MR. JUSTICE REHNQUIST delivered the opinion of the Court.
The question presented by this litigation is whether a warehouseman's proposed sale of goods entrusted to him for storage, as permitted by New York Uniform Commercial Code § 7-210 (McKinney 1964),
According to her complaint, the allegations of which we must accept as true, respondent Shirley Brooks and her family were evicted from their apartment in Mount Vernon, N. Y., on June 13, 1973. The city marshal arranged for Brooks' possessions to be stored by petitioner Flagg Brothers, Inc., in its warehouse. Brooks was informed of the cost of moving and storage, and she instructed the workmen to proceed, although she found the price too high. On August 25, 1973, after a series of disputes over the validity of the charges being claimed by petitioner Flagg Brothers, Brooks received a letter demanding that her account be brought up to date within 10 days "or your furniture will be sold." App. 13a. A series of subsequent letters from respondent and her attorneys produced no satisfaction.
Brooks thereupon initiated this class action in the District Court under 42 U. S. C. § 1983, seeking damages, an injunction against the threatened sale of her belongings, and the declaration that such a sale pursuant to § 7-210 would violate the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment. She was later joined in her action by Gloria Jones, another resident of Mount Vernon whose goods had been stored by Flagg Brothers following her eviction.
A divided panel of the Court of Appeals reversed.
The court, although recognizing that the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit had reached a contrary conclusion in dealing with an identical California statute in Melara v. Kennedy, 541 F.2d 802 (1976), concluded that this delegation of power constituted sufficient state action to support federal jurisdiction under 28 U. S. C. § 1343 (3). The dissenting judge found the reasoning of Melara persuasive.
We granted certiorari, 434 U.S. 817, to resolve the conflict over this provision of the Uniform Commercial Code, in effect in 49 States and the District of Columbia, and to address the important question it presents concerning the meaning of "state action" as that term is associated with the Fourteenth Amendment.
A claim upon which relief may be granted to respondents against Flagg Brothers under § 1983 must embody at least two elements. Respondents are first bound to show that they have been deprived of a right "secured by the Constitution and the laws" of the United States. They must secondly show that Flagg Brothers deprived them of this right acting "under color of any statute" of the State of New York. It is clear that these two elements denote two separate areas of
Respondents allege in their complaints that "the threatened sale of the goods pursuant to New York Uniform Commercial Code § 7-210" is an action under color of state law. App. 14a, 47a. We have previously noted, with respect to a private individual, that "[w]hatever else may also be necessary to show that a person has acted `under color of [a] statute' for purposes of § 1983, . . . we think it essential that he act with the knowledge of and pursuant to that statute." Adickes, supra, at 162 n. 23. Certainly, the complaints can be fairly read to allege such knowledge on the part of Flagg Brothers. However, we need not determine whether any further showing is necessary, since it is apparent that neither respondent has alleged facts which constitute a deprivation of any right "secured by the Constitution and laws" of the United States.
A moment's reflection will clarify the essential distinction between the two elements of a § 1983 action. Some rights established either by the Constitution or by federal law are protected from both governmental and private deprivation. See, e. g., Jones v. Alfred H. Mayer Co., 392 U.S. 409, 422-424 (1968) (discussing 42 U. S. C. § 1982). Although a private person may cause a deprivation of such a right, he may be subjected to liability under § 1983 only when he does so under color of law. Cf. 392 U. S., at 424-425, and n. 33. However, most rights secured by the Constitution are protected only against infringement by governments. See, e. g., Jackson, 419 U. S., at 349; Civil Rights Cases, 109 U.S. 3, 17-18 (1883). Here, respondents allege that Flagg Brothers has deprived them of their right, secured by the Fourteenth Amendment, to be free from state deprivations of property without due process of law. Thus, they must establish not only that Flagg Brothers acted under color of the challenged statute, but also that its actions are properly attributable to the State of New York.
