439 U.S. 96 (1978), 77-837, New Motor Vehicle Board of California v. Orrin W. Fox Co.

Docket Nº:No. 77-837
Citation:439 U.S. 96, 99 S.Ct. 403, 58 L.Ed.2d 361
Party Name:New Motor Vehicle Board of California v. Orrin W. Fox Co.
Case Date:December 05, 1978
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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439 U.S. 96 (1978)

99 S.Ct. 403, 58 L.Ed.2d 361

New Motor Vehicle Board of California

v.

Orrin W. Fox Co.

No. 77-837

United States Supreme Court

Dec. 5, 1978

Argued October 3-4, 1978

APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE

CENTRAL DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA

Syllabus

The California Automobile Franchise Act (Act) requires an automobile manufacturer to obtain approval of the California New Motor Vehicle Board (Board) before opening or relocating a retail dealership within the market area of an existing franchisee if the latter protests, and the Act also directs the Board to notify the manufacturer of such requirement upon the existing franchisee's filing of a protest. The Board is not required to hold a hearing on the merits of the protest before sending the notice to the manufacturer. Appellee manufacturer and proposed new and relocated franchisees, after being notified pursuant to the Act of protests from existing franchisees and before any hearings were held, brought suit challenging the constitutionality of the statutory scheme on due process grounds. A three-judge District Court held that the absence of a prior hearing requirement denied manufacturers and their proposed franchisees the procedural due process mandated by the Fourteenth Amendment.

Held:

1. The statutory scheme does not violate due process. Pp. 104-108.

(a) The Act does not have the effect of affording a protesting dealership a summary administrative adjudication in the form of a notice tantamount to a temporary injunction restraining the manufacturer's exercise of its right to franchise at will. The Board's notice has none of the attributes of an injunction, but serves only to inform the manufacturer of the statutory scheme and of the status, pending the Board's determination, of its franchise permit application. Pp. 104-105.

(b) Nor can the Board's notice be characterized as an administrative order, since it did not involve any exercise of discretion, did not find or assume any adjudicative facts, and did not terminate or suspend any right or interest that the manufacturer was then enjoying. Fuentes v. Shevin, 407 U.S. 67; Bell v. Burson, 402 U.S. 535, distinguished. P. 105.

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(c) Even if the right to franchise constituted an interest protected by due process when the Act was enacted, the California Legislature was still constitutionally empowered to enact a general scheme of business regulation that imposed reasonable restrictions upon the exercise of the right. In particular, the legislature was empowered to subordinate manufacturers' franchise rights to their franchisees' conflicting rights where necessary to prevent unfair or oppressive trade practices, and also to protect franchisees' conflicting rights through customary and reasonable procedural safeguards, i.e., by providing existing dealers with notice and an opportunity to be heard by an impartial tribunal (the Board) before their franchisor is permitted to inflict upon them grievous loss. Such procedural safeguards cannot be said to deprive the franchisor of due process. Pp. 106-108.

(d) Once having enacted a reasonable general scheme of business regulation, California was not required to provide for a prior individualized hearing each time the Act's provisions had the effect of delaying consummation of the business plans of particular individuals. P. 108.

2. [99 S.Ct. 406] The statutory scheme does not constitute an impermissible delegation of state power to private citizens by requiring the Board to delay franchise establishments and relocations only when protested by existing franchisees who have unfettered discretion whether or not to protest. An otherwise valid regulation is not rendered invalid simply because those whom it is designed to safeguard may elect to forgo its protection. Pp. 108-109.

3. The Act does not conflict with the Sherman Act. Pp. 109-111.

(a) The statutory scheme is a system of regulation designed to displace unfettered business freedom in establishing and relocating automobile dealerships, and hence is outside the reach of the antitrust laws under the "state action" exemption. This exemption is not lost simply because the Act accords existing dealers notice and an opportunity to be heard before their franchisor is permitted to locate a dealership likely to subject them to injurious and possible illegal competition. Schwegmann Bros. v. Calvert Distillers Corp., 341 U.S. 384, distinguished. Pp. 109-110.

