Rendell-Baker v. Kohn
457 U.S. 830 (1982)

  • Kohn ran a private school that specialized in dealing with troubled students. Massachusetts sometimes sent students to the school for special education, and paid their tuition. In fact, most of the school’s income came from the State.
    • Massachusetts had a Statute (Chapter 766) that allowed them to do that.
  • Rendell-Baker worked at the school, but disapproved of some of Kohn’s policies. He organized a student protest and attempted to form a union. Kohn fired him.
  • Rendell-Baker sued, claiming that Kohn was violating his 1st Amendment right to free speech, and without due process.
    • Kohn argued that he was a private entity, and was not bound by Constitutional restraints like the government was (aka the State Action Doctrine).
    • Rendell-Baker argued that because the school performed a public function, it was covered under the Public Function Exception to the State Action Doctrine.
    • Rendell-Baker argued that because Massachusetts paid to send students to the school, the State was ‘entangled’ in the private business and therefore the Entanglement Exception to the State Action Doctrine applied.
  • The US Supreme Court found for Kohn.
    • The US Supreme Court found that Kohn’s decision to fire Rendell-Baker was not compelled or influenced by State regulation, so the Entanglement Exception did not apply.
    • The Court found that acts of private companies do not become acts of the government by reason of their significant or even total engagement in performing public contracts, so the Public Function Exception did not apply.
  • In a dissent it was argued that when a private entity is not only heavily regulated and funded by the State, but also provides a service that the State is required to provide, there is a very close nexus with the State, and it is not inappropriate to treat the private entity as an arm of the State.