Respondents' primary contention is that New York has delegated to Flagg Brothers a power "traditionally exclusively reserved to the State." Jackson, supra, at 352. They argue that the resolution of private disputes is a traditional function of civil government, and that the State in § 7-210 has delegated this function to Flagg Brothers. Respondents,
One such area has been elections. 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. This principle was established by a series of cases challenging the exclusion of blacks from participation in primary elections in Texas. Terry v. Adams, 345 U.S. 461 (1953); Smith v. Allwright, 321 U.S. 649 (1944); Nixon v. Condon, 286 U.S. 73 (1932). Although the rationale of these cases may be subject to some dispute,
A second line of cases under the public-function doctrine originated with Marsh v. Alabama, 326 U.S. 501 (1946). Just as the Texas Democratic Party in Smith and the Jaybird Democratic Association in Terry effectively performed the entire public function of selecting public officials, so too the
This Court ultimately adopted Mr. Justice Black's interpretation of the limited reach of Marsh in Hudgens v. NLRB, 424 U.S. 507 (1976), in which it announced the overruling of Logan Valley.
These two branches of the public-function doctrine have in common the feature of exclusivity.
Thus, even if we were inclined to extend the sovereign-function doctrine outside of its present carefully confined bounds, the field of private commercial transactions would be a particularly inappropriate area into which to expand it. We conclude that our sovereign-function cases do not support a finding of state action here.
Our holding today impairs in no way the precedential value of such cases as Norwood v. Harrison, 413 U.S. 455 (1973), or Gilmore v. City of Montgomery, 417 U.S. 556 (1974), which arose in the context of state and municipal programs which benefited private schools engaging in racially discriminatory admissions practices following judicial decrees desegregating public school systems. And we would be remiss if we did not note that there are a number of state and municipal functions not covered by our election cases or governed by the reasoning of Marsh which have been administered with a greater degree of exclusivity by States and municipalities than has the function of so-called "dispute resolution." Among these are such functions as education, fire and police protection, and tax collection.
Respondents further urge that Flagg Brothers' proposed action is properly attributable to the State because the State has authorized and encouraged it in enacting § 7-210. Our cases state "that a State is responsible for the . . . act of a private party when the State, by its law, has compelled the act." Adickes, 398 U. S., at 170. This Court, however, has never held that a State's mere acquiescence in a private action converts that action into that of the State. The Court rejected a similar argument in Jackson, 419 U. S., at 357:
The clearest demonstration of this distinction appears in Moose Lodge No. 107 v. Irvis, 407 U.S. 163 (1972), which held that the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, although not responsible for racial discrimination voluntarily practiced by a private club, could not by law require the club to comply with its own discriminatory rules. These cases clearly rejected the notion that our prior cases permitted the imposition of Fourteenth Amendment restraints on private action by the simple device of characterizing the State's inaction as "authorization"
It is quite immaterial that the State has embodied its decision not to act in statutory form. If New York had no commercial statutes at all, its courts would still be faced with the decision whether to prohibit or to permit the sort of sale threatened here the first time an aggrieved bailor came before them for relief. A judicial decision to deny relief would be no less an "authorization" or "encouragement" of that sale than the legislature's decision embodied in this statute. It was recognized in the earliest interpretations of the Fourteenth Amendment "that a State may act through different agencies,—either by its legislative, its executive, or its judicial authorities; and the prohibitions of the amendment extend to all action of the State" infringing rights protected thereby. Virginia v. Rives, 100 U.S. 313, 318 (1880). If the mere denial of judicial relief is considered sufficient encouragement to make the State responsible for those private acts, all private deprivations of property would be converted into public acts whenever the State, for whatever reason, denies relief sought by the putative property owner.
Not only is this notion completely contrary to that "essential dichotomy," Jackson, supra, at 349, between public and private acts, but it has been previously rejected by this Court. In Evans v. Abney, 396 U.S. 435, 458 (1970), our Brother BRENNAN in dissent contended that a Georgia statutory provision authorizing the establishment of trusts for racially restricted parks conferred a "special power" on testators taking advantage of the provision. The Court nevertheless concluded that the State of Georgia was in no way responsible for the purely private choice involved in that case. By the same token, the State of New York is in no way responsible for Flagg Brothers' decision, a decision which the State in § 7-210 permits but does not compel, to threaten to sell these respondents' belongings.