(b) To the extent that there is a conflict with the Sherman Act because the Act permits dealers to invoke state power for the purpose of restraining intrabrand competition, such a conflict "cannot itself constitute a sufficient reason for invalidating the . . . statute," for

if an adverse effect on competition were, in and of itself, enough to render a state statute invalid, the States' power to engage in economic regulation

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would be effectively destroyed.

Exxon Corp. v. Governor of Maryland, 437 U.S. 117, 133. Pp. 110-111.

440 F.Supp. 436, reversed.

BRENNAN, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and STEWART, WHITE, MARSHALL, and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined. MARSHALL, J., filed a concurring opinion, post, p. 111. BLACKMUN, J., filed an opinion concurring in the result, in which POWELL, J., joined, post, p. 113. STEVENS, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 114.

BRENNAN, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE BRENNAN delivered the opinion of the Court.

Under the California Automobile Franchise Act, a motor vehicle manufacturer must secure the approval of the California New Motor Vehicle Board before opening a retail motor vehicle dealership within the market area of an existing franchisee, if and only if that existing franchisee protests the establishment of the competing dealership. The Act also directs the Board to notify the manufacturer of this statutory requirement upon the filing of a timely protest by an existing franchisee. The Board is not required to hold a hearing on the merits of the dealer protest before sending the manufacturer the notice of the requirement.1

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A three-judge District Court for the Central District of California entered a judgment [99 S.Ct. 407] declaring that the absence of such a prior hearing requirement denied manufacturers and

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their proposed franchisees the procedural due process mandated by the Fourteenth Amendment, 440 F.Supp. 436 (1977). We noted probable jurisdiction of the appeals in both No. 77-837 and No. 77-849,2 434 U.S. 100 (1978). We now reverse.3

I

The disparity in bargaining power between automobile manufacturers and their dealers prompted Congress4 and some

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25 States to enact legislation to protect retail car dealers from perceived abusive and oppressive acts by the manufacturers.5 California's version is its Automobile [99 S.Ct. 408] Franchise Act.6 Among

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its other safeguards, the Act protects the equities of existing dealers by prohibiting automobile manufacturers from adding dealerships to the market areas of its existing franchisees where the effect of such intrabrand competition would be injurious to the existing franchisees and to the public interest.7

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To enforce this prohibition, the Act requires an automobile manufacturer who proposes to establish a new retail automobile dealership in the State, or to relocate an existing one, first to give notice of such intention to the California New Motor Vehicle Board and to each of its existing franchisees in the same "line-make" of automobile located within the "relevant market area," defined as "any area within a radius of 10 miles from the site of [the] potential new dealership."8 If any existing franchisee within the market area protests to the Board within 15 days, the Board is required to convene a hearing within 60 days to determine whether there is good cause for refusing to permit the establishment [99 S.Ct. 409] or relocation of the dealership.9 The Board is also required to inform the franchisor, upon the filing of a timely protest,

that a timely protest has been filed, that a hearing is required . . . , and that the franchisor shall not establish or relocate the proposed dealership until the board has held a hearing . . . , nor thereafter, if the board has determined that there is good cause for not permitting such dealership.10

Violation of the statutory requirements by a franchisor is a misdemeanor and ground for suspension or revocation of a license to do business.11

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Appellee General Motors Corp. manufactures, among other makes, Buick and Chevrolet cars. Appellee Orrin W. Fox Co. signed a franchise agreement with appellee General Motors in May, 1975, to establish a new Buick dealership in Pasadena. Appellee Muller Chevrolet agreed with appellee General Motors to transfer its existing Chevrolet franchise from Glendale to La Canada, Cal., in December, 1975. The proposed establishment of Fox and relocation of Muller were protested respectively by existing Buick and Chevrolet dealers. The New Motor Vehicle Board responded, as required by the Act, by notifying appellees that the protests had been filed and that therefore they were not to establish or relocate the dealerships until the Board had held the hearings required by the Act, nor thereafter if the Board determined that there was good cause for not permitting such dealerships. Before either protest proceeded to a Board hearing, however, appellees General Motors, Fox, and Muller brought the instant action.

II

At the outset it is important to clarify the nature of the due process challenge before us. Appellees and the dissent characterize the statute as entitling a protesting dealership to a summary...

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