Flagg Brothers, Inc v. Brooks Lefkowitz v. Brooks American Warehousemen Association v. Brooks 77 42, Nos. 77-25

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtREHNQUIST
Citation436 U.S. 149,98 S.Ct. 1729,56 L.Ed.2d 185
PartiesFLAGG BROTHERS, INC., etc., et al., Petitioners, v. Shirley Herriott BROOKS et al. Louis J. LEFKOWITZ, Attorney General of New York, Petitioner, v. Shirley Herriott BROOKS et al. AMERICAN WAREHOUSEMEN'S ASSOCIATION, and the International Association of Refrigerated Warehouses, Inc., Petitioners, v. Shirley Herriott BROOKS et al. , and 77-42
Docket Number77-37,Nos. 77-25
Decision Date15 May 1978

436 U.S. 149
98 S.Ct. 1729
56 L.Ed.2d 185
FLAGG BROTHERS, INC., etc., et al., Petitioners,

v.

Shirley Herriott BROOKS et al. Louis J. LEFKOWITZ, Attorney General of New York, Petitioner, v. Shirley Herriott BROOKS et al. AMERICAN WAREHOUSEMEN'S ASSOCIATION, and the International Association of Refrigerated Warehouses, Inc., Petitioners, v. Shirley Herriott BROOKS et al.

Nos. 77-25, 77-37, and 77-42.
Argued Jan. 18, 1978.
Decided May 15, 1978.
Syllabus

After respondent Brooks and her family had been evicted from their apartment and their belongings had been stored by petitioner storage company, Brooks was threatened with sale of her belongings pursuant to New York Uniform Commercial Code § 7-210 unless she paid her storage account. She thereupon brought this class action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, seeking damages and injunctive relief and a declaration that the sale pursuant to § 7-210 (which provides a procedure whereby a warehouseman conforming to the provisions of the statute may convert his lien into good title) would violate the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment. Subsequent interventions by respondent Jones as plaintiff and petitioners warehouse associations and the New York State Attorney General as defendants were permitted. The District Court dismissed the complaint for failure to state a claim for relief under § 1983, which provides, inter alia, that every person who under color of any state statute subjects any citizen to the deprivation of any rights secured by the Constitution and federal laws shall be liable to the injured party. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that state action might be found in the exercise by a private party of "some power delegated to it by the State which is traditionally associated with sovereignty," and that "by enacting § 7-210 New York not only delegated to the warehouseman a portion of its sovereign monopoly power over binding conflict resolution . . . but also let him, by selling stored goods, execute a lien and thus perform a function which has traditional y been that of the sheriff." Held: A warehouseman's proposed sale of goods entrusted to him for storage, as permitted by § 7-210, is not "state action," and since the allegation of the complaint failed to establish that any violation of respondents' Fourteenth Amendment rights was committed by either the storage company or the State of New York,

Page 150

the District Court properly concluded that no claim for relief was stated by respondents under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Pp. 155-166.

(a) Respondents' failure to allege the participation of any public officials in the proposed sale plainly distinguishes this litigation from decisions such as North Georgia Finishing, Inc. v. Di-Chem, Inc., 419 U.S. 601, 95 S.Ct. 719, 42 L.Ed.2d 751; Fuentes v. Shevin, 407 U.S. 67, 92 S.Ct. 1983, 32 L.Ed.2d 556; and Sniadach v. Family Finance Corp., 395 U.S. 337, 89 S.Ct. 1820, 23 L.Ed.2d 349, which imposed procedural restrictions on creditors' remedies. P. 157.

(b) The challenged statute does not delegate to the storage company an exclusive prerogative of the sovereign. Other remedies for the settlement of disputes between debtors and creditors (which is not traditionally a public function) remain available to the parties. Terry v. Adams, 345 U.S. 461, 73 S.Ct. 809, 97 L.Ed.2d 1152; Smith v. Allwright, 321 U.S. 649, 64 S.Ct. 757, 88 L.Ed. 987; Nixon v. Condon, 286 U.S. 73, 52 S.Ct. 484, 76 L.Ed. 984; and Marsh v. Alabama, 326 U.S. 501, 66 S.Ct. 276, 90 L.Ed. 265, distinguished. Pp. 157-163.

(c) Though respondents contend that the State authorized and encouraged the storage company's action by enacting § 7-210, a State's mere acquiescence in a private action does not convert such action into that of the State. Moose Lodge No. 107 v. Irvis, 407 U.S. 163, 92 S.Ct. 1965, 32 L.Ed.2d 267. Pp. 164-166.

553 F.2d 764, reversed.

Alvin Altman, New York City, for petitioners Flagg Brothers, Inc., etc., et al.

A. Seth Greenwald, New York City, for petitioner Louis J. Lefkowitz, Atty. Gen.

Martin A. Schwartz, New York City, for respondents.

Robert S. Catz, Antioch School of Law, Washington, D.C., amicus curiae, for the Urban Law Institute.