We conclude that the allegations of these complaints do not establish a violation of these respondents' Fourteenth Amendment rights by either petitioner Flagg Brothers or the State of New York. The District Court properly concluded that their complaints failed to state a claim for relief under 42 U. S. C. § 1983. The judgment of the Court of Appeals holding otherwise is
MR. JUSTICE BRENNAN took no part in the consideration or decision of these cases.
MR. JUSTICE MARSHALL, dissenting.
Although I join my Brother STEVENS' dissenting opinion, I write separately to emphasize certain aspects of the majority opinion that I find particularly disturbing.
I cannot remain silent as the Court demonstrates, not for the first time, an attitude of callous indifference to the realities of life for the poor. See, e. g., Beal v. Doe, 432 U.S. 438, 455-457 (1977) (MARSHALL, J., dissenting); United States v. Kras, 409 U.S. 434, 458-460 (1973) (MARSHALL, J., dissenting). It blandly asserts that "respondent Jones . . . could have sought to replevy her goods at any time under state law." Ante, at 160. In order to obtain replevin in New York, however, respondent Jones would first have had to present to a sheriff an "undertaking" from a surety by which the latter would be bound to pay "not less than twice the value" of the goods involved and perhaps substantially more, depending in
Respondent Jones, according to her complaint, took home $87 per week from her job, had been evicted from her apartment, and faced a potential liability to the warehouseman of at least $335, an amount she could not afford. App. 44a-46a. The Court's assumption that respondent would have been able to obtain a bond, and thus secure return of her household goods, must under the circumstances be regarded as highly questionable.
I am also troubled by the Court's cavalier treatment of the place of historical factors in the "state action" inquiry. While we are, of course, not bound by what occurred centuries ago in England, see ante, at 163 n. 13, the test adopted by the Court itself requires us to decide what functions have been "traditionally exclusively reserved to the State," Jackson v. Metropolitan Edison Co., 419 U.S. 345, 352 (1974) (emphasis added). Such an issue plainly cannot be resolved in a historical vacuum. New York's highest court has stated that "[i]n
By ignoring this history, the Court approaches the question before us as if it can be decided without reference to the role that the State has always played in lien execution by forced sale. In so doing, the Court treats the State as if it were, to use the Court's words, "a monolithic, abstract concept hovering in the legal stratosphere." Ante, at 160 n. 10. The state-action doctrine, as developed in our past cases, requires that we come down to earth and decide the issue here with careful attention to the State's traditional role.
MR. JUSTICE STEVENS, with whom MR. JUSTICE WHITE and MR. JUSTICE MARSHALL join, dissenting.
Respondents contend that petitioner Flagg Brothers' proposed sale of their property to third parties will violate the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Assuming,
There is no question in this case but that respondents have a property interest in the possessions that the warehouseman proposes to sell.
As these examples suggest, the distinctions between "permission" and "compulsion" on the one hand, and "exclusive" and "nonexclusive," on the other, cannot be determinative factors in state-action analysis. There is no great chasm between "permission" and "compulsion" requiring particular state action to fall within one or the other definitional camp. Even Moose Lodge No. 107 v. Irvis, 407 U.S. 163, upon which the Court relies for its distinction between "permission" and
While Members of this Court have suggested that statutory authorization alone may be sufficient to establish state action,
Since Sniadach this Court has scrutinized various state statutes regulating the debtor-creditor relationship for compliance with the Due Process Clause. See also North Georgia Finishing, Inc. v. Di-Chem, Inc., 419 U.S. 601; Mitchell v. W. T. Grant Co., 416 U.S. 600; Fuentes v. Shevin, 407 U.S. 67. In each of these cases a finding of state action was a prerequisite to the Court's decision. The Court today seeks to explain these findings on the ground that in each case there was some element of "overt official involvement." Ante, at 157. Given the facts of those cases, this explanation is baffling. In North Georgia Finishing, for instance, the official involvement of the State of Georgia consisted of a court clerk who issued a writ of garnishment based solely on the affidavit of the creditor. 419 U. S., at 607. The clerk's actions were purely ministerial, and, until today, this Court had never held that purely ministerial
Instead, cases such as North Georgia Finishing must be viewed as reflecting this Court's recognition of the significance of the State's role in defining and controlling the debtor-creditor relationship. The Court's language to this effect in the various debtor-creditor cases has been unequivocal. In Fuentes v. Shevin the Court stressed that the statutes in question "abdicate[d] effective state control over state power." 407 U. S., at 93. And it is clear that what was of concern in Shevin was the private use of state power to achieve a nonconsensual resolution of a commercial dispute. The state statutes placed the state power to repossess property in the hands of an interested private party, just as the state statute in this case places the state power to conduct judicially binding sales in satisfaction of a lien in the hands of the warehouseman.
