Brief Fact Summary. Respondent Shirley Brooks was evicted from her home, and her possessions were moved to a warehouse owned by Petitioner Flagg Brothers, Inc. After a dispute over fees, and a large amount of fees remained unpaid by Respondent, Petitioner threatened to sell Respondent’s possessions. Respondent then filed suit for damages and for an injunction against selling her possessions.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. An action by a private party does not rise to state action, guaranteeing rights guaranteed by 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, nor does refusal to act by the state court rise to the level of being compelled by the state.
Issue. Whether Flagg Brothers’ action may fairly be attributed to the State of New York?
Held. No. Flagg Brothers’ action is not attributed to the state itself.
Only a state or a private person whose action maybe fairly be treated that of the state itself may deprive an individual of an interest protected by the Fourteenth Amendment. It is important to note that Respondent named no public officials in her action. The City Marshal, who supervised Respondent’s eviction, was dismissed from the case by the consent of all parties earlier in the case.
Respondent’s contention that Petitioner’s action is properly attributable to the state because the state and has authorized and encouraged it in enacting the law is also misplaced. The state is responsible for the actions of a private party only when the state, by its law, has compelled the action by the private party. The Supreme Court has never held that a state’s mere acquiescence in a private action converts that action into that of the state, and refuses to do so here. Here the State of New York has not compelled the sale of a bailor’s goods, but merely announced the circumstances under which its courts will not interfere with a private sale.
Respondent’s contention in this case is not how the state acted, but how the state refused to act. The statutory refusal to act is no different from a statute of limitations whereby the state declines to provide a remedy for private deprivations of property after the passage of a period of time.
While the Constitution protects private rights of association and advocacy with regard to the election of public officials, our cases make it clear that the conduct of the elections themselves is an exclusively public function.View Full Point of Law