Edmonson v. Leesville Concrete Company, Inc

Decision Date03 June 1991
Docket NumberNo. 89-7743,89-7743
Citation114 L.Ed.2d 660,111 S.Ct. 2077,500 U.S. 614
PartiesThaddeus Donald EDMONSON, Petitioner v. LEESVILLE CONCRETE COMPANY, INC
CourtU.S. Supreme Court
Syllabus

Petitioner Edmonson sued respondent Leesville Concrete Co. in the District Court, alleging that Leesville's negligence had caused him personal injury. During voir dire, Leesville used two of its three peremptory challenges authorized by statute to remove black persons from the prospective jury. Citing Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79, 106 S.Ct. 1712, 90 L.Ed.2d 69, Edmonson, who is black, requested that the court require Leesville to articulate a race-neutral explanation for the peremptory strikes. The court refused on the ground that Batson does not apply in civil proceedings, and the impaneled jury, which consisted of 11 white persons and 1 black, rendered a verdict unfavorable to Edmonson. The Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that a private litigant in a civil case can exercise peremptory challenges without accountability for alleged racial classifications.

Held: A private litigant in a civil case may not use peremptory challenges to exclude jurors on account of race. Pp. 618-619.

(a) Race-based exclusion of potential jurors in a civil case violates the excluded persons' equal protection rights. Cf., e.g., Powers v. Ohio, 499 U.S. ----, ----, 111 S.Ct. 1364, ----, 113 L.Ed.2d 411. Although the conduct of private parties lies beyond the Constitution's scope in most instances, Leesville's exercise of peremptory challenges was pursuant to a course of state action and is therefore subject to constitutional requirements under the analytical framework set forth in Lugar v. Edmondson Oil Co., 457 U.S. 922, 939-942, 102 S.Ct. 2744, 2754-2756, 73 L.Ed.2d 482. First, the claimed constitutional deprivation results from the exercise of a right or privilege having its source in state authority, since Leesville would not have been able to engage in the alleged discriminatory acts without 28 U.S.C. § 1870, which authorizes the use of peremptory challenges in civil cases. Second, Leesville must in all fairness be deemed a government actor in its use of peremptory challenges. Leesville has made extensive use of government procedures with the overt, significant assistance of the government, see, e.g., Tulsa Professional Collection Services, Inc. v. Pope, 485 U.S. 478, 486, 108 S.Ct. 1340, 1345, 99 L.Ed.2d 565, in that peremptory challenges have no utility outside the jury trial system, which is created and governed by an elaborate set of statutory provisions and administered solely by government officials, including the trial judge, himself a state actor, who exercises substantial control over voir dire and effects the final and practical denial of the excluded individual's opportunity to serve on the petit jury by discharging him or her. Moreover, the action in question involves the performance of a traditional governmental function, see, e.g., Terry v. Adams, 345 U.S. 461, 73 S.Ct. 809, 97 L.Ed. 1152, since the peremptory challenge is used in selecting the jury, an entity that is a quintessential governmental body having no attributes of a private actor. Furthermore, the injury allegedly caused by Leesville's use of peremptory challenges is aggravated in a unique way by the incidents of governmental authority, see Shelley v. Kramer, 334 U.S. 1, 68 S.Ct. 836, 92 L.Ed. 1161, since the courtroom is a real expression of the government's constitutional authority, and racial exclusion within its confines compounds the racial insult inherent in judging a citizen by the color of his or her skin. Pp. 618-628.

(b) A private civil litigant may raise the equal protection claim of a person whom the opposing party has excluded from jury service on account of race. Just as in the criminal context, see Powers, supra, all three of the requirements for third-party standing are satisfied in the civil context. First, there is no reason to believe that the daunting barriers to suit by an excluded criminal juror, see id., at ----, 111 S.Ct., at ----, would be any less imposing simply because the person was excluded from civil jury service. Second, the relation between the excluded venireperson and the litigant challenging the exclusion is just as close in the civil as it is in the criminal context. See id., at ----. Third, a civil litigant can demonstrate that he or she has suffered a concrete, redressable injury from the exclusion of jurors on account of race, in that racial discrimination in jury selection casts doubt on the integrity of the judicial process and places the fairness of the proceeding in doubt. See id., at ----, 111 S.Ct., at ----. Pp. 628-631.

(c) The case is remanded for a determination whether Edmonson has established a prima facie case of racial discrimination under the approach set forth in Batson, supra, 476 U.S., at 96-97, 106 S.Ct. at 1722-23, such that Leesville would be required to offer race-neutral explanations for its peremptory challenges. P. 631.

