New Motor Vehicle Bd. v. Orrin W. Fox Co.
439 U.S. 96 (1978)

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U.S. Supreme Court

New Motor Vehicle Bd. v. Orrin W. Fox Co., 439 U.S. 96 (1978)

New Motor Vehicle Board of California v. Orrin W. Fox Co.

No. 77-837

Argued October 3-4, 1978

Decided December 5, 1978*

439 U.S. 96

Syllabus

The California Automobile Franchise Act (Act) requires an automobile manufacturer to obtain approval of the California New Motor Vehicle Board (Board) before opening or relocating a retail dealership within the market area of an existing franchisee if the latter protests, and the Act also directs the Board to notify the manufacturer of such requirement upon the existing franchisee's filing of a protest. The Board is not required to hold a hearing on the merits of the protest before sending the notice to the manufacturer. Appellee manufacturer and proposed new and relocated franchisees, after being notified pursuant to the Act of protests from existing franchisees and before any hearings were held, brought suit challenging the constitutionality of the statutory scheme on due process grounds. A three-judge District Court held that the absence of a prior hearing requirement denied manufacturers and their proposed franchisees the procedural due process mandated by the Fourteenth Amendment.

Held:

1. The statutory scheme does not violate due process. Pp. 439 U. S. 104-108.

(a) The Act does not have the effect of affording a protesting dealership a summary administrative adjudication in the form of a notice tantamount to a temporary injunction restraining the manufacturer's exercise of its right to franchise at will. The Board's notice has none of the attributes of an injunction, but serves only to inform the manufacturer of the statutory scheme and of the status, pending the Board's determination, of its franchise permit application. Pp. 439 U. S. 104-105.

(b) Nor can the Board's notice be characterized as an administrative order, since it did not involve any exercise of discretion, did not find or assume any adjudicative facts, and did not terminate or suspend any right or interest that the manufacturer was then enjoying. Fuentes v. Shevin,407 U. S. 67; Bell v. Burson,402 U. S. 535, distinguished. P. 439 U. S. 105.

Page 439 U. S. 97

(c) Even if the right to franchise constituted an interest protected by due process when the Act was enacted, the California Legislature was still constitutionally empowered to enact a general scheme of business regulation that imposed reasonable restrictions upon the exercise of the right. In particular, the legislature was empowered to subordinate manufacturers' franchise rights to their franchisees' conflicting rights where necessary to prevent unfair or oppressive trade practices, and also to protect franchisees' conflicting rights through customary and reasonable procedural safeguards, i.e., by providing existing dealers with notice and an opportunity to be heard by an impartial tribunal (the Board) before their franchisor is permitted to inflict upon them grievous loss. Such procedural safeguards cannot be said to deprive the franchisor of due process. Pp. 106-108.

(d) Once having enacted a reasonable general scheme of business regulation, California was not required to provide for a prior individualized hearing each time the Act's provisions had the effect of delaying consummation of the business plans of particular individuals. P. 439 U. S. 108.

2. The statutory scheme does not constitute an impermissible delegation of state power to private citizens by requiring the Board to delay franchise establishments and relocations only when protested by existing franchisees who have unfettered discretion whether or not to protest. An otherwise valid regulation is not rendered invalid simply because those whom it is designed to safeguard may elect to forgo its protection. Pp. 439 U. S. 108-109.

3. The Act does not conflict with the Sherman Act. Pp. 439 U. S. 109-111.

(a) The statutory scheme is a system of regulation designed to displace unfettered business freedom in establishing and relocating automobile dealerships, and hence is outside the reach of the antitrust laws under the "state action" exemption. This exemption is not lost simply because the Act accords existing dealers notice and an opportunity to be heard before their franchisor is permitted to locate a dealership likely to subject them to injurious and possible illegal competition. Schwegmann Bros. v. Calvert Distillers Corp.,341 U. S. 384, distinguished. Pp. 439 U. S. 109-110.

(b) To the extent that there is a conflict with the Sherman Act because the Act permits dealers to invoke state power for the purpose of restraining intrabrand competition, such a conflict "cannot itself constitute a sufficient reason for invalidating the . . . statute," for

"if an adverse effect on competition were, in and of itself, enough to render a state statute invalid, the States' power to engage in economic regulation

Page 439 U. S. 98

would be effectively destroyed."

Exxon Corp. v. Governor of Maryland,437 U. S. 117, 437 U. S. 133. Pp. 439 U. S. 110-111.

440 F.Supp. 436, reversed.

BRENNAN, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and STEWART, WHITE, MARSHALL, and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined. MARSHALL, J., filed a concurring opinion, post, p. 439 U. S. 111. BLACKMUN, J., filed an opinion concurring in the result, in which POWELL, J., joined, post, p. 439 U. S. 113. STEVENS, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 439 U. S. 114.

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