Linmark Associates, Inc. v. Willingboro Tp., 75-1448

Citation535 F.2d 786
Decision Date28 April 1976
Docket NumberNo. 75-1448,75-1448
PartiesLINMARK ASSOCIATES, INC., and William Mellman, Plaintiffs-Appellees, v. The TOWNSHIP OF WILLINGBORO and Gerald Daly, Defendants-Appellants.
CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (3rd Circuit)

Myron H. Gottlieb, Kessler, Tutek and Gottlieb, Bordentown, N. J., for defendants-appellants.

John P. Hauch, Jr., Archer, Greiner & Read, Haddonfield, N. J., for plaintiffs-appellees.

Before GIBBONS, Circuit Judge, MARKEY, * Chief Judge of Court of Customs and Patent Appeals and WEIS, Circuit Judge.


MARKEY, Chief Judge, Court of Customs and Patent Appeals.

Linmark Associates, Inc. (Linmark), a New Jersey corporation of Camden, New Jersey and owner of residential premises at 25 Sherwood Drive, in the Township of Willingboro, New Jersey (Willingboro) and William Mellman (Mellman) of Mellman Realtors of Cinnaminson, New Jersey, Linmark's real estate broker, challenged the constitutionality of a Willingboro ordinance which barred the erection of "For Sale" and "Sold" signs on residential properties. The complaint charged the ordinance as unconstitutional because it deprives plaintiffs of their right of free speech under the First and Fourteenth Amendments, deprives plaintiffs of their property without due process of law in violation of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments, discriminates against plaintiffs and denies them due process and equal protection under the Fourteenth Amendment, denies plaintiffs their right to freely acquire and alienate property under the Ninth and Fourteenth Amendments, bears no relationship to public health, safety and welfare, is in derogation of the police power, is an abuse of its enabling legislation, denies Mellman his right to do lawful business in violation of the Ninth and Fourteenth Amendment and is overbroad. After a nonjury trial, the district court held the ordinance to be an abridgement of the First Amendment's free speech guarantee and an infringement on "the fundamental right to travel." Because we cannot find support in the record for the district court's legal conclusions, we reverse.

Historical Background

Residential development of Willingboro from the late 1950's is attributed chiefly to Levitt and Sons, Inc., which built moderately priced homes for middle income families. Development, now virtually complete, proceeded through the "part system" whereby ten distinct areas (parts) were sequentially developed. In the early stages, Levitt refused to sell its houses to minority group members. The New Jersey Supreme Court enjoined that racially based housing discrimination. Levitt and Sons, Inc. v. Division Against Discrimination in State Department of Education, 31 N.J. 514, 158 A.2d 177, appeal dism., 363 U.S. 418, 80 S.Ct. 1257, 4 L.Ed.2d 1515 (1960).

Thereafter, a Human Relations Commission was formed and development of the community with full racial integration was actively encouraged. The Township joined National Neighbors, a nationwide organization promoting integrated housing and advising on what can be done to overcome discriminatory housing practices. As a result, a close approach was achieved to that housing ideal sought by fair-minded citizens, mandated by the federal Fair Housing Act, 42 U.S.C. § 3604, and impelled by our Constitution. Willingboro became a racially open community, with each of its ten "parts" having all racial and ethnic groups living together, with no section which could be denominated a white section, a black section, or a Spanish-speaking section. Between 1970 and 1973, the nonwhite population increased by 60% and had risen, without the formation of a racially segregated area or "ghetto," from about 12% to about 18% of the total population. 1 During those same years, within the total population of 45,000, there had been a decrease of about 2,000 in the white population and an increase of 3,000 in the nonwhite population.