Page 151

Mr. Justice REHNQUIST delivered the opinion of the Court.

The question presented by this litigation is whether a warehouseman's proposed sale of goods entrusted to him for storage, as permitted by New York Uniform Commercial Code § 7-210 (McKinney 1964),1 is an action properly attributable

Page 152

to the State of New York. The District Court found that the warehouseman's conduct was not that of the State, and dismissed this suit for want of jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C.

Page 153

§ 1343(3). 404 F.Supp. 1059 (S.D.N.Y.1975). The Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, in reversing the judgment of the District Court, found sufficient state involvement with the proposed sale to invoke the provisions of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. 553 F.2d 764 (1977). We agree with the District Court, and we therefore reverse.

I

According to her complaint, the allegations of which we must accept as true, respondent Shirley Brooks and her family were evicted from their apartment in Mount Vernon, N.Y., on June 13, 1973. The city marshal arranged for Brooks' possessions to be stored by petitioner Flagg Brothers, Inc., in its warehouse. Brooks was informed of the cost of moving and storage, and she instructed the workmen to proceed, although she found the price too high. On August 25, 1973, after a series of disputes over the validity of the charges being claimed by petitioner Flagg Brothers, Brooks received a letter demanding that her account be brought up to date within 10 days "or your furniture will be sold." App. 13a. A seri § of subsequent letters from respondent and her attorneys produced no satisfaction.

Brooks thereupon initiated this class action in the District Court under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, seeking damages, an injunction against the threatened sale of her belongings, and the declaration that such a sale pursuant to § 7-210 would violate the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment. She was later joined in her action by Gloria Jones, another resident of Mount Vernon whose goods had been stored by Flagg Brothers following her eviction.

Page 154

The American Warehousemen's Association and the International Association of Refrigerated Warehouses, Inc., moved to intervene as defendants, as did the Attorney General of New York, and others seeking to defend the constitutionality of the challenged statute.2 On July 7, 1975, the District Court, relying primarily on our decision in Jackson v. Metropolitan Edison Co., 419 U.S. 345, 95 S.Ct. 449, 42 L.Ed.2d 447 (1974), dismissed the complaint for failure to state a claim for relief under § 1983.

A divided panel of the Court of Appeals reversed.3 The majority noted that Jackson had suggested that state action might be found in the exercise by a private party of " 'some

Page 155

power delegated to it by the State which is traditionally associated with sovereignty.' " 553 F.2d, at 770, quoting 419 U.S., at 353, 95 S.Ct., at 454. The majority found:

"[B]y enacting § 7-210, New York not only delegated to the warehouseman a portion of its sovereign monopoly power over binding conflict resolution [citations omitted], but also let him, by selling stored goods, execute a lien and thus perform a function which has traditionally been that of the sheriff." 553 F.2d, at 771.

The court, although recognizing that the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit had reached a contrary conclusion in dealing with an identical California statute in Melara v. Kennedy, 541 F.2d 802 (1976), concluded that this delegation of power constituted sufficient state action to support fede al jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1343(3). The dissenting judge found the reasoning of Melara persuasive.

We granted certiorari, 434 U.S. 817, 98 S.Ct. 54, 54 L.Ed.2d 72, to resolve the conflict over this provision of the Uniform Commercial Code, in effect in 49 States and the District of Columbia, and to address the important question it presents concerning the meaning of "state action" as that term is associated with the Fourteenth Amendment.4

II

A claim upon which relief may be granted to respondents against Flagg Brothers under § 1983 must embody at least two elements. Respondents are first bound to show that they have been deprived of a right "secured by the Constitution and the laws" of the United States. They must secondly show that Flagg Brothers deprived them of this right acting "under color of any statute" of the State of New York. It is clear that these two elements denote two separate areas of

Page 156

inquiry. Adickes v. S. H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 150, 90 S.Ct. 1598, 1604, 26 L.Ed.2d 142 (1970).

Respondents allege in their complaints that "the threatened sale of the goods pursuant to New York Uniform Commercial Code § 7-210" is an action under color of state law. App. 14a, 47a. We have previously noted, with respect to a private individual, that "[w]hatever else may also be necessary to show that a person has acted 'under color of [a] statute' for purposes of § 1983, . . . we think it essential that he act with the knowledge of and pursuant to that statute." Adickes, supra, at 162 n.23, 90 S.Ct. at 1611. Certainly, the complaints can be fairly read to allege such knowledge on the part of Flagg Brothers. However, we need not determine whether any further showing is necessary, since it is apparent that neither respondent has alleged facts which constitute a deprivation of any right "secured by the Constitution and laws" of the United States.

A moment's reflection will clarify the essential distinction between the two elements of a § 1983 action. Some rights established either by the Constitution or by federal law are protected from both governmental and...