This same point was made, equally emphatically, in Mitchell v. W. T. Grant Co., supra, at 614-616, and North Georgia Finishing, supra, at 607. Yet the very defect that made the statutes in Shevin and North Georgia Finishing unconstitutional—lack of state control—is, under today's decision, the factor that precludes constitutional review of the state statute. The Due Process Clause cannot command such incongruous results. If it is unconstitutional for a State to allow a private party to exercise a traditional state power because the state supervision of that power is purely mechanical, the State surely cannot immunize its actions from constitutional scrutiny by removing even the mechanical supervision.
Not only has the State removed its nominal supervision in this case,
Whether termed "traditional," "exclusive," or "significant," the state power to order binding, nonconsensual resolution of a conflict between debtor and creditor is exactly the sort of power with which the Due Process Clause is concerned. And the State's delegation of that power to a private party is, accordingly, subject to due process scrutiny. This, at the very least, is the teaching of Sniadach, Shevin, and North Georgia Finishing.
It is important to emphasize that, contrary to the Court's apparent fears, this conclusion does not even remotely suggest that "all private deprivations of property [will] be converted into public acts whenever the State, for whatever reason, denies relief sought by the putative property owner." Ante, at 165. The focus is not on the private deprivation but on the state authorization. "[W]hat is always vital to remember is that it is the state's conduct, whether action or inaction, not the private conduct, that gives rise to constitutional attack." Friendly, The Dartmouth College Case and The Public-Private Penumbra, 12 Texas Quarterly, No. 2, p. 17 (1969) (Supp.) (emphasis in original). The State's conduct in this case takes the concrete form of a statutory enactment, and it is that statute that may be challenged.
My analysis in this case thus assumes that petitioner Flagg Brothers' proposed sale will conform to the procedure specified by the state legislature and that respondents' challenge therefore will be to the constitutionality of that process. It is only what the State itself has enacted that they may ask the federal court to review in a § 1983 case. If there should be a deviation from the state statute—such as a failure to give the
On the other hand, if there is compliance with the New York statute, the state legislative action which enabled the deprivation to take place must be subject to constitutional challenge in a federal court.
Finally, 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 . . . ." Mitchell v. W. T. Grant Co., 416 U. S., at 624 (POWELL, J., concurring). 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.
"§ 7-210. Enforcement of Warehouseman's Lien
"(1) Except as provided in subsection (2), a warehouseman's lien may be enforced by public or private sale of the goods in bloc or in parcels, at any time or place and on any terms which are commercially reasonable, after notifying all persons known to claim an interest in the goods. Such notification must include a statement of the amount due, the nature of the proposed sale and the time and place of any public sale. The fact that a better price could have been obtained by a sale at a different time or in a different method from that selected by the warehouseman is not of itself sufficient to establish that the sale was not made in a commercially reasonable manner. If the warehouseman either sells the goods in the usual manner in any recognized market therefor, or if he sells at the price current in such market at the time of his sale, or if he has otherwise sold in conformity with commercially reasonable practices among dealers in the type of goods sold, he has sold in a commercially reasonable manner. A sale of more goods than apparently necessary to be offered to insure satisfaction of the obligation is not commercially reasonable except in cases covered by the preceding sentence.
