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

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In the warren court years, the state action doctrine was progressively weakened as a limitation on the fourteenth amendment; more and more "private" conduct fell under the Amendment's reach. The Jackson decision illustrates how the burger court called a halt to this trend, limiting the substantive scope of the Amendment by giving new life to the state action limitation.

Metropolitan Edison turned off Jackson's supply of electricity, asserting that she had not paid her bill. She sued for damages and injunctive relief under federal civil rights laws, claiming procedural due process rights to notice, hearing, and an opportunity to pay any amounts due the company. The lower courts denied relief, holding that the company's conduct did not amount to state action. The Supreme Court affirmed, 6–3, in an opinion by Justice william h. rehnquist, systematically rejecting a series of arguments supporting the contention that state action was present in the case.

The fact of state regulation was held insufficient to constitute state action. As in moose lodge no. 107 v. irvis (1972), there was no showing of a "close nexus" between the company's no-hearing policy and the state. The approval by the state's public utilities commission of the company's tariff, stating the right to terminate service for nonpayment, was held insufficient to demonstrate explicit state approval of the no-hearing policy. Where Moose Lodge had relied on the absence of a monopoly under a state liquor license, Jackson characterized Moose Lodge as a near-monopoly case and said there was no showing of a connection between the utility's monopoly status and its no-hearing policy. Finally, the Court rejected the notion that Metropolitan Edison was performing a "public function" by supplying electricity, saying there had been no delegation to the company of a power "traditionally associated with sovereignty." The latter comment looked forward to the Court's decision in flagg bros. , inc. v. brooks (1978).

Justice william j. brennan dissented without reaching the merits. Justices william o. douglas and thurgood marshall dissented on the merits, pointing out how the majority was departing from the teaching of the Warren Court—something that Justice Rehnquist likely did not need to have explained. Jackson did more than reverse currents in the various individual streams of state action doctrine (public functions, monopolies, state encouragement). By taking up each of these arguments separately and rejecting them one by one, the Court also implicitly abandoned the approach of burton v. wilmington parking authority (1961), which had called for determining state action questions by looking at the totality of circumstances in a particular case.

Kenneth L. Karst

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

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