Vornado, Inc. v. Hyland

Decision Date18 July 1978
Citation77 N.J. 347,390 A.2d 606
PartiesVORNADO, INC., a corporation of the State of Delaware, t/a Two Guys, et al., Plaintiff-Respondent-Cross-Appellant, v. William F. HYLAND, Attorney General of the State of New Jersey, Defendant-Respondent, and City of Hackensack, Town of Kearny and Menswear Retailers of New Jersey, Inc., Defendants-Appellants-Cross-Respondents, and Borough of Lodi, City of Garfield, Township of North Bergen and City ofVineland, Defendants.
CourtNew Jersey Supreme Court

Edward G. Rosenblum, Jersey City, for appellant Menswear Retailers of N. J., Inc. (Rosenblum & Rosenblum, Jersey City, attorneys).

Norman A. Doyle, Jr., Kearny, for appellant Town of Kearny.

Seymour Chase, Hackensack, for appellant City of Hackensack.

Frank J. Cuccio, Hackensack, and Jack Dashosh, Garfield, for respondent-cross-appellant (Jones, Cuccio & Klinger, Hackensack, and Jack Dashosh, Garfield, attorneys; Gary S. Redish, Hackensack, on the brief).

Erminie L. Conley, Deputy Atty. Gen., for defendant-respondent (John J. Degnan, Atty. Gen., attorney; Stephen Skillman, Asst. Atty. Gen., of counsel; Erminie Conley, on the brief).

Robert A. Vort, Newark, submitted a brief on behalf of amicus curiae American Civil Liberties Union of N. J.

Robinson, Wayne & Greenberg, Newark, submitted a brief on behalf of amicus curiae Hahne & Co. (Robert A. Wayne, Newark, of counsel; Edward F. Lamb, Newark, on the brief).

Ravin, Davis & Sweet, Edison, submitted a brief on behalf of amicus curiae Small Retailers for Sunday Opening (Alan E. Davis, Edison, and Gerard C. Sims, Jr., Hackensack, of counsel and on the brief). Clapp & Eisenberg, Newark, submitted a brief on behalf of amicus curiae B. Altman & Co. et al. (Stuart L. Pachman, Newark, on the brief).

Kimmelman, Wolff & Samson, West Orange, submitted a brief on behalf of amicus curiae The N. J. Committee for Full Sunday Shopping (Irwin I. Kimmelman, West Orange, of counsel; Armen Shahinian, West Orange, on the brief).

Lum, Biunno & Tompkins, Newark, submitted a brief on behalf of amicus curiae R. H. Macy & Co., Inc., et al.

The opinion of the court was delivered by

CONFORD, P. J. A. D. (temporarily assigned).

Pending appeal in the Superior Court, Appellate Division, this Court granted direct certification to review a holding by the Superior Court, Law Division, 148 N.J.Super. 343, 372 A.2d 667, that the classification of merchandise forbidden to be sold on Sunday under and pursuant to the Sunday Closing Law, N.J.S.A. 2A:171-5.8 Et seq. (L.1959, C. 119), in counties opting for the statute by referendum, is "not reasonably related to the presumed purpose of the statute and is, hence, unconstitutionally arbitrary." 148 N.J.Super. at 360, 372 A.2d at 676. The assumption must be that the constitutional defect discerned was the denial of equal protection of the laws, as the ruling purports to decide the question left open for factual exploration in our decision in Two Guys from Harrison, Inc. v. Furman, 32 N.J. 199, 160 A.2d 265 (1960) ("Two Guys," hereinafter). That issue was denial of equal protection. See Id. at 211, 222, 160 A.2d 265.

The Sunday Closing Law was held in Two Guys to supersede and replace the 1951 revision of earlier Sunday closing legislation which comprehensively prohibited all Sunday employment or business except for works of necessity or charity. N.J.S. 2A:171-1 Et seq. The 1951 revision contained only a $1 penalty for any violation. The present statute, adopted in 1959, provided that it should be effective only in counties which chose to adopt it by referendum, and prohibited Sunday sale of only (1) clothing or wearing apparel; (2) building and lumber supply materials; (3) furniture; (4) home, business or office furnishings; and (5) household, business or office appliances. Substantial penalties were provided for violation. The law is presently effective in ten of the twenty-one counties.

