The Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday that a California regulation permitting labor organizations a “right to take access” to an agricultural employer’s property to solicit support for unionization violated the constitutional rights of those employers.

The case, Cedar Points Nursery et al. v. Hassid et al., No. 20-107, arose from union organization efforts surrounding Cedar Point Nursery and Fowler Packing Company, California growers of strawberries, table grapes, and citrus.  Organizers from the United Farm Workers sought access to property owned by the growers pursuant to a state regulation, issued in 1975, allowing union organizers to meet with agricultural workers at work sites for up to three hours per day, 120 days per year.  The growers filed suit against members of the California Agricultural Labor Relations Board in 2016, arguing that enforcement of the access regulation amounted to a government taking in violation of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments.  The district court dismissed the action, finding that the access regulation did not “allow the public to access [the growers’] property in a permanent and continuous manner for whatever reason,” and therefore did not equate to a taking.  A divided panel of the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit subsequently affirmed.

The Court, in a 6-3 party-line decision, disagreed with the lower courts, holding that the California access regulation constitutes a per se physical taking in violation of employers’ constitutional rights.  Chief Justice Roberts, writing for the majority, stated:

Unlike a mere trespass, the regulation grants a formal entitlement to physically invade the growers’ land.  Unlike a law enforcement search, no traditional background principle of property law requires the growers to admit union organizers onto their premises.  And unlike standard health and safety inspections, the access regulation is not germane to any benefit provided to agricultural employers or any risk posed to the public.  The access regulation amounts to simple appropriation of private property.

Justice Breyer wrote a dissenting opinion, which was joined by Justices Sotomayor and Kagan.

It should be noted that the National Labor Relations Act excludes agricultural workers from coverage, and that this case is particular to California state law regarding agricultural labor relations.   Nonetheless, and while the Court’s decision may have minimal impact outside of California, it signals the Court’s receptiveness to arguments that favor employer property rights over labor organizing efforts, which will likely be at odds with future expected rulings of the National Labor Relations Board under the Biden Administration.

Andrew Esler is an associate in the firm’s Labor and Employment Department, resident in its Philadelphia office.