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Burton v. Wilmington Parking Auth. - 365 U.S. 715, 81 S. Ct. 856 (1961)

Rule:

No State may effectively abdicate its responsibilities by either ignoring them or by merely failing to discharge them whatever the motive may be. It is of no consolation to an individual denied the equal protection of the laws that it was done in good faith. Where by its inaction, a state agency, and through it the State, makes itself a party to a refusal of service, and elects to place its power, property and prestige behind admitted discrimination, it thereby insinuates itself into a position of interdependence with the wrongdoer such 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 Fourteen Amendment's scope. When a State leases public property in the manner and for the purpose that is shown to have resulted in race discrimination, the proscriptions of the Fourteenth Amendment must be complied with by the lessee as certainly as though they were binding covenants written into the agreement itself.

Facts:

Appellee Eagle Coffee Shoppe, Inc., a restaurant located within an off-street automobile parking building in Wilmington, Delaware, refused to serve appellant patron Burton food or drink solely because he was black. The building was built with public funds for public purposes, and it was owned and operated by an agency of the State of Delaware, from which the private operator of the restaurant leased its premises. Claiming that refusal to serve him abridged his rights under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, Burton sued in a state court for declaratory and injunctive relief against the restaurant and the state agency. The Supreme Court of Delaware held that he was not entitled to relief, on the ground that the restaurant's action was not state action within the meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment and that the restaurant was not required by a Delaware statute to serve all persons entering its place of business. Burton appealed the decision of the lower court.  

Issue:

Was the restaurant’s refusal to serve food or drinks on the basis of race violative of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment?

Answer:

Yes.

Conclusion:

Reversing, the Supreme Court of the United States held that appellee restaurant’s refusal to serve food or drinks to a black patron violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Taking the circumstances of the case into consideration, the Court ruled that the restaurant was physically and financially an integral part of a public building, built and maintained with public funds, devoted to a public parking service, and owned and operated by an agency of the State for public purposes; as such, the State was a joint participant in the operation of the restaurant, and its refusal to serve appellant Burton violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The Court reversed the judgment, ruling that when a state leases public property in the manner and for the purpose described in this case, the proscriptions of the Fourteenth Amendment must be complied with by the lessee as though they were binding covenants written into the lease itself. 

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