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2835 practice notes
  • Baksalary v. Smith, Civ. A. No. 76-429.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Pennsylvania)
    • February 1, 1984
    ...way of doing things, as the Court characterized section 7-210 of the New York Uniform Commercial Code in Flagg Brothers, Inc. v. Brooks, 436 U.S. 149, 98 S.Ct. 1729, 56 L.Ed.2d 185 (1978). Section 7-210 allowed a warehouseman to sell goods in his possession to satisfy his lien, remitting th......
  • United States v. Miller, No. 18-5578
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (6th Circuit)
    • December 3, 2020
    ...action does not become government action merely because the government authorizes or acquiesces in it. See Flagg Bros., Inc. v. Brooks , 436 U.S. 149, 164–65, 98 S.Ct. 1729, 56 L.Ed.2d 185 (1978). Even extensive regulation of a private party will not turn its every action into government ac......
  • Herrera v. Santa Fe Pub. Sch., No. CIV 11-0422 JB/KBM
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 10th Circuit. District of New Mexico
    • August 29, 2014
    ...Amendment rights at issue secure protection only against infringement through state action. See, e.g., Flagg Bros., Inc. v. Brooks, 436 U.S. 149, 156 (1978)("[M]ost rights secured by the Constitution are protected only against infringement by governments."). Under some circumstances, howeve......
  • Villeda Aldana v. Fresh Del Monte Produce, Inc., No. 01-3399-CIV-MORENO.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. Southern District of Florida
    • December 12, 2003
    ...establish state action." Gallagher v. Neil Young Freedom Concert, 49 F.3d 1442, 1453 (10th Cir.1995); accord Flagg Bros., Inc. v. Brooks, 436 U.S. 149, 164, 98 S.Ct. 1729, 56 L.Ed.2d 185 (1978) (holding certain activities were not properly attributable to the State for purposes of establish......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
2843 cases
  • Baksalary v. Smith, Civ. A. No. 76-429.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Pennsylvania)
    • February 1, 1984
    ...way of doing things, as the Court characterized section 7-210 of the New York Uniform Commercial Code in Flagg Brothers, Inc. v. Brooks, 436 U.S. 149, 98 S.Ct. 1729, 56 L.Ed.2d 185 (1978). Section 7-210 allowed a warehouseman to sell goods in his possession to satisfy his lien, remitting th......
  • United States v. Miller, No. 18-5578
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (6th Circuit)
    • December 3, 2020
    ...action does not become government action merely because the government authorizes or acquiesces in it. See Flagg Bros., Inc. v. Brooks , 436 U.S. 149, 164–65, 98 S.Ct. 1729, 56 L.Ed.2d 185 (1978). Even extensive regulation of a private party will not turn its every action into government ac......
  • Herrera v. Santa Fe Pub. Sch., No. CIV 11-0422 JB/KBM
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 10th Circuit. District of New Mexico
    • August 29, 2014
    ...Amendment rights at issue secure protection only against infringement through state action. See, e.g., Flagg Bros., Inc. v. Brooks, 436 U.S. 149, 156 (1978)("[M]ost rights secured by the Constitution are protected only against infringement by governments."). Under some circumstanc......
  • Villeda Aldana v. Fresh Del Monte Produce, Inc., No. 01-3399-CIV-MORENO.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. Southern District of Florida
    • December 12, 2003
    ...state action." Gallagher v. Neil Young Freedom Concert, 49 F.3d 1442, 1453 (10th Cir.1995); accord Flagg Bros., Inc. v. Brooks, 436 U.S. 149, 164, 98 S.Ct. 1729, 56 L.Ed.2d 185 (1978) (holding certain activities were not properly attributable to the State for purposes of establishing &......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
2 books & journal articles
  • The Public–Private Distinction: Insights for Public Administration from the State Action Doctrine
    • United States
    • Public Administration Review Nbr. 75-1, January 2015
    • January 1, 2015
    ...Concrete Co., 500 U.S. 614 (1991).Evans v. Abney, 396 U.S. 435 (1970).Evans v. Newton, 382 U.S. 296 (1966).Flagg Bros., Inc. v. Brooks, 436 U.S. 149 (1978).Gilmore v. City of Montgomery, 417 U.S. 556 (1974).Goldberg v. Kelly, 397 U.S. 254 (1970).Jackson v. Metropolitan Edison Co., 419 U.S. ......
  • THE PARTISAN SAMARITAN: THE COMMUNICATIONS DECENCY ACT AND THE MODERN INTERNET.
    • United States
    • Ave Maria Law Review Nbr. 19, January 2021
    • January 1, 2021
    ...Cmty. Access Corp. v. Halleck, 139 S. Ct. 1921, 1929-30 (2019). (207.) Id. at 1928-29. (208.) Id. at 1929 (quoting Flagg Bros., v. Brooks, 436 U.S. 149, 158 (209.) Id. at 1930. (210.) Id. (211.) Id. (212.) Id. (213.) Id. at 1930-31. (214.) Id. (215.) Id. at 1931 (quoting Hudgens v. NLRB, 42......

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