Burton v. Wilmington Parking Authority

PETITIONER: William H. Burton et al.
RESPONDENT: Wilmington Parking Authority et al.
LOCATION: Eagle Coffee Shoppe

DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1958-1962)

CITATION: 365 US 715 (1961)
ARGUED: Feb 21, 1961 / Feb 23, 1961
DECIDED: Apr 17, 1961

Facts of the case

In August 1958 William H. Burton, an African-American, entered the Eagle Coffee Shoppe, a restaurant leasing space within a parking garage operated by the Wilmington Parking Authority, and was denied service solely because of his race. The Parking Authority is a tax-exempt, private corporation created by legislative action of the City of Wilmington for the purpose of operating the city's parking facilities, and its construction projects are partially funded by contributions from the city. The Parking Authority provided the restaurant heating and gas services and maintained the premises at its own expense. Burton filed suit seeking an injunction preventing the restaurant from operating in a racially discriminatory manner on the ground that doing so violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. A state court granted the injunction but was reversed on appeal to the Delaware Supreme Court.


Did the Eagle Coffee Shoppe's refusal to serve Burton constitute a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment?

Media for Burton v. Wilmington Parking Authority

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - February 23, 1961 in Burton v. Wilmington Parking Authority

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - February 21, 1961 in Burton v. Wilmington Parking Authority

Earl Warren:

Number 164, William H. Burton, appellant, versus Wilmington Parking Authority, et al.

Mr. Redding?

Louis L. Redding:

May it please Your Honors.

William H. Burton, a resident of Wilmington, Delaware, has appealed to this Court from a decision of the Supreme Court of Delaware, sanctioning on the authority of a Delaware statute, his exclusion on the ground of race and color from a restaurant, located in a building, owned and operated by a public agency, the Wilmington Parking Authority.

The Authority is created in pursuance of a Delaware statute.

This statute is set forth in full in the appendix to the appellant's brief.

The function of the Authority, as set out in the statute, is to plan, construct, and operate facilities for offstreet parking of automobiles.

The Act declares this a public purpose for the benefit of the residents of cities, for the promotion of their health and safety and living conditions.

Accordingly, the Act declares that the Authority is a public agency and is vested with the performance of essential governmental functions.

Members of the Authority are appointed by the Mayor of the City.

The Authority is given the power of eminent domain.

Its property is declared exempt from Delaware taxation, and the revenue bonds issued by the Authority are declared exempt from Delaware taxation.

The Act provides that municipalities may contribute funds to the Authority for the purchase of land upon which the parking facilities are to be erected.

The site in question, located in the City of Wilmington, is an area about 178 feet by 350 feet.

It is in the center of downtown Wilmington.

Prior to its present use, this site had been owned by several private owners.

It was purchased by the Wilmington Parking Authority from funds derived from three sources.

Part of the funds, approximately $934,000, was a contribution made by the City of Wilmington.

The rest of the funds were derived from the revenue bonds, the proceeds of revenue bonds of the Authority, and from a bank loan made to the Authority on the credit of the Authority.

The act under which the Authority is created provides that the Authority may lease portions of the facility for commercial use, if the Authority has made a determination that such leasing is necessary to enable the Authority to carry on its public function.

In the record there is the affidavit of the Chairman of the Authority, attesting that such a determination, that is, a determination that leasing Was necessary in order to enable the Authority to function, was made by the Authority.

John M. Harlan II:

Leasing for a restaurant?

Louis L. Redding:

Leasing for commercial purposes.

The statute, sir, provides that the Authority may have power to lease part of the space in the structure for commercial purposes if the Authority has determined that the income from such leasing is necessary to enable the Authority to carry on its public function.

John M. Harlan II:

Statute (Inaudible)

Louis L. Redding:

The statute does not use the word "private," sir.

It simply says "for commercial purposes.

One of the areas of space in the facility building was leased to the appellee, Eagle.

Eagle is a corporation organized under the General Corporation Law of the State of Delaware, and its lease with the Authority was for a period of twenty years, with an option to renew for ten years.

And the lease, which is set forth in the record, provides that this space shall be used for a restaurant, a banquet hall, a cocktail lounge, a bar, and for no other use.