ANNAPOLIS, Md. (Legal Newsline) – Maryland Court of Appeals judges unanimously affirmed circuit court rulings on June 22 in favor of Wal-Mart against the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, who Walmart stated held numerous unauthorized flash mobs.
Between 2011 and 2013, UFCW held demonstrations at Walmart stores in 13 states. Organized as flash mobs, the demonstrations took place in Walmart stores or in parking lots owned or leased by Walmart. During the demonstrations, the people marched into stores, singing, chanting, blocking shoppers, disrupting management meetings and using “in your face” tactics to intimidate them into supporting UFCW, court documents state. When demonstrators would not leave after Walmart managers asked them to, they were removed by police.
Wal-Mart sent four different cessation letters to UFCW counsel in October 2011, October 2012, November 2012, and April 2013, but UFCW refused to stop the demonstrations without a court order. Wal-Mart responded that it did not need one since it was not a labor dispute.
In March 2013, Wal-Mart filed a motion for preliminary injunction and an unfair labor practice (ULP) charge against UFCW, claiming it had violated sections of the National Labor Review Act (NLRA) by conducting a series of mass demonstrations. The NLRA states, in addition to a right to join a union, employees “have the right to refrain from any or all of such activities.” Wal-Mart also filed a complaint against UFCW for trespassing and public and private nuisance, and sought nominal damages, a permanent injunction and declaratory relief.
UFCW claimed that this case does involve a labor dispute and Wal-Mart must satisfy the requirements needed for an injunction. However, the circuit court sided with Wal-Mart that the case did not involve a labor dispute and granted Wal-Mart a preliminary injunction. The injunction prohibited UFCW from entering Wal-Mart to engage in demonstrations, among other things. UFCW filed to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, which the circuit court dismissed.
In 2015, the circuit court issued a permanent injunction against UFCW to prohibit it from demonstrations or engaging in any nuisance in Wal-Mart's private property.
UFCW filed an appeal in 2016, claiming the circuit court erred in denying UFCW’s motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction on grounds of federal preemption and in ruling that this case does not involve a labor dispute. UFCW also alleged that the local interest exception only applies to conduct involving violence, threats of violence, property damage, or malice, none of which they engaged in, giving no real significance to Wal-Mart’s claims.
Judge Joseph M. Getty, writing the Court of Appeals opinion, held the previous court’s rulings that this case did not involve or grow out of a labor dispute because UFCW did not represent, or seek to represent, Wal-Mart’s employees and does not satisfy either of the two definitions of a labor dispute case.
Getty and the justices also held that there is a significant state interest involved in Wal-Mart’s state law claims for trespass and nuisance—namely, the interest in protecting private property rights, and rejected UFCW’s contention that the local interest exception is strictly limited to cases involving violence, threats of violence, or malicious conduct.
Getty stated, “it would be irrational to conclude that this state interest is not 'significant' enough to qualify for the exception unless it is accompanied by violence, threats of violence or property damage."