885 F.2d 971 (1st Cir. 1989), 89-1252, Montalvo-Huertas v. Rivera-Cruz

Docket Nº:89-1252.
Citation:885 F.2d 971
Party Name:Mercedes MONTALVO-HUERTAS, etc., et al., Plaintiffs, Appellees, v. Hector RIVERA-CRUZ, etc., et al., Defendants, Appellants.
Case Date:September 20, 1989
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the First Circuit

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885 F.2d 971 (1st Cir. 1989)

Mercedes MONTALVO-HUERTAS, etc., et al., Plaintiffs, Appellees,


Hector RIVERA-CRUZ, etc., et al., Defendants, Appellants.

No. 89-1252.

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit

September 20, 1989

Heard June 8, 1989.

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Luis N. Blanco, Federal Litigation Div., Dept. of Justice, with whom Hon. Rafael Ortiz Carrion, Sol. Gen., and Norma Cotti Cruz, Deputy Sol. Gen., Ponce, P.R., were on brief for defendants, appellants.

Daniel R. Dominguez with whom Enrique M. Bray, Carmen Irizarry Dominguez, Dominguez & Totti and Luis F. Padilla, Hato Rey, P.R., were on brief for plaintiffs, appellees.

Before BREYER and SELYA, Circuit Judges, and CAFFREY, [*] Senior District Judge.

SELYA, Circuit Judge.

We are called upon today to determine the constitutionality of P.R. Laws Ann. tit. 33, Secs. 2201-05 (1983 & Supp.1987) (the Closing Law), a much-amended statute which limits the transaction of business in Puerto Rico on Sundays, holidays, and after stipulated hours. Discerning, as we do, a rational legislative basis for the statute as it stands, we rule that the Closing Law does not deprive appellees of due process or equal protection under the federal Constitution.


As originally enacted, the Closing Law barred commercial and industrial establishments from opening on Sundays. Penal Code of Puerto Rico, Secs. 553-56 (1902). It exempted a relatively select group of businesses, including public marketplaces, pharmacies, hotels, restaurants, utilities, and places devoted exclusively to amusement (such as theatres). The statute also made an exception for "works of emergency, necessary to prevent unusual and serious financial loss." Id., Sec. 553. Over the years, the Puerto Rico legislature passed a plethora of amendments to the Closing Law, exempting many additional activities. 1 In its present incarnation, the Closing Law permits industry to function unrestrained, but prohibits non-exempt commercial establishments from operating on Sundays, certain legal holidays, and after 9:00 p.m. (10:00 p.m. on a few designated dates).

The list of exemptions has grown like the proverbial beanstalk; it now reaches, for example, (1) printeries, newspaper enterprises, garages, filling stations, public marketplaces (and stands for the sale of local produce and vegetables); (2) restaurants, cafes, hotels, inns, refreshment stands, confectioneries, pastry stores, and newsstand-type

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operations; (3) casinos and billiard rooms; (4) slaughterhouses, meat stands, dairies, ice and milk depots, livery stables, funeral homes, piers and docks; (5) public and quasi-public utilities; (6) theatres, racetracks, and other places devoted exclusively to amusement or charitable purposes; (7) pharmacies; (8) all commercial establishments at airports; (9) all commercial or service establishments operating within hotels (so long as the business constitutes part of the facilities offered to guests); (10) emergency work, defined as in the original Closing Law; (11) banks; (12) laundromats; (13) those commercial establishments which, because of the nature of their main activity, necessitate continuous operation; (14) rural barbershops; (15) owner-operated businesses; and (16) concerns located in the Old San Juan tourist zone and devoted to tourist interest. See P.R. Laws Ann. tit. 33, Secs. 2201-05 (1983 & Supp.1987).


In the past decade, the Closing Law has been repeatedly challenged in the Commonwealth's courts. We need remark only the most recent of these efforts. In Pueblo Int'l, Inc. v. Rivera Cruz, 88 J.T.S. 145 (1988), translated and reprinted in Record Appendix (R.A.) at 154-323, 2 a supermarket chain intent on, but barred from, opening on Sundays, brought a class action in the Commonwealth courts on its own behalf and on behalf of all similarly situated retailers. The challenge was bottomed on due process and equal protection guarantees of both the federal and Commonwealth constitutions. Six individual plaintiffs, all part-time employees of Pueblo who claimed to have been denied work by virtue of the Closing Law, joined in the suit.

