Monday, July 19, 2010

California Moscone Act Declared Unconstitutional

Foods Co The California Court of Appeals (Third District) just issued a case that could be somewhat of a blockbuster if it holds up under appeal.  In Ralphs Grocery v. UFCW, the court held that the Moscone Act and a related statute were unconstitutional (the Moscone Act is a "little Norris-LaGuardia Act" that severely limits courts' ability to issue injunctions against labor activity).  Therein lies the rub, according to the court.  In the case, the union picketed and handed out fliers at the entrance of the employer's grocery store asking consumers to boycott the store.  The union refused the employer's demands to leave, after which the employer sought an injunction.  The trial court denied the injunction under state law requiring substantial and irreplaceable injury for an injunction against labor activity.

The court concluded that singling out labor activity for extra protection violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution.  The central issue was the conclusion that the store entrance was not a public forum under state law.  This took the case out of the Pruneyard line of cases that limits private property owners' ability to exclude speech on their property if it's so open that it's considered a public forum.  This is a key limit to the holding that follows, which only applies where the property in question is not a public forum.

In this circumstance, according to the court, property owners would normally be allowed to restrict speech.  However, the Moscone Act (and Labor Code 1138.1) prevents injunctions of labor speech and picketing in most cases.  The court held that this special treatment for labor speech was content-based speech regulation that should be reviewed under strict scrutiny--scrutiny that resulted in the holding that the statutes were unconstitutional.

The case could easily be overturned on appeal, but if not, it could be a big deal.  It's particularly interesting that the court ruled unconstitutional such an established statute as the Moscone Act, which was based on the even older Norris-LaGuardia Act (although the court noted the D.C. Circuit's similar holding on the Moscone Act in Waremart).  Perhaps not surprisingly, the court made no attempt to seriously address why there was a need to limit labor injunctions in the first place.

Stay tuned.

Hat Tip:  Kevin Kraham

-JH

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