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Moose Lodge No. 107 v. Irvis

    Brief Fact Summary. The Appellee, Irvis (Appellee), requests that the Pennsylvania Liquor Board revoke the Appellant, Moose Lodge’s (Appellant), liquor license. Appellee claims that because the state of Pennsylvania issued the license, Appellant’s refusal to serve him was a “state action.”

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. Being licensed by the state does not automatically convert private action into state action.

    Facts. This is an action for injunctive relief under 42 U.S.C. Section: 1983.
    Appellant is a private club that is located in its own building. Only club members or guests are permitted on the premises.
    Appellee alleges that by issuing a liquor license, the state is entangled with Appellant so that the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment of the United States Constitution (Constitution) forbids its discriminatory membership practice.

    Issue. Is the issuance of a state license to a private entity, enough to convert the private actor into a state actor?

    Held. No. The regulatory scheme enforced by the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board does not sufficiently implicate the state in the discriminatory guest policies of the Appellant to make it a “state action.”
    The Liquor Control Board plays no part in establishing or enforcing the club’s membership or guest policies.
    The issuance of liquor licenses according to the state law does not discriminate against racial minorities. Their right to apply for, purchase, or be served liquor is not affected by the state law. Therefore, there is no symbiotic relationship between the practices of Appellant and the state as was seen in Burton.

    Dissent. Justice William Douglas (J. Douglas) wrote the dissent and was joined by Justice Thurgood Marshall (J. Marshall). They believed that the action of Appellant amounted to state action because of the regulatory scheme and license quota system in play at the time
    The license regulatory scheme includes a section requiring all club licensees to adhere to the state Constitution and by-laws. The Justices conclude that this attribute alone is not enough to make them disagree with the majority.
    The licensing scheme has an incurable flaw, a complex quota system. At the time of this case, the city of Harrisburg had received its full allotment of liquor licenses. The ability of blacks to obtain liquor licenses or be served was restricted by the actions of the state. Hence, the actions of Appellant were state action.

    Discussion. The majority indicates that to expand previous decisions to allow any state support to concert a private actor to a state actor is too broad a reading. This would eliminate the distinction between state and private action and make all private individuals subject to the Equal Protection clause.


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