No public officials have been named as defendants.
Whether Flagg Brothers action may fairly be attributed to the
State of New York? No
We hold that the state in enacting a law authorizing a
warehouseman's lien sale is not
conduct attributable to the state.
Brooks - Due Process requires that debtors be afforded a hearing
before deprivation of property may occur.
Brooks relies upon a series of cases that held that due process
requires that debtors be afforded a hearing before a creditor
may invoke remedies involving deprivation of property.
- Overt official involvement is absent here
However, these cases are distinguishable from this case because
of the total absence here of overt official involvement.
Under the Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process Clause, only a
state, or a private person whose action may be fairly treated as
that of the state itself, may deprive an individual of an
interest protected by the Amendment.
Thus, the only question in this case is whether the conduct of
Flagg Brothers may be attributed to the state.
Brooks' argument - The law delegates power to Flagg Brothers
The state, by enacting the law permitting warehouseman's lien
sales, has delegated a power to Flagg Brothers that has
traditionally been exclusively reserved to the state.
- Statute provides a damage remedy. Private arrangements are
not exclusive to the States
We reject the argument because the statute involved provides a
damage remedy against the warehouseman for violations of the
By doing so, it recognizes the place of private arrangements in
the commercial world, and cannot be said to be an exclusive
prerogative of the state.
Brooks argues - The States has authorized and encouraged the law
The proposed lien sale is attributable to the state because the
state has authorized and encouraged it in enacting the law.
- Merely announced the circumstances that a court will not
interfere with a private sale.
The state has not compelled the sale of goods; it has merely
announced the circumstances under which the courts will not
interfere with a private sale.
The state's refusal to act does not equate with compelling the
deprivation of property.
Dissent - Justice Stevens
The question is whether a state statute which authorizes a
private party to deprive a person of his property without his
consent must meet the requirements of the Due Process Clause of
the Fourteenth Amendment.
This question must be answered in the affirmative unless the
State has virtually unlimited power to transfer interests in
private property without any procedural protections.
Power to sell if derived from state law
The power of the warehouseman to sell the goods derives from the
The issue is, must a state statute which authorizes a private
person to deprive another of his property without consent meet
the requirements of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth
believe that the answer should be yes.
Majority Reasoning - State Law Permits but does not compete
The majority's holding is based on the reasoning that the state
law "permits" but does not "compel" the sale, and the sale is
not a power exclusively reserved to the states.
This reasoning would permit the use of self-help without the
possibility of federal challenge. The distinction between
permission and compulsion should not be determinative factors.
Focus on State Conduct, not Private Conduct
We must focus on the state's conduct, whether action or
inaction, and not the private conduct.
The state statute in this case places the state power to conduct
judicially binding sales in the hands of the warehouseman
without constitutional challenge.