Lugar v. Edmondson Oil Co., Inc.
457 U.S. 922 (1982)

Annotate this Case
  • Syllabus  | 
  • Case

U.S. Supreme Court

Lugar v. Edmondson Oil Co., Inc., 457 U.S. 922 (1982)

Lugar v. Edmondson Oil Co., Inc.

No. 80-1730

Argued December 8, 1981

Decided June 25, 1982

457 U.S. 922

Syllabus

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.

Held:

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.

Page 457 U. S. 923

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.

Primary Holding
Due process requirements must be satisfied in prejudgment attachment procedures if state officers collaborate with private creditors in securing the property at issue.
Facts
Lugar owed a debt to Edmondson Oil Co., which sought a prejudgment attachment of his property when it filed an action to collect the debt in Virginia state court. It complied with state law in stating its belief that Lugar might dispose of his property to defeat his creditors. A clerk of the court responded to this ex parte petition by issuing a writ of attachment, which was executed by the county sheriff. However, the court later conducted a hearing on whether the attachment was appropriate, and it was dismissed 34 days after the levy because Edmondson failed to establish the statutory grounds for attachment.

In a claim under 42 U.S.C. Section 1983, Lugar argued that he had been deprived of due process when Edmondson acted jointly within the state in removing his property by attaching it to the lawsuit. The lower courts ruled that no state action had occurred.

Opinions

Majority

  • Byron Raymond White (Author)
  • William Joseph Brennan, Jr.
  • Thurgood Marshall
  • Harry Andrew Blackmun
  • John Paul Stevens

An analysis of state action is based on a two-part test. The loss of property must have resulted from the state's exercise of a right or privilege, a rule of conduct that the state imposes, or the actions of a person for whom the state is responsible. If that element is satisfied, courts should consider whether the party responsible for the deprivation of property was a state actor, which can be a state official, someone who cooperates or receives assistance from a state official, or someone whose conduct can be attributed to the state.

The prejudgment attachment proceeding satisfies the first step of the test, and the defendant may be considered a state actor under the second step because it participated in activities with the sheriff, who is a state official. State action generally will be found when a party enlists the help of state officials in taking advantage of the state's procedures.

Dissent

  • Warren Earl Burger (Author)

Dissent

  • Lewis Franklin Powell, Jr. (Author)
  • William Hubbs Rehnquist
  • Sandra Day O'Connor

Case Commentary

These steps were classified as state action because they involved state organs like the sheriff and the state law, which was the product of the legislature and allowed private creditors to enlist the services of the state in collecting private debts.

Disclaimer: Justia Annotations is a forum for attorneys to summarize, comment on, and analyze case law published on our site. Justia makes no guarantees or warranties that the annotations are accurate or reflect the current state of law, and no annotation is intended to be, nor should it be construed as, legal advice. Contacting Justia or any attorney through this site, via web form, email, or otherwise, does not create an attorney-client relationship.

Disclaimer: Official Supreme Court case law is only found in the print version of the United States Reports. Justia case law is provided for general informational purposes only, and may not reflect current legal developments, verdicts or settlements. We make no warranties or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness, or adequacy of the information contained on this site or information linked to from this site. Please check official sources.