Flagg Bros., Inc. v. Brooks

PETITIONER: Flagg Bros., Inc., et al.
RESPONDENT: Shirley Herriott Brooks, et al.
LOCATION: Flagg Brothers Moving and Storage, Inc.

DOCKET NO.: 77-25
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1975-1981)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit

CITATION: 436 US 149 (1978)
ARGUED: Jan 18, 1978
DECIDED: May 15, 1978
GRANTED: Oct 03, 1977

ADVOCATES:
Alvin Altman - for petitioners in 77-25
A. Seth Greenwald - for petitioner in 77-37
Martin A. Schwartz - for respondents

Facts of the case

On June 13, 1973, Shirley Brooks and her family were evicted from their apartment in Mount Vernon, New York. The city marshal arranged for Flagg Bros., Inc. to store the Brooks' furniture in their warehouse, and informed Ms. Brooks of the cost. Although she objected, she allowed the workers to remove her furniture to the warehouse. On August 25, 1973, after a series of disputes about the charges, Ms. Brooks received a letter from Flagg Bros., Inc. informing her that her furniture would be sold if she did not settle her account within 10 days.

Ms. Brooks initiated a class action in district court and alleged that such a sale as allowed by a New York statute would violate the Fourteenth Amendment. The American Warehousemen’s Association, the International Association of Refrigerated Warehouses, and the Attorney General of New York intervened as defendants to defend the statute in question. The district court dismissed the complaint and the Court of Appeals reversed.

Question

Does a New York state statute that allows storage companies to sell stored goods if they do not receive payment violate the Fourteenth Amendment?

Media for Flagg Bros., Inc. v. Brooks

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - January 18, 1978 in Flagg Bros., Inc. v. Brooks

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - May 15, 1978 in Flagg Bros., Inc. v. Brooks

William H. Rehnquist:

The third of the cases are consolidated number 7725, 37 and 42 Flagg Brothers Incorporate versus Brooks.

And these come to us from the Second Circuit, the Court of Appeals New York law grants a warehouseman, a lien for storage charges, upon goods in his possession and permits him to enforce the lien under specified circumstances by selling the stored goods.

In this case petitioner Flagg Brothers were a warehouseman threatened to sell respondent's belongings when they fail to pay charges claimed to be due.

The respondents who had stored the furniture there upon sought damages and injunctive relief in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York on the ground that the sale would deprive them of their property without due process of law in violation for Fourteenth Amendment.

The District Court dismissed the action but the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit reversed the District Court holding that the statute delegated to Flagg Brothers, the warehouseman in this case, an exclusive functions of the state, and therefore Flagg Brothers action was -- could be challenged under the Fourteenth Amendment.

We granted certiorari to consider the constitutionality of this provision of the uniform commercial code and we now reverse the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

Respondents who where the people that stored the furniture contended the binding consensual resolution of disputes or I should say non-consensual resolution of disputes.

Since Flagg Brothers here went ahead and exercised an authority to sell after failure to pay, is a power that has been traditionally exclusively reserved to the state.

They ask us to expand the public function doctrine under which we have previously found state action for Fourteenth Amendment purposes when private parties have conducted elections or performed all the essential functions of municipality.

However in the area of commercial relations between debtors and creditors.

The state has not traditionally monopolized the mechanisms of dispute resolution but has recognized the availability of wide assortment of self help remedies.

This statute doesn't depart significantly from these traditional remedies and we decline to apply the public function doctrine here.

The active involvement of state official which has been shown in each of our previous decisions, which have imposed procedural limitations on creditors remedies is not present here.

The prohibitions of the Fourteenth Amendment therefore do not apply to the essentially private action of warehouseman such as Flagg Brothers.

We reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

Mr. Justice Marshall has filed a dissenting opinion.

Mr. Justice Stevens has filed a dissenting opinion joined by Mr. Justice Marshall and Mr. Justice White.

Mr. Justice Brennan took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.

Warren E. Burger:

Thank you Mr. Justice Rehnquist.