et seq. No court has the right to enjoin such picketing. See State v. Schmid, 84 N.J. 535, 423 A.2d 615 (1980); Bellemead Dev. Corp. v. Schneider, 193 N.J. Super. 85, 472 A.2d 170 (Ch.Div.1983). However, a court does have the power to impose reasonable limitations on the exercise of that

right in order to avoid the types of clashes and confrontations which experience demonstrates lead to infractions of civil obligations or of the criminal law. The injunction pendente lite entered by this court is based on those fundamental concepts and its inherent power*fn2 and not as an exception to the anti-injunction law -- although it well might be.

The reason that the Anti-Injunction Act does not apply, is that informational picketing does not involve a "labor dispute" as defined in ...

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