Jackson v. Metropolitan Edison Co.
419 U.S. 345 (1974)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Jackson v. Metropolitan Edison Co., 419 U.S. 345 (1974)

Jackson v. Metropolitan Edison Co.

No. 73-5845

Argued October 15, 1974

Decided December 23, 1974

419 U.S. 345

Syllabus

Petitioner brought suit against respondent, a privately owned and operated utility corporation which holds a certificate of public convenience issued by the Pennsylvania Utility Commission, seeking damages and injunctive relief under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for termination of her electric service allegedly before she had been afforded notice, a hearing, and an opportunity to pay any amounts found due. Petitioner claimed that, under state law she was entitled to reasonably continuous electric service, and that respondent's termination for alleged nonpayment, permitted by a provision of its general tariff filed with the Commission, was state action depriving petitioner of her property without due process of law and giving rise to a cause of action under § 1983. The Court of Appeals affirmed the District Court's dismissal of petitioner's complaint.

Held: Pennsylvania is not sufficiently connected with the challenged termination to make respondent's conduct attributable to the State for purposes of the Fourteenth Amendment, petitioner having shown no more than that respondent was a heavily regulated private utility with a partial monopoly and that it elected to terminate service in a manner that the Commission found permissible under state law. Cf. Moose Lodge No. 107 v. Irvis, 407 U. S. 163. Public Utilities Comm'n v. Pollak, 343 U. S. 451; Burton v. Wilmington Parking Authority, 365 U. S. 715, distinguished. Pp. 419 U. S. 349-359.

483 F.2d 754, affirmed.

REHNQUIST, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and STEWART, WHITE, BLACKMUN, and POWELL, JJ., joined. DOUGLAS, J., post, p. 419 U. S. 359, BRENNAN, J., post, p. 419 U. S. 364, and MARSHALL, J., post, p. 419 U. S. 365, filed dissenting opinions.

Page 419 U. S. 346

Primary Holding
The convergence between the actions of a state and a heavily regulated private utility company do not rise to the level of state action if the utility company has a partial monopoly in providing electrical service and uses a procedure that the state utilities commission finds to be appropriate under state law in terminating service to customers.
Facts
Metropolitan Edison Co. terminated electrical services to Jackson when she failed to pay the bills. The company was privately owned but held a certificate of public convenience from the state public utilities commission that granted it the power to deliver electricity. In the general tariff that it filed with the state public utilities commission, a certain provision described its right to terminate a consumer's services for non-payment. However, Jackson argued that the company's actions should be considered state action and that the absence of notice, a hearing, or the opportunity to pay meant that she was unconstitutionally deprived of a property interest without due process.

Opinions

Majority

  • William Hubbs Rehnquist (Author)
  • Warren Earl Burger
  • Potter Stewart
  • Byron Raymond White
  • Harry Andrew Blackmun
  • Lewis Franklin Powell, Jr.

Subjecting a company to extensive regulations or providing it with a partial monopoly does not convert its actions into state action. Services that affect the public interest also do not automatically rise to the level of state action. The state has no obligation to provide utility services, so the company is not fulfilling a public function.

Dissent

  • Thurgood Marshall (Author)

When the government and a private company become interdependent on each other, state action should be found. It is reasonable to consider the company's services a public function because the state has sanctioned the company as a monopoly and cooperated with it. Historically, state action has been found to apply when the government authorizes actions by a private entity. The fact that the state approved the precise termination procedures used in this case also suggests that those procedures should be attributed to it, even though the state has not actively required the company to provide services.

Dissent

  • William Orville Douglas (Author)

Dissent

  • William Joseph Brennan, Jr. (Author)

Case Commentary

A private entity performing a public function can be classified as a state actor, but merely being regulated and overseen by the state does not equate to performing a public function if the company is managed by private actors. In this decision, the Court placed limits on the public function doctrine, which otherwise could have grown into a massive exception permitting the inference of state action.

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