Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co

In Adickes v. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 90 S.Ct. 1598, 26 L.Ed.2d 142 (1970), the plaintiff alleged in a 1983 action for damages a deprivation of her Fourteenth Amendment equal protection rights as a result of concerted action between certain police officers and a public restaurant facility. Id. at 146-47, 90 S.Ct. 1598. The Supreme Court held that the district court had erred in granting summary judgment against the plaintiff and explained: "The involvement of a state official in . . . a conspiracy (with a private party) plainly provides the state action essential to show a direct violation of petitioner's Fourteenth Amendment equal protection rights, whether or not the actions of the police were officially authorized or lawful ; . . . Moreover, a private party involved in such a conspiracy, even though not an official of the State, can be liable under 1983." (Id. at 152, 90 S.Ct. at 1605.) In Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144 (1970), the Court emphasized that the availability of summary judgment turned on whether a proper jury question was presented. There, one of the issues was whether there was a conspiracy between private persons and law enforcement officers. The District Court granted summary judgment for the defendants, stating that there was no evidence from which reasonably minded jurors might draw an inference of conspiracy. We reversed, pointing out that the moving parties' submissions had not foreclosed the possibility of the existence of certain facts from which "it would be open to a jury . . . to infer from the circumstances" that there had been a meeting of the minds. Id., at 158-159, 90 S.Ct., at 1608, 1609. Adickes, presented the question of whether a grant of summary judgment in favor of a defendant on a conspiracy count was appropriate. The plaintiff, a white schoolteacher, maintained that employees of defendant Kress conspired with the police to deny her rights protected by the Fourteenth Amendment by refusing to serve her in one of its lunchrooms simply because she was white and accompanied by a number of black schoolchildren. She maintained, among other things, that Kress arranged with the police to have her arrested for vagrancy when she left the defendant's premises. In support of its motion for summary judgment, Kress submitted statements from a deposition of one of its employees asserting that he had not communicated or agreed with the police to deny plaintiff service or to have her arrested, and explaining that the store had taken the challenged action not because of the race of the plaintiff, but because it was fearful of the reaction of some of its customers if it served a racially mixed group. Kress also submitted affidavits from the Chief of Police and the arresting officers denying that the store manager had requested that petitioner be arrested, and noted that in the plaintiff's own deposition, she conceded that she had no knowledge of any communication between the police and any Kress employee and was relying on circumstantial evidence to support her allegations. In opposing defendant's motion for summary judgment, plaintiff stated that defendant in its moving papers failed to dispute an allegation in the complaint, a statement at her deposition, and an unsworn statement by a Kress employee all to the effect that there was a policeman in the store at the time of the refusal to serve, and that it was this policeman who subsequently made the arrest. Plaintiff argued that this sequence of events "created a substantial enough possibility of a conspiracy to allow her to proceed to trial. . . ." 398 U.S., at 157, 90 S.Ct., at 1608. The Supreme Court agreed, and therefore reversed the lower courts, reasoning that Kress "did not carry its burden because of its failure to foreclose the possibility that there was a policeman in the Kress store while petitioner was awaiting service, and that this policeman reached an understanding with some Kress employee that petitioner not be served." 398 U.S. at 157, 90 S.Ct., at 1608. Despite the fact that none of the materials relied on by plaintiff met the requirements of Rule 56(e), the Supreme Court stated nonetheless that Kress failed to meet its initial burden of showing that there was no genuine dispute of a material fact. Specifically, the Supreme Court held that because Kress failed to negate plaintiff's materials suggesting that a policeman was in fact in the store at the time of the refusal to serve, "it would be open to a jury . . . to infer from the circumstances that the policeman and a Kress employee had a 'meeting of the minds' and thus reached an understanding that petitioner should be refused service." Ibid. In Adickes the Supreme Court held that a jury might permissibly infer a conspiracy from the mere presence of a policeman in a restaurant. The Supreme Court never reached and did not consider whether the evidence was "one-sided," and had we done so, we clearly would have had to affirm, rather than reverse, the lower courts, since in that case there was no admissible evidence submitted by petitioner, and a significant amount of evidence presented by the defendant tending to rebut the existence of a conspiracy. The question the Supreme Court did reach was simply whether, as a matter of conspiracy law, a jury would be entitled, again, as a matter of law, to infer from the presence of a policeman in a restaurant the making of an agreement between that policeman and an employee. Because the Supreme Court held that a jury was entitled so to infer, and because the defendant had not carried its initial burden of production of demonstrating that there was no evidence that there was not a policeman in the lunchroom, we concluded that summary judgment was inappropriate.