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Flagg Brothers v. Brooks

Citation. 436 U.S. 149, 98 S. Ct. 1729, 56 L. Ed. 2d 185, 1978 U.S. 90.
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Brief Fact Summary.

The Respondents, Brooks and her family (Respondents), allege that the State of New York had delegated to the Petitioners, Flagg Brothers (Petitioners), a power normally reserved to the states, thus, before the Petitioners could sell her goods a prior judicial hearing was needed.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

The United States Constitution (Constitution) prohibits state action, which infringes upon protected individual rights. State action can be found in the actions of private individuals, when a private entity is carrying on activities traditionally and exclusively performed by the state or when there is significant state involvement.


The Respondents were evicted from their apartment and the City Marshal arranged for their possessions to be stored by the Petitioners in its warehouse. Brooks was informed of the costs associated with the storage and Brooks instructed the workmen to proceed, despite the objections to the price. Two months later, and after several disputes over the bill, Brooks received notice that her furniture would be sold unless the account was paid within 10 days. The Respondents initiated a suit stating that a sale of Brooks’ goods without a prior judicial hearing would violate the Due Process Clause. The Respondent contended that the State of New York had delegated to the Petitioners a power traditionally exclusively reserved to the State. The Supreme Court of the United States (Supreme Court) reversed the district court’s ruling and declared that this action is not one attributable to the state. The Supreme Court reasoned that the warehouseman’s proposed sale was a solely private action
because the statute permits, but does not compel the sale and because the warehouseman has not been delegated a power exclusively reserved to the State.


Whether a warehouseman’s proposed sale of goods entrusted to him for storage, as permitted by New York statute, is an action properly attributable to the State to allow an action under violation of due process of law.


Reversed. The Petitioners action may not be attributable to the State of New York, as the state did not compel the sale of the goods and the state did not cede one of its powers to the Petitioners.


The claimed power by the Petitioners to sell the goods is derived solely from the State, by the state statute, which authorizes a private party to deprive a person of his property without his consent. Thus, the requirements of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution should be met.


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.

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