Lugar v. Edmondson Oil Co., Inc.
Annotate this Case
457 U.S. 922 (1982)
U.S. Supreme Court
Lugar v. Edmondson Oil Co., Inc., 457 U.S. 922 (1982)
Lugar v. Edmondson Oil Co., Inc.
Argued December 8, 1981
Decided June 25, 1982
457 U.S. 922
This case concerns the relationship between the requirement of "state action" to establish a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment and the requirement of action "under color of state law" to establish a right to recover under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, which provides a remedy for deprivation of constitutional rights when that deprivation takes place "under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage" of a State. Respondents filed suit in Virginia state court on a debt owed by petitioner, and sought prejudgment attachment of certain of petitioner's property. Pursuant to Virginia law, respondents alleged, in an ex parte petition, a belief that petitioner was disposing of or might dispose of his property in order to defeat his creditors; acting upon that petition, a Clerk of the state court issued a writ of attachment, which was executed by the County Sheriff; a hearing on the propriety of the attachment was later conducted; and 34 days after the levy, the trial judge dismissed the attachment for respondents' failure to establish the alleged statutory grounds for attachment. Petitioner then brought this action in Federal District Court under § 1983, alleging that in attaching his property respondents had acted jointly with the State to deprive him of his property without due process of law. The District Court held that the alleged actions of the respondents did not constitute state action as required by the Fourteenth Amendment, and that the complaint therefore did not state a valid claim under § 1983. The Court of Appeals affirmed, but on the basis that the complaint failed to allege conduct under color of state law for purposes of § 1983 because there was neither usurpation or corruption of official power by a private litigant nor a surrender of judicial power to the private litigant in such a way that the independence of the enforcing officer was compromised to a significant degree.
1. Constitutional requirements of due process apply to garnishment and prejudgment attachment procedures whenever state officers act jointly with a private creditor in securing the property in dispute. Sniadach v. Family Finance Corp., 395 U. S. 337. And if the challenged conduct of the creditor constitutes state action as delimited by this Court's prior decisions, then that conduct is also action under color of state law, and will support a suit under § 1983. Pp. 457 U. S. 926-935.
2. Conduct allegedly causing the deprivation of a constitutional right protected against infringement by a State must be fairly attributable to the State. In determining the question of "fair attribution," (a) the deprivation must be caused by the exercise of some right or privilege created by the State or by a rule of conduct imposed by it or by a person for whom it is responsible, and (b) the party charged with the deprivation must be a person who may fairly be said to be a state actor, either because he is a state official, because he has acted together with or has obtained significant aid from state officials or because his conduct is otherwise chargeable to the State. Pp. 457 U. S. 936-939.
3. Insofar as petitioner alleged only misuse or abuse by respondents of Virginia law, he did not state a cause of action under § 1983, but challenged only private action. Such challenged conduct could not be ascribed to any governmental decision, nor did respondents have the authority of state officials to put the weight of the State behind their private decision. However, insofar as petitioner's complaint challenged the state statute as being procedurally defective under the Due Process Clause, he did present a valid cause of action under § 1983. The statutory scheme obviously is the product of state action, and a private party's joint participation with state officials in the seizure of disputed property is sufficient to characterize that party as a "state actor" for purposes of the Fourteenth Amendment. Respondents were, therefore, acting under color of state law in participating in the deprivation of petitioner's property. Pp. 457 U. S. 939-942.
639 F.2d 1058, affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded.
WHITE, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BRENNAN, MARSHALL, BLACKMUN, and STEVENS, JJ., joined. BURGER, C.J., filed a dissenting opinion,post, p. 457 U. S. 943. POWELL, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which REHNQUIST and O'CONNOR, JJ., joined, post, p. 457 U. S. 944.
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