"(2) A warehouseman's lien on goods other than goods stored by a merchant in the course of his business may be enforced only as follows:
"(a) All persons known to claim an interest in the goods must be notified.
"(b) The notification must be delivered in person or sent by registered or certified letter to the last known address of any person to be notified.
"(c) The notification must include an itemized statement of the claim, a description of the goods subject to the lien, a demand for payment within a specified time not less than ten days after receipt of the notification, and a conspicuous statement that unless the claim is paid within that time the goods will be advertised for sale and sold by auction at a specified time and place.
"(d) The sale must conform to the terms of the notification.
"(e) The sale must be held at the nearest suitable place to that where the goods are held or stored.
"(f) After the expiration of the time given in the notification, an advertisement of the sale must be published once a week for two weeks consecutively in a newspaper of general circulation where the sale is to be held. The advertisement must include a description of the goods, the name of the person on whose account they are being held, and the time and place of the sale. The sale must take place at least fifteen days after the first publication. If there is no newspaper of general circulation where the sale is to be held, the advertisement must be posted at least ten days before the sale in not less than six conspicuous places in the neighborhood of the proposed sale.
"(3) Before any sale pursuant to this section any person claiming a right in the goods may pay the amount necessary to satisfy the lien and the reasonable expenses incurred under this section. In that event the goods must not be sold, but must be retained by the warehouseman subject to the terms of the receipt and this Article.
"(4) The warehouseman may buy at any public sale pursuant to this section.
"(5) A purchaser in good faith of goods sold to enforce a warehouseman's lien takes the goods free of any rights of persons against whom the lien was valid, despite noncompliance by the warehouseman with the requirements of this section.
"(6) The warehouseman may satisfy his lien from the proceeds of any sale pursuant to this section but must hold the balance, if any, for delivery on demand to any person to whom he would have been bound to deliver the goods.
"(7) The rights provided by this section shall be in addition to all other rights allowed by law to a creditor against his debtor.
"(8) Where a lien is on goods stored by a merchant in the course of his business the lien may be enforced in accordance with either subsection (1) or (2).
"(9) The warehouseman is liable for damages caused by failure to comply with the requirements for sale under this section and in case of willful violation is liable for conversion."
The court also noted that Jones had recovered most of her possessions after the District Court's dismissal of her action. Unlike Brooks, she paid the charges demanded by Flagg Brothers, but did so "only because of alleged threats of sale and the twenty-month detention of the goods." Ibid.
At this point in the litigation, it is clear that Flagg Brothers has not sold and will not sell the belongings of either respondent. Although injunctive relief against such sale is therefore no longer available, we must reach the merits of the claim if either respondent can demonstrate that she has suffered monetary damage by reason of the workings of § 7-210. See, e. g., Liner v. Jafco, Inc., 375 U.S. 301, 305-306 (1964). The affidavit submitted with Jones' complaint alleges that Flagg Brothers charged her an auctioneer's fee, pursuant to § 7-210 (3), which she has now paid. If she is correct that the warehouseman's invocation of the statute constitutes a violation by the State itself of the Fourteenth Amendment, she would surely be entitled to recover that fee. We express no opinion as to whether she could prove other damages causally related to the threatened use of the sale provisions.
This situation is clearly distinguishable from cases such as North Georgia Finishing, Inc. v. Di-Chem, Inc., 419 U.S. 601 (1975); Fuentes v. Shevin, 407 U.S. 67 (1972); and Sniadach v. Family Finance Corp., 395 U.S. 337 (1969). In each of those cases a government official participated in the physical deprivation of what had concededly been the constitutional plaintiff's property under state law before the deprivation occurred. The constitutional protection attaches not because, as in North Georgia Finishing, a clerk issued a ministerial writ out of the court, but because as a result of that writ the property of the debtor was seized and impounded by the affirmative command of the law of Georgia. The creditor in North Georgia Finishing had not simply sought to pursue the collection of his debt by private means permissible under Georgia law; he had invoked the authority of the Georgia court, which in turn had ordered the garnishee not to pay over money which previously had been the property of the debtor. See Virginia v. Rives, 100 U.S. 313, 318 (1880); Shelley v. Kraemer, 334 U.S. 1 (1948).
