Law Religion Culture Review

Exploring the intersections of law, religion and culture. Copyright by Richard J. Radcliffe. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Another Picketing Case.

What's the deal with picketing cases? They seem to generate more than their fair share of published opinions. Here's yet another to consider. (Krell v. Gray, Case No. B169593, February 16, 2005; read it here.) (For prior posts dealing with picketing cases, see January 31, 2005, and February 12, 2005.)

1. Background Facts.

Fleming Gray served as a substitute teacher at Pacoima Middle School. Assistant principal Robert Krell reprimanded Gray for refusing to allow a student to use the restroom during class. Gray won her grievance against this action, but assented to stop teaching at the school. However, she did not stop there.

Gray then picketed the school with signs and leaflets criticizing Krell. The leaflets also accused individual students of calling Gray racist names. At about the same time, Krell began receiving daily death threats.

2. Trial Court Grant of Injunction.

As a result, Krell obtained an injunction prohibiting Gray from harassing him. The order required her to stay at least 100 yards away from Krell and remove Krell's name from picket signs and leaflets.

3. Appellate Court Reversal for Overly Broad Injunction.

The Court of Appeal reversed. The Krell court observed that Code of Civil Procedure Section 527.6 permits a person who has suffered harassment to seek injunctive relief. The appellate court further found substantial evidence that Gray committed acts that seriously alarmed, annoyed or harassed Krell and the students. Gray's acts were not constitutionally protected speech because they conflicted with the state interest of safeguarding schools for students and staff. Therefore, the appellate court ruled that Gray's acts were subject to injunctive relief.

However, the Court of Appeal did not believe that the injunction comported with "reasonable time, place and manner restrictions", as required. In particular, the Krell court held that the blanket prohibition against using Krell's name was overly broad. The restriction requiring Gray to stay at least 100 yards from Krell was unreasonable because there was no evidence that Gray, as a "lone picketer," materially disrupted classwork. As a result, the matter was remanded for the trial court to reconsider the scope of injunctive relief to be ordered.

4. Reflections.

My hypothesis as to why picketing cases seem to get into appellate courts is that they usually implicate constitutional concerns and involve highly motivated litigant(s). One interesting factor absent here, but present in another Section 527.6 injunction case (involving the picketer of the landlord and his church [February 12, 2005, post]) is a special to motion to strike as a SLAPP suit. Especially in light of the broad standard employed in that case as to what constitutes a public issue, it would seem that an anti-SLAPP motion might have been appropriate also in this case at least with respect to free-speech activities (not any threats or defamation).