Klim v. Jones

Citation315 F. Supp. 109
Decision Date17 July 1970
Docket NumberCiv. A. No. 52332.
PartiesStephen KLIM, Plaintiff, v. Richard JONES, Manager and Marie H. K. Snyder, Proprietor, Junior Tar Hotel, aka, Jr. Tar Hotel, Defendants, California State Hotel and Motel Association, a corporation, Intervenor.
CourtU.S. District Court — Northern District of California

Richard M. Sims, III, San Francisco, Cal., Geoffrey H. Freedman, San Diego, Cal., Michael S. Sorgen, San Francisco, Cal., for plaintiff.

F. Campagnoli, San Francisco, Cal., for defendants.

John P. McFarland, Harry L. Kuchins, Jr., McFarland & Kuchins, San Francisco, Cal., for intervenor.

Opinion and Order Granting Plaintiff's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment

GERALD S. LEVIN, District Judge.


This action arises from plaintiff's complaint to enjoin the violation of plaintiff's civil rights, for damages, and for declaratory relief, filed on September 30, 1969. Plaintiff now moves for partial summary judgment declaring California Civil Code § 18611 (Innkeeper's Lien Law) unconstitutional in that it permits the taking of property without due process of law. More specifically, plaintiff points to the fact that under Section 1861, all of a boarder's2 personal property may become subject to the innkeeper's lien prior to any hearing on the matter.


The plaintiff works irregularly as a painter and has been so engaged for more than fifteen years. He has limited financial means and was receiving cash aid from the Department of Social Services of San Francisco on an emergency basis at the time this action was filed.

From about August 15, 1969, until September 15, 1969, plaintiff was a boarder in the Junior Tar Hotel, 3143-16th Street, San Francisco, California. During that time the rent was $10.00 per week, payable on the Friday of each week. Plaintiff paid the rent due either in cash or by doing painting work on the rooms of the Junior Tar Hotel itself.

On Friday, September 19, 1969, defendant Jones awakened plaintiff in the latter's room at about twelve noon. Defendant Jones informed plaintiff that rent was due and owing, but plaintiff claimed that he did not owe any rent. Defendant Jones then proceeded to padlock plaintiff out of his room and informed plaintiff that his personal belongings, now locked away from plaintiff, would be returned if plaintiff paid him $5.00 (the amount of the rent allegedly due and owing).

When defendant Jones padlocked plaintiff's room, all of plaintiff's personal belongings were still inside. These belongings included the following: one pair of overalls, other personal clothing and underwear, painting tools, an electric frying pan, a coffee pot, a lamp, and personal papers including plaintiff's driver's license, birth certificate, Navy transcript, and bank book.

In order to remedy the situation, plaintiff contacted a counselor with the Northern California Service League who in turn referred plaintiff to an attorney. On Friday, September 26, 1969, plaintiff and his attorney returned to the Junior Tar Hotel. Plaintiff asked defendant Jones if he could obtain his belongings, and defendant Jones refused. Defendant Jones said that nothing would be returned until plaintiff paid him twelve dollars. Plaintiff and his attorney then left the hotel.

Plaintiff wanted his belongings so that he could work. Plaintiff also needed his various personal papers so that he could identify himself for employment.

Plaintiff then filed the complaint herein seeking a declaratory judgment that California Civil Code § 1861 is unconstitutional; an injunction against the enforcement of Section 1861 as against the plaintiff; a temporary restraining order causing defendants to return the padlocked property; and damages in the sum of $12,000.00 for deprivation of personal property, interference with employment opportunities, battery, and for infliction of mental and emotional distress.

Thereafter, defendant Jones returned to plaintiff his personal belongings.


Before turning to the merits of the controversy the court must first resolve several procedural issues that have been presented.

A. Three-Judge Court

Plaintiff filed a motion for the convening of a Three-Judge Court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 22813 et seq. simultaneously with the filing of his complaint. Following the required certification by this court to the Chief Judge for the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, said Three-Judge Court was convened. Before proceeding, however, a question was raised respecting the propriety of such convening, and the parties were requested to brief the matter. Following the submission of written arguments on the matter and extensive oral argument by the parties on May 20, 1970, the judges of the Three-Judge Court entered an order filed May 27, 1970, dissolving the Three-Judge Court.4 Accordingly, this court has proceeded as a regularly-constituted one-judge district court. See generally D. Currie, "The Three-Judge District Court in Constitutional Litigation," 32 U.Chi.L.Rev. 1, 14 (1964).