The "consent" inquiry in Fuentes occurred only after the Court had concluded that state action for purposes of the Fourteenth Amendment was supplied by the participation in the seizure on the part of the sheriff. The consent inquiry was directed to whether there had been a waiver of the constitutional right to due process which had been triggered by state deprivation of property. But our Brother STEVENS puts the cart before the horse; he concludes that the respondents' lack of consent to the deprivations triggers affirmative constitutional protections which the State is bound to provide. Thus what was a mere coda to the constitutional analysis in Fuentes becomes the major theme of the dissent.
The fact that such a judicial review of a self-help remedy is seldom encountered bears witness to the important part that such remedies have played in our system of property rights. This is particularly true of the warehouseman's lien, which is the source of this provision in the Uniform Commercial Code which is the law in 49 States and the District of Columbia. The lien in this case, particularly because it is burdened by procedural constraints and provides for a compensatory remedy and judicial relief against abuse, is not atypical of creditors' liens historically, whether created by statute or legislatively enacted. The conduct of private actors in relying on the rights established under these liens to resort to self-help remedies does not permit their conduct to be ascribed to the State. Cf. Steele v. Louisville & Nashville R. Co., 323 U.S. 192 (1944); Railway Employees' Dept. v. Hanson, 351 U.S. 225 (1956).
Self-help of the type involved in this case is not significantly different from creditor remedies generally, whether created by common law or enacted by legislatures. New York's statute has done nothing more than authorize (and indeed limit)—without participation by any public official— what Flagg Brothers would tend to do, even in the absence of such authorization, i. e., dispose of respondents' property in order to free up its valuable storage space. The proposed sale pursuant to the lien in this case is not a significant departure from traditional private arrangements.
"[W]e are disinclined to decide the issue of state involvement on the basis of whether a particular class of creditor did or did not enjoy the same freedom to act in Elizabethan or Georgian England."
"A purchaser in good faith of goods sold to enforce a warehouseman's lien takes the goods free of any rights of persons against whom the lien was valid, despite noncompliance by the warehouseman with the requirements of this section."
I fully agree with the Court that the decision of whether or not a statute is subject to due process scrutiny should not depend on "`whether a particular class of creditor did or did not enjoy the same freedom to act in Elizabethan or Georgian England.'" Ante, at 163 n. 13 (citation omitted). Nonetheless some reference to history and well-settled practice is necessary to determine whether a particular action is a "traditional state function." See Jackson v. Metropolitan Edison Co., 419 U.S. 345. Indeed, in Jackson the Court specifically referred to Pennsylvania decisions, rendered in 1879 and 1898, which had rejected the contention that the furnishing of utility services was a state function. Id., at 353.
"It is . . . evident that the record does not show continued involvement of the city in the operation of the park—the record is silent on this point." 382 U. S., at 304.
"American society, of course, bottoms its systematic definition of individual rights and duties, as well as its machinery for dispute settlement, not on custom or the will of strategically placed individuals, but on the common-law model. It is to courts, or other quasi-judicial official bodies, that we ultimately look for the implementation of a regularized, orderly process of dispute settlement. Within this framework, those who wrote our original Constitution, in the Fifth Amendment, and later those who drafted the Fourteenth Amendment, recognized the centrality of the concept of due process in the operation of this system. Without this guarantee that one may not be deprived of his rights, neither liberty nor property, without due process of law, the State's monopoly over techniques for binding conflict resolution could hardly be said to be acceptable under our scheme of things. Only by providing that the social enforcement mechanism must function strictly within these bounds can we hope to maintain an ordered society that is also just. It is upon this premise that this Court has through years of adjudication put flesh upon the due process principle." Boddie v. Connecticut, 401 U.S. 371, 375.