Burton v. Wilmington Parking Authority Case Brief

Summary of Burton v Wilmington Parking Authority
365 U. S. 715 [1961]

Private Activity on Govt Property Relevant Facts: The Eagle Coffee Shoppe, Inc., a restaurant located within an off-street automobile parking building in Wilmington, Delaware, refused to serve appellant food or drink solely because he is a Negro. The parking building is owned and operated by the Wilmington Parking Authority, an agency of the State of Delaware, and the restaurant is the Authority’s lessee. Appellant claims that such refusal abridges his rights under the Equal Pro Cl of the 14th .

Legal Issue(s): Whether the exclusion of a Negro solely on account of color from restaurant operated by private owner under lease in building financed by public funds and owned by the parking authority which was an agency of the State of Delaware, was discriminatory state action in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment?

Court’s Holding: Yes

Procedure: Action for a declaratory judgment in the form of injunctive relief to restrain the operator of restaurant from refusing to serve the pl solely because he was a Negro. The Chancery (Equity) Court of Delaware, granted a judgment for the pl and the dfs appealed. The S Ct of DE, reversed and pl appealed. The S Ct Reversed and remanded.

Law or Rule(s): Private conduct abridging individual rights does no violence to Equal Protection Clause unless to some extent the state, in any of its manifestations, has been found to have become involved in it. 14th via Civil Rights Cases.

Court Rationale: The land and building were publicly owned. As an entity, the building was dedicated to ‘public uses’ in performance of the Authority’s ‘essential governmental functions.’ But no State may effectively abdicate its responsibilities by either ignoring them or by merely failing to discharge them whatever the motive may be. It is of no consolation to an individual denied the equal protection of the laws that it was done in good faith. The State has so far insinuated itself into a position of interdependence with Eagle that it must be recognized as a joint participant in the challenged activity, which, on that account, cannot be considered to have been so ‘purely private’ as to fall without the scope of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Plaintiff’s Argument: Exclusion of a Negro patron, solely on account of color from restaurant operated by private corporation under lease in building financed by public funds and owned by parking authority which was an agency of state, was a discriminatory state action in violation of Equal Protection Clause of Fourteenth Amendment.

Defendant’s Argument: Dfs, as private owners of businesses, were under no duty to serve the pl b/c dfs were individuals not a state agency.

No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the U. S.; nor deprive any person life, liberty, or property w/o due process of law; nor deny any person the equal protection of the law.

No precise formulation for recognition of state responsibility under Equal Protection Clauses has been or could be fashioned or applied; only by sifting facts and weighing circumstances can non-obvious involvement of state in private conduct be attributed its true significance.

It is irony amounting to grave injustice that in one part of a single building, erected and maintained with public funds by an agency of the State to serve a public purpose, all persons have equal rights, while in another portion, also serving the public, a Negro is a second-class citizen, offensive because of his race, without rights and unentitled to service, but at the same time fully enjoys equal access to nearby restaurants in wholly privately owned buildings.

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