Law-Enforcement Officers and Self-Help Repossession: A State-Action Approach
Repossession of secured collateral is a fundamental component of the consumer credit industry. The Uniform Commercial Code authorizes a secured party to engage in self-help repossession of secured collateral under section 9-609, so long as the repossession takes place without “breach of the peace.” While that term is undefined, several courts have adopted a counterintuitive rule, holding that a law-enforcement officer’s presence during a self-help repossession – regardless of purpose or level of involvement – creates a breach of the peace. The Official Comments to the Code have seemingly endorsed this position as well. This Note rejects the primary justifications courts have offered to justify a bright-line rule and makes clear that an officer’s involvement in self-help repossession is unrelated to breach of the peace. The correct approach to law-enforcement-officer involvement in self-help repossessions asks whether the officer’s presence constitutes state action. An officer’s involvement should only invalidate a repossession where it is deemed state action sufficient to trigger a constitutional violation under section 1983. In such cases, the repossession is not of the sort authorized by section 9-609 and would therefore be wrongful, rather than a breach of the peace. In accordance with this approach, this Note concludes with a proposal for a modified Official Comment to section 9-609.