State v. Shack

58 N.J. 297 (1971)


One of the defendants was a field worker for a nonprofit that provides health services for migrant farmworkers and the other was a staff attorney with a nonprofit that provides legal services to such workers.  The defendants entered a private property to visit migrant farmworkers employed and housed there.  As they neared the camp site where the farmworkers were staying, the owner of the property confronted them and inquired about their purpose.  They explained they were there to give medical aid to an injured worker and to provide another worker legal advice.  The owner offered to locate the men but insisted that the consultation with the worker who needed legal advice take place in his office.  Defendants declined and asserted their right to visit the workers privately in their living quarters, at which point the owner contacted the police.  Defendants were charged and convicted of trespass.

Procedural History

Defendants were convicted of trespass in municipal court and again on appeal in the County Court of Cumberland County on a trial de novo.


Under state law, does the ownership of real property includes the right to bar access to governmental services available to migrant workers?

Rule / Holding

No.  Property rights do not include the right to bar access to governmental services to migrant workers employed and living on the property.


Property rights are not absolute, but limited—they are intended to serve human values and accommodate conflicting individual and social interests.  Moreover, they must accommodate the rights of the property owner and rights of “individuals who are parties with him in consensual transactions relating to the use of the property.”  Property rights “cannot include dominion over the destiny of persons the owner permits to come upon the premises” whose “well-being must remain the paramount concern of a system of law.”  This is especially true here with respect to migrant farmworkers, a highly disadvantaged segment of society in need of assistance and largely unaware of their rights and the availability of public and charitable services.  The property owner had no legitimate need for a right to deny the farmworkers the opportunity to receive aid from groups seeking to assist him.

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