SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES
365 U.S. 715
April 17, 1961, Decided
MR. JUSTICE CLARK delivered the opinion of the Court.
In this action for declaratory and injunctive relief it is admitted that the Eagle Coffee Shoppe, Inc., a restaurant located within an off-street automobile parking building in Wilmington, Delaware, has refused to serve appellant food or drink solely because he is a Negro. The parking building is owned and operated by the Wilmington Parking Authority, an agency of the State of Delaware, and the restaurant is the Authority's lessee. Appellant claims that such refusal abridges his rights under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. The Supreme Court of Delaware has held that Eagle was acting in "a purely private capacity" under its lease; that its action was not that of the Authority and was not, therefore, state action within the contemplation of the prohibitions contained in that Amendment.
The Authority was created by the City of Wilmington pursuant to 22 Del. Code, §§ 501-515. It is "a public body corporate and politic, exercising public powers of the State as an agency thereof." Its statutory purpose is to provide adequate parking facilities for the convenience of the public and thereby relieve the "parking crisis, which threatens the welfare of the community . . . ." § To this end the Authority is granted wide powers including that of constructing or acquiring by lease, purchase or condemnation, lands and facilities, and that of leasing "portions of any of its garage buildings or structures for commercial use by the lessee, where, in the opinion of the Authority, such leasing is necessary and feasible for the financing and operation of such facilities."
The first project undertaken by the Authority was the erection of a parking facility on Ninth Street in downtown Wilmington. The tract consisted of four parcels, all of which were acquired by negotiated purchases from private owners. Before it began actual construction of the facility, the Authority was advised by its retained experts that the anticipated revenue from the parking of cars and proceeds from sale of its bonds would not be sufficient to finance the construction costs of the facility. To secure additional capital needed to make bond financing practicable, the Authority decided it was necessary to enter long-term leases with responsible tenants for commercial use of some of the space available in the projected "garage building." The public was invited to bid for these leases.
In April 1957 such a private lease, for 20 years and renewable for another 10 years, was made with Eagle Coffee Shoppe, Inc., for use as a "restaurant, dining room, banquet hall, cocktail lounge and bar and for no other use and purpose." The multi-level space of the building which was let to Eagle, although "within the exterior walls of the structure, has no marked public entrance leading from the parking portion of the facility into the restaurant proper . . . [whose main entrance] is located on Ninth Street." In its lease the Authority covenanted to complete construction expeditiously, including completion of "the decorative finishing of the leased premises and utilities therefor, without cost to Lessee," including necessary utility connections, toilets, hung acoustical tile and plaster ceilings; vinyl asbestos, ceramic tile and concrete floors; connecting stairs and wrought iron railings; and wood-floored show windows. Eagle spent some $ 220,000 to make the space suitable for its operation.
The Authority further agreed to furnish heat for Eagle's premises, gas service for the boiler room, and to make, at its own expense, all necessary structural repairs, all repairs to exterior surfaces except store fronts and any repairs caused by lessee's own act or neglect. The Authority retained the right to place any directional signs on the exterior of the let space which would not interfere with or obscure Eagle's display signs. Agreeing to pay an annual rental of $ 28,700, Eagle covenanted to "occupy and use the leased premises in accordance with all applicable laws, statutes, ordinances and rules and regulations of any federal, state or municipal authority." Its lease, however, contains no requirement that its restaurant services be made available to the general public on a nondiscriminatory basis, in spite of the fact that the Authority has power to adopt rules and regulations respecting the use of its facilities except any as would impair the security of its bondholders.
Other portions of the structure were leased to other tenants, including a bookstore, a retail jeweler, and a food store. Upon completion of the building, the Authority located at appropriate places thereon official signs indicating the public character of the building, and flew from mastheads on the roof both the state and national flags.
In August 1958 appellant parked his car in the building and walked around to enter the restaurant by its front door on Ninth Street. Having entered and sought service, he was refused it. Thereafter he filed this declaratory judgment action in the Court of Chancery....
The Civil Rights Cases, 109 U.S. 3 (1883), "embedded in our constitutional law" the principle "that the action inhibited by the first section [Equal Protection Clause] of the Fourteenth Amendment is only such action as may fairly be said to be that of the States. That Amendment erects no shield against merely private conduct, however discriminatory or wrongful." To fashion and apply a precise formula for recognition of state responsibility under the Equal Protection Clause is an "impossible task" which "This Court has never attempted." Only by sifting facts and weighing circumstances can the nonobvious involvement of the State in private conduct be attributed its true significance.
The land and building were publicly owned. As an entity, the building
was dedicated to "public uses" in performance of the Authority's "essential
governmental functions." The costs of land acquisition, construction,
and maintenance are defrayed entirely from donations by the City of Wilmington,
from loans and revenue bonds and from the proceeds of rentals and parking
services out of which the loans and bonds were payable. Upkeep and maintenance
of the building, including necessary repairs, were responsibilities of
the Authority and were payable out of public funds. It cannot be doubted
that the peculiar relationship of the restaurant to the parking facility
in which it is located confers on each an incidental variety of mutual
benefits. Guests of the restaurant are afforded a convenient place to park
their automobiles, even if they cannot enter the restaurant directly from
the parking area. Similarly, its convenience for diners may well provide
additional demand for the Authority's parking facilities. Should any improvements
effected in the leasehold by Eagle become part of the realty, there is
no possibility of increased taxes being passed on to it since the fee is
held by a tax-exempt government agency. Neither can it be ignored, especially
in view of Eagle's affirmative allegation that for it to serve Negroes
would injure its business, that profits earned by discrimination not only
contribute to, but also are indispensable elements in, the financial success
of a governmental agency. Addition of all these activities, obligations
and responsibilities of the Authority, the benefits mutually conferred,
together with the obvious fact that the restaurant is operated as
an integral part of a public building devoted to a public parking service,
indicates that degree of state participation and involvement in discriminatory
action which it was the design of the Fourteenth Amendment to condemn.
It is irony amounting to grave injustice that in one part of a single building,
erected and maintained with public funds by an agency of the State to serve
a public purpose, all persons have equal rights, while in another portion,
also serving the public, a Negro is a second-class citizen, offensive because
of his race, without rights and unentitled to service, but at the same
time fully enjoys equal access to nearby restaurants in wholly privately
owned buildings. In its lease with Eagle the Authority could have affirmatively
required Eagle to discharge the responsibilities under the Fourteenth Amendment
imposed upon the private enterprise as a consequence of state participation.
But no State may effectively abdicate its responsibilities by either ignoring
them or by merely failing to discharge them whatever the motive may be.
By its inaction, the Authority, and through it the State, has not only
made itself a party to the refusal of service, but has elected to place
its power, property and prestige behind the admitted discrimination. The
State has so far insinuated itself into a position of interdependence with
Eagle that it must be recognized as a joint participant in the challenged
activity, which, on that account, cannot be considered to have been so
"purely private" as to fall without the scope of the Fourteenth Amendment.