Miriam A. Vogel and Tritia M. Murata
LOS ANGELES (January 28, 2011) – In a Constitutionally charged case, Morrison & Foerster secured an appeals court win for Ralphs Grocery Company, a major California grocery store chain, in its bid to stop union groups from picketing on the company’s private property at its Fresno, California store. In a published opinion, a three-judge panel of California's Fifth Appellate District reversed a Fresno Superior Court's order denying Ralphs’ motion for a preliminary injunction and remanded for further proceedings.
The case, Ralphs Grocery Company v. United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 8, stems from attempts beginning in January 2008 by the grocery company to implement rules restricting the time, place, and manner of "expressive activities" outside its non-union Foods Co. warehouse store—rules that were ignored by union picketers.
Ralphs' lawsuit challenged the constitutionality of California's 1975 Moscone Act, which deprives state courts of jurisdiction to issue injunctions against "peaceful picketing or patrolling involving any labor dispute," and Labor Code section 1131.8, which independently imposes severe restrictions on a property owner’s right to obtain injunctive relief against unions.
The Court of Appeal's opinion holds that both statutes are constitutionally infirm under the First Amendment of the United States Constitution because they favor one kind of speech (labor activities) over all other kinds of speech. As the Court put it, "The actual impact of the statutes is to discriminate: to provide a forum on both public and private property for speech related to labor disputes ... while not providing the same forum [for others]".
The Ralphs decision is another major win for California retailers, many of whom have been unable to remove or regulate picketers on their properties and have suffered a resulting loss of business. Last year, in the Third Appellate District, the Morrison & Foerster team won a virtually identical case arising out of picketing at its Sacramento Foods Co store, and that case is now pending before the California Supreme Court.
Ralphs was represented by Morrison & Foerster partners Miriam Vogel and Timothy Ryan, and associate Tritia Murata. The team included veterans both of labor and employment dispute resolution and of California’s appellate courts. Ms. Vogel, a member of the Morrison & Foerster's Appellate Practice Group, served for 18 years as a Justice on the California Court of Appeal, Second Appellate District. She authored more than 2,800 opinions and heard more than 8,400 cases during her tenure on the bench. Mr. Ryan, a Fellow in the College of Labor and Employment Lawyers, is a member of the Employment and Labor Law Section of the American Bar Association, and has extensive experience in the representation of employers in matters involving litigation, union organizing, collective bargaining, labor arbitration, and labor relations.
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