Because the Three-Judge Court proceeding is cumbersome and dislocates the normal operating pattern of the federal courts, a Three-Judge Court may be convened pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2281 only in a limited class of cases and only when all the requirements of that statute are met. Phillips v. United States, 312 U.S. 246, 61 S.Ct. 480, 85 L.Ed. 800 (1941). See also Mitchell v. Donovan, 398 U.S. 427, 90 S.Ct. 1763, 26 L.Ed.2d 378 (1970). One of the requirements of Section 2281 is that the injunction sought thereunder operates to restrain a state officer from enforcing the law sought to be challenged. Wilentz v. Sovereign Camp., 306 U.S. 573, 579-580, 59 S.Ct. 709, 83 L.Ed. 994 (1939); Ince v. Rockefeller, 290 F.Supp. 878, 881 (S.D. N.Y.1968); Hinton v. Threet, 280 F. Supp. 831, 835 (M.D.Tenn.1968); Comment, "The Three-Judge Federal Court in Challenges to State Action," 34 Tenn.L.Rev. 235, 242 (1967).

Although numerous cases have relaxed this requirement by authorizing the convening of a statutory Three-Judge Court when an injunction is sought to restrain a local officer from performing a function embodying a policy of statewide concern or where the issue involved has statewide application,5 no case was cited by the parties nor discovered by the court's research wherein a statutory Three-Judge Court was convened where neither a state nor a local officer was sought to be restrained. Because no such state or local officer has been named as a defendant or is sought to be restrained here, this is not a case to be properly heard by a statutory Three-Judge Court.

B. Jurisdiction

Plaintiff asserts two grounds upon which the jurisdiction of this court may be founded. The first ground is under the Civil Rights Act, 28 U.S.C. § 13436 and 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and the second is under federal question jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331.

Section 1983 is the main jurisdictional ground asserted by plaintiff and it reads as follows:

"Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory, subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress."

The problem posed by Section 1983 under the facts of this case is the familiar one concerning the definition and scope of "under color of" state law. One commonly used definition of this phrase was given by Justice Stone in United States v. Classic, 313 U.S. 299, 326, 61 S.Ct. 1031, 1043, 85 L.Ed. 1368 (1941):

"Misuse of power, possessed by virtue of state law and made possible only because the wrongdoer is clothed with the authority of state law, is action taken `under color of' state law." Citations omitted.

See also Screws v. United States, 325 U. S. 91, 109, 65, S.Ct. 1031, 89 L.Ed. 1495 (1945); D. Alfange, Jr., "`Under Color of Law': Classic and Screws Revisited," 47 Corn.L.Q. 395 passim (1962).

As a result, action by state officials such as law enforcement personnel acting in an official capacity will generally be "under color of" state law, while action by private individuals without any sort of state sanction or encouragement has been held not to constitute action taken "under color of" state law. Problems arise when Section 1983 is sought to be applied to conduct falling in the gray zone between solely state and solely private involvement.

The Supreme Court has made it clear that Section 1983 does not operate only against state officers, but rather that private individuals may also be liable thereunder if a sufficient enough involvement with the state is shown. In United States v. Price, 383 U.S. 787, 794, 86 S.Ct. 1152, 1156, 16 L.Ed.2d 267 (1966) the Court held that,

"Private persons, jointly engaged with state officials in the prohibited action, are acting `under color' of law for purposes of the statute. To act `under color' of law does not require that the accused be an officer of the State. It is enough that he is a willful participant in joint activity with the State or its agents." Footnote omitted.

The gray zone under section 1983 was further circumscribed by Reitman v. Mulkey, 387 U.S. 369, 87 S.Ct. 1627, 18 L.Ed.2d 830 (1967), a case upon which plaintiff has placed great reliance. In Reitman the Supreme Court upheld a decision of the California Supreme Court which held unconstitutional a clause of the California Constitution prohibiting the state from denying a private individual the right to sell property to whomever he might choose. The Supreme Court found that state involvement violative of the Fourteenth Amendment could exist even where the state was charged only with encouraging, rather than commanding, discrimination. It is noteworthy that both the plaintiffs and the...

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