Brief Fact Summary. Defendants entered upon private property in order to aid migrant workers housed thereupon, and, after being ordered to leave by the owner, refused and were convicted of trespassing.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. Under New Jersey state property law there is no right to bar access to government services available to migrant workers; therefore, no trespass occurred.
In State v. Shack the Court held that although an employer of migrant farm workers may reasonably require those visiting his employees to identify themselves, the employer may not deny the worker his privacy or interfere with his opportunity to live with dignity and to enjoy associations customary among our citizens.View Full Point of Law
Issue. Should the property owner be allowed to refuse access to migrant workers housed upon his property and to prosecute aid workers for trespass?
Held. No. Remanded to County Court with directions to enter judgment of acquittal on each Defendant.
Neither the First Amendment nor the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution is implicated in this case. As to the First Amendment, the Court considered a case regarding workers living in a “company owned” town where the company attempted to prosecute Jehovahs’ Witnesses for trespass. [Marsh v. Alabama, 326 U.S. 501 (1946)]. The entire town was owned by a private corporation and was otherwise indistinguishable from other towns. In such a case the rule barring trespass conviction rests on the fact that the entire town is opened to the general public. As to the Supremacy Clause, the Defendants argued that the application of the state trespass statute would defeat the purpose of the federal act which empowered Co-Defendant Shack to render legal aid to migrants. The Court reasoned that no definitive holding could be found to support either Constitutional argument, and further that under New Jersey state law there is no property right which includes the right to bar access of migrant workers
to governmental services. Therefore, no trespass occurred.
The Court found that “Title to real property cannot include dominion over the destiny of persons the owner permits to come upon the premises.” In other words, the right of property is not an absolute right. Citing historical precedents the Court found that property may not be used to injure others and that necessity has historically been an acceptable reason to enter the private lands of another. This is a public policy holding.
There is no need to consider whether the migrants are tenants of the property owner. The Court found that to use such reasoning would be contrived and would not benefit the class of migrant workers the Court was endeavoring to protect with its judgment.
The Court attempted to strike a balance between the rights of the migrants and those of the property owner. This holding is not to be considered as opening the farm to the general public. Also, in the interest of security the owner may ask visitors to identify themselves and state their general purpose for visiting. The owner may not prevent migrant workers from living with dignity or with associations which are customary to all citizens.
Discussion. This case stands for the principle that human values are to be considered when applying the rules of law to