Jackson v. Metropolitan Edison Company

PETITIONER: Catherine Jackson
RESPONDENT: Metropolitan Edison Company
LOCATION: Metropolitan Edison

DOCKET NO.: 73-5845
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1972-1975)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit

CITATION: 419 US 345 (1974)
ARGUED: Oct 15, 1974
DECIDED: Dec 23, 1974

ADVOCATES:
Jack Greenberg - argued the cause for the petitioner
Thomas M. Debevoise - argued the cause for the respondent

Facts of the case

Catherine Jackson had received electricity from Metropolitan Edison at her home. Her service was terminated in September 1970 due to a lack of payment. Jackson opened another account under the name of another resident, James Dodson. Metropolitan Edison investigated her residence on October 6, 1971 and service was again terminated without notice on October 11. Jackson sued in federal district court under 42 U.S.C. Section 1983. She sought damages for the termination and an injunction to continue her service. The court dismissed her suit. The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit affirmed the dismissal.

Question

Did Metropolitan Edison's termination of Jackson's electrical service qualify as "state action" under the Fourteenth Amendment?

Media for Jackson v. Metropolitan Edison Company

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - October 15, 1974 in Jackson v. Metropolitan Edison Company

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - December 23, 1974 in Jackson v. Metropolitan Edison Company

Warren E. Burger:

The judgment and opinion of the Court in 73-5845, Jackson against Metropolitan Edison will be announced by Mr. Justice Rehnquist.

William H. Rehnquist:

This case arises out of respondent Metropolitan Edison's termination of electrical service to the residence of Catherine Jackson, the petitioner, for alleged non-payment of bills for prior utility service.

Metropolitan is a privately owned company licensed and regulated by the Pennsylvania Public Utilities Commission.

Its action in terminating petitioner's utility service was permitted by a provision of its general tariff which had been filed with the state utilities commission.

Petitioner brought suit against Metropolitan in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania seeking damages and injunction requiring Metropolitan to continue providing service until she had received a hearing and an opportunity to pay the amounts found due.

Petitioner argued that she had an entitlement to electric service under a Pennsylvania statute which constituted property under the Due Process Clause.

And that Metropolitan's termination had deprived her of this entitlement without minimum procedural protections required by that portion of the Fourteenth Amendment.

She further argues that Metropolitan's termination was state action within the meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment.

The District Court dismissed her complaint and the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit affirmed.

We granted certiorari to review this judgment. Our cases from the civil rights cases of 1883 forward have recognized that the Fourteenth Amendment opens to judicial scrutiny only in state action and not private action.

The threshold question in this case is whether Metropolitan's action in terminating service was sufficiently closely connected to the State of Pennsylvania to be fairly attributable to that state for purposes of the Fourteenth Amendment.

We hold that is not.

Under our decisions, the partial monopoly status of Metropolitan and the fact that it is subject to state regulation do not create a sufficient nexus between the state and the termination to make the termination state action.

The provision of electrical services also is not traditionally exclusive state function.

Respondent's exercise of the choice allowed by state law in this case where the initiative comes from it and not from the state does not make its action that of the state for purposes of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Taking all of petitioner's arguments together we find that the State of Pennsylvania is not sufficiently connected with the termination so as to make its action state action.

The judgment of the Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit is therefore affirmed.

Mr. Justice Douglas, Mr. Justice Brennan, and Mr. Justice Marshall have each filed a separate dissenting opinion in the case.

Warren E. Burger:

Thank you Mr. Justice Rehnquist.