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Court Affirms but Trims Wal-Mart v. Union

FORT WORTH (CN) — A Texas appeals court upheld a ban on labor unions' picketing on Wal-Mart property, but ruled that prohibiting union members from entering stores unless they are shopping goes too far.

The Second District Court of Appeals in Fort Worth on Oct. 27 affirmed a trial court's summary judgment for Wal-Mart on claims of trespass and interference causing nuisance injuries.

Wal-Mart sued the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, North Texas Jobs with Justice and Lester Eugene Lantz in 2013 in Tarrant County Court, accusing them of entering Wal-Mart stores, ignoring no-solicitation signs, blocking roads in and out of parking lots, screaming through bullhorns, displaying banners and signs and summoning flash mobs.

In affirming Wal-Mart's claims, the appeals court panel looked at the conduct's effects on Wal-Mart's "use and enjoyment of its property, not the conduct itself." It found that Wal-Mart's "undisputed evidence of the effects" of the defendants' actions "entitled it to judgment as a matter of law on its claim for private nuisance injuries."

But Justice Lee Gabriel, writing for the panel, scaled back the scope of the injunction.

"(W)e agree with the labor organizations' argument that this prohibition was overly broad because it arguably enjoined lawful activities," Gabriel wrote. "When Walmart formally notified the labor organizations that it considered their actions to be trespass, Walmart explained that its business invitation did not allow the labor organizations to commit trespass on its property. ...

"Walmart considered this notice to 'revoke the license' of the labor organizations to be on its property 'for any non-shopping purpose.'"

However, the appeals court added: "Entering a Walmart store to apply for a job - a lawful activity that would fall within Walmart's limited business invitation to the public - would be unrelated and not incidental to a shopping or purchasing purpose and, thus, would be barred by the injunction as worded. We believe Walmart's formal notice to the labor organizations of the limited of its business invitation got it exactly right. Walmart did not include in its business invitation any 'non-shopping, labor-related activity' on its private properties."

This is the second time the appeals court has ruled in this case. In 2014, it affirmed the trial court's refusal to dismiss. The trial judge ruled against the union under the Texas Citizens' Participation Act, due to failure to show by preponderance of evidence that the allegations relate to the exercise of a constitutional right.

Wal-Mart spokesman Kory Lundberg said Tuesday that the company was "pleased" by the new appeals court ruling.

"This permanent injunction is about protecting our associates, customers and property from disruptive and intimidating demonstrations," Lundberg said.

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