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HIBBS v. NEIGHBORHOOD ORGANIZATION TO REJUVENATE TENANT HOUSING ET AL. (04/23/69)

SUPREME COURT OF PENNSYLVANIA


decided: April 23, 1969.

HIBBS
v.
NEIGHBORHOOD ORGANIZATION TO REJUVENATE TENANT HOUSING ET AL., APPELLANTS

Appeals from decree of Court of Common Pleas of Montgomery County, No. 14779 of 1968, in case of Charles C. Hibbs, trading as Ben Reed, v. Neighborhood Organization to Rejuvenate Tenant Housing et al.

COUNSEL

Charles H. Baron, for appellants.

S. Gordon Elkins, for amicus curiae.

Jones, Cohen, Eagen, O'Brien, Roberts and Pomeroy, JJ. Opinion by Mr. Justice Cohen. Mr. Justice Pomeroy concurs in the result. Mr. Chief Justice Bell took no part in the consideration or decision of this case. Concurring Opinion by Mr. Justice Roberts.

Author: Cohen

[ 433 Pa. Page 579]

Appellants engaged in picketing outside the residence of Charles Hibbs, appellee, in order to protest his activities in connection with the rental of houses in low-income districts of Philadelphia. Hibbs carried on these activities under the name "Ben Reed" in the following surreptitious manner. All business was conducted through the mail addressed to a post office

[ 433 Pa. Page 580]

    box in Bala-Cynwyd, Pennsylvania. Each month the tenants sent their rent to "Ben Reed" at that box. All complaints, including those concerning the lack of vital services such as heat and water, had to be sent through the mail, with the accompanying delays. The only available method by which the tenants could pay their rent or register their complaints was by resorting to this impersonal procedure. Although Hibbs maintained an insurance brokerage office, he stated that nothing in connection with his real estate activities was transacted at this office. Appellants, in order to publicize what they considered to be the deplorable activities of Hibbs and the manner in which he operated, conducted informational picketing at his home. After hearing, the lower court granted a preliminary injunction restraining the picketing. Certain of the picketers have taken an appeal to this Court.

Because of the secretive manner in which Hibbs was conducting his real estate business there was no other place to effectively communicate his activities. Under the circumstances, the residence is not an unreasonable situs to picket. When a landlord conducts his business in a manner to avoid detection and not at a regular place of business, informational picketing may not be enjoined for the sole reason that tenants and others resorted to picketing the landlord's home.

Appellants would have us weigh the First Amendment right of free speech that accompanies informational picketing against Hibbs' right of privacy and establish a blanket rule permitting residential picketing.*fn1 We will not do this since this is not a true case

[ 433 Pa. Page 581]

    of residential picketing. Here, because of the manner in which appellee conducted his business, the residence of appellee became a proper situs for informational picketing.

We feel a further word is necessary concerning appellee's conduct on this appeal. Appellee did not submit a brief or participate in oral argument. In a case as delicate as this it would have been to appellee's advantage to have presented the arguments which support his position. It is not so much as a slight to us, but a courtesy owed to the lower court.

Decree reversed, at appellees' cost.

Disposition

Decree reversed.

Concurring Opinion by Mr. Justice Roberts:

I fully agree with the result reached by the majority opinion. I believe it must be emphasized, however, that because as the majority properly points out, "this is not a true case of residential picketing" (since no other place was available where appellants could effectively communicate), the question of to what extent purely residential picketing may be proscribed is not before us. Thus while the majority opinion correctly holds that residential picketing is permissible where no other alternative is available, it should not be read as authority for the converse proposition, i.e., that residential picketing may be enjoined merely if another nonresidential picketing situs can be effectively utilized.


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