Brief Fact Summary.
The petitioner argues that state action is present because of the monopoly status allegedly conferred upon Metropolitan by the State of Pennsylvania and because the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission permitted Metropolitan Edison Co. to discontinue service to any customer on reasonable notice of nonpayment of bills.
Synopsis of Rule of Law.
A person’s exercise of the choice allowed by state law where the initiative comes from it and not from the State, does not make its action in doing so state action for the purposes of the Fourteenth Amendment.
The Fourteenth Amendment sets forth an essential dichotomy between deprivation by the State, subject to scrutiny under its provisions, and private conduct, however discriminatory or wrongful, against which the Fourteenth Amendment offers no shield.View Full Point of Law
Respondent Metropolitan Edison Co. is a privately owned and operated Pennsylvania corporation which holds a certificate of public convenience issued by the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission empowering it to deliver electricity to a service area which includes the city of York, Pa. The certificate imposes a condition and it is subject to extensive regulation by the Commission. Metropolitan has the right to discontinue service to any customer on reliable notice of nonpayment of bills. After Metropolitan terminated petitioner’s service, she sued claiming that under state law she was entitled to reasonably continuous electrical service to her home and that Metropolitan’s termination of her service for alleged nonpayment, action allowed by a provision of its general tariff filed with the Commission. constituted state action depriving her of property in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment’s guarantee of due process of law.
Was state action present because of the monopoly status allegedly conferred upon Metropolitan by the State of Pennsylvania?
No, all of petitioner’s arguments taken as a whole show no more than that Metropolitan was a heavily regulated, privately owned utility, enjoying at least a partial monopoly in the providing of electrical service within its territory, and that it elected to terminate service to petitioner in a manner which the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission found permissible under state law. This is not sufficient to connect the State of Pennsylvania with respondent’s action so as to make the latter’s conduct attributable to the State for purposes of the Fourteenth Amendment.
The Court has not adopted the notion that different standards should apply to state-action analysis when different constitutional claims are presented. Thus, the majority’s analysis would seemingly apply as well to a company that refused to extend service to Blacks, welfare recipients, or any other group that the company preferred, for its own reasons, not to serve. The Court’s holding that the State’s involvement with the utility company was not sufficient to impose upon the company an obligation to meet the constitutional requirement of nondiscrimination was wrong.
The petitioner’s argument that Metropolitan’s termination is state action because the State has specifically authorized and approved the termination practice. Here, Metropolitan filed with the Public Utility Commission a general tariff provision, that has appeared in Metropolitan’s previously filed tariffs for many years and has never been the subject of a scrutiny by the Commission. The nature of government regulation of private utilities is such that a utility may frequently be required by the state regulatory scheme to obtain approval for practices a business regulated in less detail would be free to institute without any approval from a regulatory body. Approval by a state utility commission of such a request from a regulated utility, where the commission has not put its own weight on the side of the proposed practice by ordering it, does not transform a practice initiated by the utility and approved by the commission into state action. Respondent’s exercise of the choice allowed by state law where the initiative comes from it does not make its action in doing so state action.