After preliminary skirmishing now not material, the superior court applied an intermediate standard of review, declared the Closing Law violative of the Puerto Rico Constitution, and issued an injunction. Pueblo Int'l, Inc. v. Rivera Cruz, Civ.No. 86-2716 (Super.Ct. San Juan Part June 25, 1986). The ensuing appeal was heard before six justices of the Supreme Court of Puerto Rico, who divided equally on the question of the Closing Law's constitutionality. 3 Because Article V of the Commonwealth Constitution ordains that no law shall be declared unconstitutional except by a majority of the total number of justices comprising the Puerto Rico Supreme Court, the superior court decision was reversed and the injunction vacated. Pueblo Int'l, Translation at 156 (Judgment of the Court).

Shortly thereafter, the instant action was filed in the United States District Court for the District of Puerto Rico against three ranking Commonwealth law-enforcement officials (appellants before us). The prime mover was Puerto Rico 7, Inc. (PR-7), a firm which, since 1987, had operated several convenience stores around the clock and on Sundays. There were also numerous other plaintiffs and intervening plaintiffs. Some of these individuals were employed by PR-7 and some by Pueblo; all claimed to have lost work as a result of the Closing Law's threatened enforcement. The plaintiffs invoked 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1983 and alleged due process and equal protection violations under the fourteenth amendment, asserting among other things that there was no rational basis upon which the Closing Law could be sustained. The jagged lines drawn between covered and exempted businesses were, in plaintiffs' view, altogether arbitrary and unreasonable.

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The district court granted a temporary restraining order; advanced the case on the docket; merged preliminary injunction with the merits, see Fed.R.Civ.P. 65(a)(2); held an evidentiary hearing; and permanently enjoined enforcement of the Closing Law. Montalvo Huertas v. Rivera Cruz, No. 89-0112 (D.P.R. Feb. 16, 1989) (D.Ct.Op.). After resolving a variety of preliminary matters against the defendants, the court concluded that there was no rational relationship between the Closing Law and its professed legislative purpose (providing a uniform day of rest). Id. at 33-38. This appeal followed.


Short of the merits, defendants assert that the court below erred in entertaining, and presuming to pass upon, plaintiffs' complaint. The assertion has two major facets. Neither withstands analysis.

  1. Res Judicata.

    Appellants argue that the doctrine of res judicata bars PR-7, at least, 4 from relitigating issues already decided in the Commonwealth courts. Pointing out that Pueblo Int'l was a class action, appellants maintain that PR-7 was a member of the plaintiff class, and bound; or if PR-7 was not within the class, that ties between PR-7 and class members warrant application of res judicata. 5 We find both theses untenable.

    Local law applies in deciding the res judicata effect of a local judgment in a federal court. See Kremer v. Chemical Constr. Corp., 456 U.S. 461, 466-67, 102 S.Ct. 1883, 1889-90, 72 L.Ed.2d 262 (1982); Allen v. McCurry, 449 U.S. 90, 96, 101 S.Ct. 411-15, 66 L.Ed.2d 308 (1980); Fiumara v. Fireman's Fund Ins. Cos., 746 F.2d 87, 91 (1st Cir.1984). In Puerto Rico, the pertinent statutory provision states:

    In order that the presumption of the res adjudicata may be valid in another suit, it is necessary that, between the case decided by the sentence and that in which the same is invoked, there be the most perfect identity between the things, causes, and persons of the litigants, and their capacity as such.

    * * *

    * * *

    It is understood that there is identity of persons whenever the litigants of the second suit are legal representatives of those who litigated in the preceding suit, or when they are jointly bound with them or by the relations established by the indivisibility of prestations among those having a right to demand them, or the obligation to satisfy the same.

    P.R. Laws Ann. tit. 31, Sec. 3343 (1968). Here, our principal focus is on the identity between the persons of the litigants (or, more precisely, the lack of any).

    1. Class Membership. Contrary to defendants' exhortations, we find that PR-7 was not a member of the Pueblo Int'l plaintiff class. We explain briefly.

    The class certified in the superior court was described in the court's judgment as "composed of all the retail business establishments in Puerto Rico until now covered and not exempt from [the Closing Law] that, for whatever reason, wish to open on Sundays and holidays...." [Emphasis supplied]. The unvarnished import of this language is to limit the decree, and the class, to businesses then wearing the Closing Law's yoke. The superior court judgment was entered on June 25, 1986. At that time, PR-7 was but a gleam in its founders' eyes; it had not yet been incorporated

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    and was not then doing business. 6 Appellants strain to interpret the language of the judgment differently, suggesting that the class included all current and future establishments to which the provisions of the Closing Law on the books in 1986 could conceivably apply. The "until now" language, they insist, was meant to modify the scope of the statute's coverage, not the phrase "retail business establishments." The district court disagreed, D.Ct.Op. at 15, and so do we.

    The proposition seems sufficiently self-evident that we need not wax longiloquent in its interest. For one thing, construing the adverb phrase to exclude...

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