Edmonson v. Leesville Concrete Co., Inc.
500 U.S. 614 (1991)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Edmonson v. Leesville Concrete Co., Inc., 500 U.S. 614 (1991)

Syllabus

Petitioner Edmonson sued respondent Leesville Concrete Co. in the District Court, alleging that Leesville's negligence had caused him personal injury. During voir dire, Leesville used two of its three peremptory challenges authorized by statute to remove black persons from the prospective jury. Citing Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U. S. 79, Edmonson, who is black, requested that the court require Leesville to articulate a race-neutral explanation for the peremptory strikes. The court refused on the ground that Batson does not apply in civil proceedings, and the impaneled jury, which consisted of 11 white persons and 1 black, rendered a verdict unfavorable to Edmonson. The Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that a private litigant in a civil case can exercise peremptory challenges without accountability for alleged racial classifications.

Held: A private litigant in a civil case may not use peremptory challenges to exclude jurors on account of race. Pp. 500 U. S. 618-631.

(a) Race-based exclusion of potential jurors in a civil case violates the excluded persons' equal protection rights. Cf., e.g., Powers v. Ohio, 499 U. S. 400, 499 U. S. 402. Although the conduct of private parties lies beyond the Constitution's scope in most instances, Leesville's exercise of peremptory challenges was pursuant to a course of state action, and is therefore subject to constitutional requirements under the analytical framework set forth in Lugar v. Edmondson Oil Co., 457 U. S. 922, 457 U. S. 939-942. First, the claimed constitutional deprivation results from the exercise of a right or privilege having its source in state authority, since Leesville would not have been able to engage in the alleged discriminatory acts without 28 U.S.C. § 1870, which authorizes the use of peremptory challenges in civil cases. Second, Leesville must in all fairness be deemed a government actor in its use of peremptory challenges. Leesville has made extensive use of government procedures with the overt, significant assistance of the government, see, e.g., Tulsa Professional Collection Services, Inc. v. Pope, 485 U. S. 478, 485 U. S. 486, in that peremptory challenges have no utility outside the jury trial system, which is created and governed by an elaborate set of statutory provisions and administered solely by government officials, including the trial judge, himself a state actor, who exercises substantial control over voir dire and effects

Page 500 U. S. 615

the final and practical denial of the excluded individual's opportunity to serve on the petit jury by discharging him or her. Moreover, the action in question involves the performance of a traditional governmental function, see, e.g., Terry v. Adams, 345 U. S. 461, since the peremptory challenge is used in selecting the jury, an entity that is a quintessential governmental body having no attributes of a private actor. Furthermore, the injury allegedly caused by Leesville's use of peremptory challenges is aggravated in a unique way by the incidents of governmental authority, see Shelley v. Kramer, 334 U. S. 1, since the courtroom is a real expression of the government's constitutional authority, and racial exclusion within its confines compounds the racial insult inherent in judging a citizen by the color of his or her skin. Pp. 500 U. S. 618-628.

(b) A private civil litigant may raise the equal protection claim of a person whom the opposing party has excluded from jury service on account of race. Just as in the criminal context, see Powers, supra, all three of the requirements for third-party standing are satisfied in the civil context. First, there is no reason to believe that the daunting barriers to suit by an excluded criminal juror, see id. at 499 U. S. 414, would be any less imposing simply because the person was excluded from civil jury service. Second, the relation between the excluded venireperson and the litigant challenging the exclusion is just as close in the civil as it is in the criminal context. See id. at 499 U. S. 413. Third, a civil litigant can demonstrate that he or she has suffered a concrete, redressable injury from the exclusion of jurors on account of race, in that racial discrimination in jury selection casts doubt on the integrity of the judicial process and places the fairness of the proceeding in doubt. See id. at 499 U. S. 411. Pp. 500 U. S. 628-631.

(c) The case is remanded for a determination whether Edmonson has established a prima facie case of racial discrimination under the approach set forth in Batson, supra, 476 U.S. at 476 U. S. 96-97, such that Leesville would be required to offer race-neutral explanations for its peremptory challenges. P. 500 U. S. 631.

895 F.2d 218 (CA5 1990), reversed and remanded.

KENNEDY, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which WHITE, MARSHALL, BLACKMUN, STEVENS, and SOUTER, JJ., joined. O'CONNOR, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which REHNQUIST, C.J., and SCALIA, J., joined, post, p. 500 U. S. 631. SCALIA, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, 500 U. S. 644.

Page 500 U. S. 616

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Primary Holding

In civil lawsuits, attorneys cannot use peremptory strikes to exclude potential jurors solely on the basis of race.

Facts

Edmonson, an African-American man, brought a personal injury claim against Leesville Concrete, Inc. The jury eventually found that Edmonson was 80 percent at fault, so his damages award was greatly reduced. He argued on appeal that Leesville should not have used its peremptory challenges to remove two African-Americans from the jury pool. The Fifth Circuit disagreed and found that this use of peremptory challenges was appropriate under the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment.

Opinions

Majority

  • Anthony M. Kennedy (Author)
  • Byron Raymond White
  • Thurgood Marshall
  • Harry Andrew Blackmun
  • John Paul Stevens
  • David H. Souter

It has been established that peremptory challenges based on race may not be used in criminal prosecutions because they undermine the equal protection rights of both the parties and the members of the jury pool. The difference from civil proceedings is that the link to state action is more tenuous, and state action must be found for equal protection rights to apply under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments. Litigation and the construction of a jury pool can be considered government functions, even when the case involves private parties, so the state is being made the instrument of private discrimination. This makes state action sufficiently applicable.

Dissent

  • Sandra Day O'Connor (Author)
  • William Hubbs Rehnquist
  • Antonin Scalia

The state action doctrine does not apply simply because a peremptory challenge is made in a courtroom.

Dissent

  • Antonin Scalia (Author)

The diversity of juries may be undermined by restrictions on the use of peremptory challenges, which ultimately could harm minorities.

Case Commentary

Constitutional rights of equal protection apply only to state action rather than conduct by private actors. However, the process of jury selection is related to an important government function, so the harm caused by this type of discrimination cannot be permitted to happen inside the courthouse to parties using a public system of dispute resolution even when private parties are involved. Government officials also are in charge of the jury selection process, so state action can be considered implicitly implicated. Determining whether peremptory strikes are used in a race-based manner requires evaluating the totality of the circumstances.

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