Wal-Mart's Trespass Case May Stick to Union
FORT WORTH (CN) - Labor unions and protesters behind mass demonstrations at Wal-Mart Stores must face trespass allegations in Texas, an appeals court ruled.
Wal-Mart had filed suit last year against the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, North Texas Jobs with Justice, Lester Eugene Lance, 10 unknown individuals, and Organization United for Respect at Walmart (OURWalmart).
The complaint in Tarrant County Court accused the groups of having repeatedly entered Wal-Mart stores, ignoring no-solicitation signs, blocking roads in and out of parking lots, screaming through bullhorns, displaying banners and signs, and Holding flash mobs.
A judge refused to dismiss under the Texas Citizens' Participation Act, which requires defendants to show by a preponderance of the evidence that the allegations stem from their exercise of a constitutional right.
The union also failed to show that Wal-Mart had consented to its entry onto store property as an invited shopper.
A three-judge panel with the 2nd District Court of Appeals affirmed Thursday.
Assuming United Food met its burden, the burden then shifts to Walmart to show "by clear and specific evidence a prima facie case" for each element of trespass, according to the ruling.
Though union representatives might have been invitees as shoppers, they became trespassers when they used the stores "on a venture for their own purposes," the ruling states.
"The words and conduct of the possessor - Wal-Mart - established that Wal-Mart was not inviting United Food's representatives to perform mass demonstrations in Wal-Mart stores or on Wal-Mart property," Justice Sue Walker wrote for the court. "To the contrary, the declarations and exhibits attached to Wal-Mart's response to United Food's motion to dismiss along with Wal-Mart's four letters - notifying UFCW and OURWalmart that their representatives were to cease and desist from trespassing on Wal-Mart's private property in Texas and revoking any license or permission that UFCW and OURWalmart may have previously had as members of the general public to be in or on a Wal-Mart facility, sidewalk, or parking lot if they solicited, distributed literature, or otherwise engaged in any demonstration - all constitute clear and specific evidence that Wal-Mart had either not expressed or had revoked any willingness to receive United Food's representatives onto Wal-Mart properties to engage in mass demonstrations."
A spokesman for the union did not return a request for comment.