Two Guys sustained the Sunday Closing Law against attack on grounds of violation of the constitutional ban against union of State and Church in both the federal and state constitutions. 32 N.J. at 226, 160 A.2d 265. It found adequate secular legislative objects for Sunday closing legislation in (1) relief from uninterrupted labor for seven days a week; and (2) eliminating or reducing interference with the ambiance of Sunday as a generally accepted common day for rest, relaxation, relief from everyday tensions and recreation (hereinafter, the "rest and relaxation object"). 32 N.J. at 215-216, 160 A.2d 265. However, the first basis was determined not to be rationally related to the classification of the Sunday Closing Law as it was relevant to all workers, not peculiarly those engaged in selling the five categories of proscribed merchandise. Id. at 218-219, 160 A.2d 265. The Court went on to hold the law facially valid from the standpoint of the rest and relaxation objective, but reversed a summary judgment dismissing the constitutional attack as related to that statutory purpose, ruling that while it might indeed "be difficult for plaintiffs to maintain their heavy burden of proof * * * they may not be denied an opportunity to try." Id. at 230, 160 A.2d at 281.

The plaintiffs in the present case, who comprise the corporate successor of the plaintiff in the Two Guys case and certain of its employees, purport now to have adduced the proof requisite to establish the denial of equal protection not found as a matter of law in Two Guys. The trial court concluded that they were successful in that endeavor. We granted certification while the matter was pending unheard in the Appellate Division, 75 N.J. 584, 384 A.2d 815 (1977). We are constrained to disagree, and we reverse. We find trial error in two broad respects: (a) with respect to the court's conception of the nature of the judicial responsibility Vis a vis that of the Legislature in this area; and (b) with regard to the adequacy of the proofs submitted by plaintiffs to negate all reasonably conceivable purposes or objects for the statutory classification.

We find no merit in the cross-appeal of plaintiffs addressed to alleged vagueness of the statute and to the asserted selective and discriminatory enforcement thereof. We agree with the trial court's rejection of those contentions. See 148 N.J.Super. at 361-362, 372 A.2d 667.


Before examining the evidence in the case before us and the rationale of the trial court in holding it sufficient to invalidate the Sunday Closing Law, it is well to be reminded of certain cardinal principles required to be followed by the judiciary in passing upon the question as to whether a statutory classification of subject matter is invalid as a denial of the equal protection of the laws. Apart from the general presumption of constitutionality which attends every statute, the heart of the applicable criterion was expressed in WHYY, Inc. v. Glassboro, 50 N.J. 6, 13, 231 A.2d 608, 612 (1967), rev'd 393 U.S. 117, 89 S.Ct. 286, 21 L.Ed.2d 242 (1968), 1 as follows:

The Legislature is presumed to have a valid classification in mind. Distinctions will be presumed to rest upon a rational basis if there be Any conceivable state of facts which would afford reasonable support for them. (emphasis added).

The formidable nature of the burden resting on those who would establish the invalidity of a statutory classification in an equal protection context is well delineated in N. J. Restaurant Ass'n v. Holderman, 24 N.J. 295, 300, 131 A.2d 773 (1957), as quoted in Two Guys (32 N.J. at 218, 160 A.2d at 274), as follows:

The burden of demonstrating that a statute contravenes the equal protection clause is extremely formidable, as is attested by the long trail of failure. In addition to the strong presumption of constitutionality with which all organic challenges are approached, one who assails a statute on this ground must contend with principles of unusual elasticity. It is easily stated that the classification (1) must not be palpably arbitrary or capricious, and (2) must have a rational basis in relation to the specific objective of the legislation. But the second proposition is qualified by limitations which compound the difficulties of one who assails the legislative decision. Thus it is not enough to demonstrate that the legislative objective might be more fully achieved by another, more expansive classification, for the Legislature may recognize degrees of harm and hit the evil where it is most felt. (Citations omitted.) The Legislature may thus limit its action upon a decision to proceed cautiously, step by step, or because of practical exigencies, including administrative convenience and expense, * * * or because of "some substantial consideration of public policy or convenience or the service of the general welfare." De Monaco v. Renton, 18 N.J. 352, 360, 113 A.2d 782, 786 (1955). Hence it may "stop short of those cases in which the harm to the few concerned is thought less important than the harm to the public that would ensue if the rule laid down were made mathematically exact." Dominion Hotel, Inc. v. State of Arizona, supra (249 U.S. (265) at page 268, 39 S.Ct. (273) at page 274 (63 L.Ed. 597)). * * * "

Chief Justice Weintraub went on in Two Guys, supra, to say (32 N.J. at 219, 160 A.2d at 275):

As stated in Holderman, a discrimination which in the nature of the subject matter would otherwise be invidious may be relieved of that character if, generally speaking, a rational basis may be found for it in terms of degrees of evil or in the practical problems inherent in the process of legislating or in enforcement.

The reason why a Legislature may strike at an evil where it finds it without first surveying the entire scene in which it may exist even in equal degree is an inescapable concession to the practicalities of a complex social and economic order. The legislative process would be hamstrung if the Legislature had to explore every nook...

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