State of New Jersey v. Shack
58 N.J. 297, 277 A.2d 369 (1971)

  • Shack and his buddies were activists attempting to assist migrant farmworkers, who were housed on Tedesco’s farm.
    • They intended to provide legal and medical services to farmworkers who had requested their assistance.
  • They refused to leave the property when Tedesco requested. They were arrested and charged with trespass.
    • In New Jersey, trespass carries a $50 fine.
  • The Trial Court found Shack and the other activists guilty of trespass. Shack appealed.
    • In case you were wondering, Shack appealed because he was using this as a test case, it wasn’t because he was too cheap to shell out the $50.
  • The Appellate Court affirmed. Shack appealed.
  • The New Jersey Supreme Court reversed and acquitted Shack.
    • The New Jersey Supreme Court found that title to real property does not include control of people the owner allows to live on the premises. Therefore, Shack did not violate any of Tedesco’s possessory rights.
    • The Court found that the farmworkers were tenants and tenants have a legal right to receive visitors, even over the objections of the property owner.
      • Tedesco unsuccessfully argued that the farmworkers’ presence on the farm was merely incidental to their employment, and they should not have rights as tenants.
    • The Court felt that the activists were doing good work and that if their intended beneficiaries were insulated from efforts to reach them, they would be unable to perform their function.
      • Therefore, Shack was not guilty of trespass.
  • This case is an example of how a person’s right to real property is not absolute.
    • No one can use their property rights to injure others.
  • The law has increasingly begun to recognize that some incursions into the property rights of owners are acceptable for the benefit of society in general.
    • Of course, where do you draw the line?
    • And who makes that decision?
    • “The process involves not only the accommodation between the right of the owner and the interests of the general public in his use of this property, but involves also an accommodation between the rights of the owner and the right of individuals who are parties with him in consensual transactions relating to the use of the property.”
  • Btw, New Jersey has historically been the most liberal court in the country with regards to property rights.
  • Note that some States, New Jersey being one, allow private citizens like Tedesco to actually litigate and pay for criminal prosecution of trespass. So, despite the name of the case, this is really “Tedesco v. Shack.”