Historically, the Willingboro population has been transient due to the nearness of military installations and the nature of the people's employment. Eighty-two realtors, members of the Multiple Listing Service of Burlington County (MLS), were competing in the sale of houses in Willingboro. These conditions, and the uniformity in home construction, 2 made it possible for a number of "For Sale" and "Sold" signs in a limited area to create the impression that many people were leaving the community. A fear psychology developed among home owners, which Council member and former Mayor W. J. Kearns, Jr. characterized in his trial testimony as follows:

* * * I think that the concern that was generally expressed was that people in the community were expressing a desire to sell their homes and move to other areas of Burlington County because what they sensed was a lack of stability or a large turnover in the community, and that this large turnover was resulting in a substantial influx of minority groups into the community beyond what could be sustained without the community itself turning into a ghetto within the county.

I think most of us in the official level, and most of the citizens who were concerned about it that I talked to, felt that this was an irrational reaction on the part of many people, and that we were dealing with a psychological problem that we had to find some way to give people the feeling of stability so they would not overreact to a particular situation.

I don't think anyone was concerned with people of minority groups moving into the community or reaching a 20 percent, or even somewhere in the range of 20 to 25 percent minority grouping. They felt this was properly a generally (sic) average throughout the Delaware Valley area.

But they did not feel that if we had a situation where white home owners in the community were moving, not because they were transferred or not to move to a larger home or a smaller home, for other economic reasons, but were moving because what they sensed was the reaction of the community, but that we would wind up with Willingboro hitting beyond the point of minority group population that would turn it into an isolated pocket of minority groups in Burlington County. It would no longer reflect an integrated community, but would become a ghetto.

Concern for the preservation of the well-integrated character of the community and the desire to counteract the growing fear psychology produced a public sentiment against "For Sale" and "Sold" signs on residential property. Responding to that sentiment, the township council investigated the approach of other cities. At the trial, Mayor Kearn stated the results of the investigation into Shaker Heights, Ohio's experience to have been:

They indicated that at the outset there was a strong hostility to their ordinance on the part of the realtors. But that after having worked with it for a year, to a year and a half, that they found they have good compliance, and that it was working very successfully.

The Township council consulted the Willingboro Human Relations Commission for its views and recommendations. The response was described at the trial by Mrs. Gladfelter, a founder-member of the Commission and its chairperson in 1973-74:

Yes, I think we specifically were recommending at this time that council move to consider an ordinance or any other possible way to prohibit sale and sold signs throughout the township.

The concern of the Commission was described at the trial by Commission member Alexander W. Porter as follows I think the Commission would like to see a community which is as harmonious as it would choose to be without the kind of pressures, if I may use that term, which would induce people to sell when in fact they don't want to sell; and I think that's the thing that the ordinance was directed at.

Individuals were responding and reacting to a rash of signs, or, one sign which would lead to another, and another and another.

I think that's the concern the Commission was trying to address.

Public concern with the effect of "For Sale" and "Sold" signs had become widespread in 1972 and became an issue in the 1973 elections to membership on the Township Council. The Council's normal policy was to hold one public meeting after an ordinance had been drafted and before its adoption. With respect to the signs, however, after two years of public ferment, the Council conducted two public hearings, one before (February 4, 1974) and one after (March 18, 1974) the drafting of the ordinance herein. More than 50 citizens presented their views during the more than four hours devoted exclusively to the question of the signs on residential property. Complaints were stated regarding phone calls, letters and house-to-house solicitations by realtors inquiring whether the homeowner wished to sell; 3 about panic selling; about "Sold" signs remaining up for six weeks in violation of an ordinance requiring their removal in five days (in response to which Council members cited the great difficulty of enforcement); about the "forest" of signs, which created the impression that "there was something wrong with the community," and consequent departure of persons who might otherwise have remained. Realtors and representatives of real estate brokers were the main spokesmen against the ordinance, describing the signs as "tools" needed in their business. Some realtors injected race questions in their arguments against the ordinance. One realtor questioned whether the council had funds to defend the ordinance in litigation.

At the end of the second public hearing, the ordinance, which took the form of an amendment to a prior ordinance and prohibited posting of "For Sale" and "Sold" signs on residential property other than model homes, was adopted unanimously by the Township Council, Mayor Kalik abstaining because she considered her status as a realtor raised a conflict of interest. The minutes of both public hearings, plus those of the Council meeting which adopted the...

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