895 F.2d 218 (CA1990), reversed and remanded.

KENNEDY, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which WHITE, MARSHALL, BLACKMUN, STEVENS, and SOUTER, JJ., joined. O'CONNOR, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which REHNQUIST, C.J., and SCALIA, J., joined. SCALIA, J., filed a dissenting opinion.

James B. Doyle, Lake Charles, La., for petitioner.

John S. Baker, Jr., Baton Rouge, La., for respondent.

Justice KENNEDY delivered the opinion of the Court.

We must decide in the case before us whether a private litigant in a civil case may use peremptory challenges to exclude jurors on account of their race. Recognizing the impropriety of racial bias in the courtroom, we hold the race-based exclusion violates the equal protection rights of the challenged jurors. This civil case originated in a United States District Court, and we apply the equal protection component of the Fifth Amendment's Due Process Clause. See Bolling v. Sharpe, 347 U.S. 497, 74 S.Ct. 693, 98 L.Ed. 884 (1954).

I

Thaddeus Donald Edmonson, a construction worker, was injured in a job-site accident at Fort Polk, Louisiana, a federal enclave. Edmonson sued Leesville Concrete Company for negligence in the United States District Court for the Western District of Louisiana, claiming that a Leesville employee permitted one of the company's trucks to roll backward and pin him against some construction equipment. Edmonson invoked his Seventh Amendment right to a trial by jury.

During voir dire, Leesville used two of its three peremptory challenges authorized by statute to remove black persons from the prospective jury. Citing our decision in Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79, 106 S.Ct. 1712, 90 L.Ed.2d 69 (1986), Edmonson, who is himself black, requested that the District Court require Leesville to articulate a race-neutral explanation for striking the two jurors. The District Court denied the request on the ground that Batson does not apply in civil proceedings. As impaneled, the jury included 11 white persons and 1 black person. The jury rendered a verdict for Edmonson, assessing his total damages at $90,000. It also attributed 80% of the fault to Edmonson's contributory negligence, however, and awarded him the sum of $18,000.

Edmonson appealed, and a divided panel of the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit reversed, holding that our opinion in Batson applies to a private attorney representing a private litigant and that peremptory challenges may not be used in a civil trial for the purpose of excluding jurors on the basis of race. 860 F.2d 1308 (1989). The Court of Appeals panel held that private parties become state actors when they exercise peremptory challenges and that to limit Batson to criminal cases "would betray Batson § fundamental principle [that] the state's use, toleration, and approval of peremptory challenges based on race violates the equal protection clause." Id., at 1314. The panel remanded to the trial court to consider whether Edmonson had established a prima facie case of racial discrimination under Batson.

The full court then ordered rehearing en banc. A divided en banc panel affirmed the judgment of the District Court, holding that a private litigant in a civil case can exercise peremptory challenges without accountability for alleged racial classifications. 895 F.2d 218 (CA5 1990). The court concluded that the use of peremptories by private litigants does not constitute state action and, as a result, does not implicate constitutional guarantees. The dissent reiterated the arguments of the vacated panel opinion. The courts of appeals have divided on the issue. See Dunham v. Frank's Nursery & Crafts, Inc., 919 F.2d 1281 (CA7 1990) (private litigant may not use peremptory challenges to exclude venirepersons on account of race); Fludd v. Dykes, 863 F.2d 822 (CA11 1989) (same). Cf. Dias v. Sky Chefs, Inc., 919 F.2d 1370 (CA9 1990) (corporation may not raise a Batson-type objection in a civil trial); United States v. De Gross, 913 F.2d 1417 (CA9 1990) (government may raise a Batson-type objection in a criminal case), reh'g en banc ordered, 930 F.2d 695 (1991); Reynolds v. Little Rock, 893 F.2d 1004 (CA8 1990) (when government is involved in civil litigation, it may not use its peremptory challenges in a racially discriminatory manner). We granted certiorari, 498 U.S. ----, 111 S.Ct. 41, 112 L.Ed.2d 18 (1990), and now reverse the Court of Appeals.

II
A.

In Powers v. Ohio, 499 U.S. ----, 111 S.Ct. 1364, 113 L.Ed.2d 411 (1991), we held that a criminal defendant, regardless of his or her race, may object to a prosecutor's race-based exclusion of persons from the petit jury. Our conclusion rested on a two-part analysis. First, following our opinions in Batson and in Carter v. Jury Commission of Greene County, 396 U.S. 320, 90 S.Ct. 518, 24 L.Ed.2d 549 (1970), we made clear that a prosecutor's race-based peremptory challenge violates the equal protection rights of those excluded from jury service. 499...

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