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Burton v. Wilmington Parking Authority

    Brief Fact Summary. The Appellant, Burton (Appellant), brought an action under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution (Constitution), claiming he was discriminated against because the Appellees, the Wilmington Parking Authority and the Eagle Coffee Shoppe, Inc. (Appellees), refused to serve him in their restaurant based solely on the Appellant’s race. The Appellant claims there is state action sufficient to bring a Fourteenth Amendment claim, as the Eagle Coffee Shoppe, Inc. leased its restaurant space from the City and the restaurant was attached to the Wilmington Parking Authority a City owned parking garage.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. There is significant state involvement to permit an action under the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution when a state leases public property to a private actor who then discriminates against nonwhites

    Facts. The City of Wilmington created the Wilmington Parking Authority to construct parking and commercial facilities. The Wilmington Parking Authority leased a spot attached to the facility to a commercial tenant who opened a restaurant. The lease contained no requirements that the restaurant serve the general public on a nondiscriminatory basis. This action was commenced because the restaurant refused to serve the Appellant solely because he was a Negro. The Appellant sued under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution. The Supreme Court of the United States (Supreme Court) found the building where the restaurant was located was publicly owned and dedicated to public use in performance of the States essential government functions.

    Issue. Whether there was state action significant enough to permit an action under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the constitution. If so, whether the action was discriminatory under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution.

    Held. Reversed. The exclusion of the Appellant was a discriminatory state action in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution.

    Dissent. Before deciding this case, it should be sent back to the state court for clarification of its decision.
    Concurrence. In concurrence with the majority’s opinion, the concurring justice reached the same conclusion differently.

    Discussion. State action is a prerequisite to the assertion of rights contained in the first eight amendments and the fourteenth amendment. State action will be found when a private actor has acted if (1) the state has delegated a traditional state function to a private entity or (2) because the state has become entangled with a private entity or because the state has approved, encouraged or facilitated private conduct. In Burton, there was significant state involvement, as the state owned the public parking facility, to trigger a state action under the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution.


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