Brooks and her family were evicted from their NY apartment. The city marshal arranged for Brooks’ possessions to be stored by Flagg Brothers, Inc. (Flagg Bros.) in its warehouse. After non-payment, Brooks received a letter demanding she pay “or your furniture will be sold.” Brooks initiated this class action.
An action by a private party does not rise to state action, guaranteeing rights under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, unless the action is compelled by the state. Permission through state law does not rise to the level of being compelled by the state.
Brooks and her family were evicted from their Mount Vernon, NY apartment on June 13, 1973. The city marshal arranged for Brooks’ possessions to be stored by Flagg Brothers, Inc. (Flagg Bros.) in its warehouse. After a series of disputes over the validity of the charges claimed by Flagg Bros., Brooks received a letter demanding that her account be brought up to date within 10 days “or your furniture will be sold.” Subsequently, Brooks initiated this class action and the declaration that such a sale pursuant to New York law would violate due process.
Is a warehouseman’s proposed sale of goods entrusted to him for storage, as permitted by New York law, an action properly attributable to the state?
No, a warehouseman’s proposed sale of goods entrusted to him for storage, as permitted by New York law, is not an action properly attributable to the state.
It is obviously true that the overwhelming majority of disputes in our society are resolved in the private sphere. But it is no longer possible, if it ever was, to believe that a sharp line can be drawn between private and public actions. In the broadest sense, we expect government “to provide a reasonable and fair framework of rules which facilitate commercial transactions.” This framework of rules is premised on the assumption that the state will control nonconsensual deprivations of property and that the state’s control will, in turn, be subject to the restrictions of the Due Process Clause.
Flagg Bros.’ taking of Brooks’ property only rises to the level of a federal constitutional violation if Flagg Bros. is a state actor – that is, performing a duty traditionally and exclusively performed by the state, and therefore attributable to the state. Here, Brooks failed to name any governmental entity as a defendant. Moreover, very few functions have been exclusively carried out by state governments. In American history, the settlement of disputes between debtors and creditors was not a function performed exclusively by the state, as the parties typically retained other avenues of remedy. Codification of the state’s intent to not involve its courts in the re-sale of repossessed goods equates to a refusal to act.