330 U.S. 386 (1947), 431, Testa v. Katt

Docket Nº:No. 431
Citation:330 U.S. 386, 67 S.Ct. 810, 91 L.Ed. 967
Party Name:Testa v. Katt
Case Date:March 10, 1947
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 386

330 U.S. 386 (1947)

67 S.Ct. 810, 91 L.Ed. 967

Testa

v.

Katt

No. 431

United States Supreme Court

March 10, 1947

Argued February 14, 1947

CERTIORARI TO THE SUPERIOR COURT FOR PROVIDENCE AND

BRISTOL COUNTIES, RHODE ISLAND

Syllabus

Section 205(e) of the Emergency Price Control Act, 56 Stat. 34, as amended, provides that a buyer of goods at above the ceiling price may sue the seller "in any court of competent jurisdiction" for three times the amount of the overcharge plus costs and a reasonable attorney's fee, and § 205(c) provides that the federal district courts shall have jurisdiction of such suits "concurrently with" state courts. Having purchased an automobile at above the ceiling price, the purchaser sued the seller under § 205(e) and obtained judgment for damages and costs in a state court having adequate general jurisdiction to enforce similar claims arising under state law. On appeal, the State Supreme Court reversed the judgment on the ground that the suit was for a penalty based on a statute of a foreign sovereign, and could not be maintained in the state courts.

Held: assuming, without deciding, that § 205(e) is a penal statute, the state courts were not free under Article VI of the Constitution to refuse enforcement of the claim. Claflin v. Houseman, 93 U.S. 130; Mondou v. New York, N.H. & H. R. Co., 223 U.S. 1. Pp. 389-394.

71 R.I. 472, 47 A.2d 312, reversed.

A state court of competent jurisdiction awarded the purchaser of an automobile at above the ceiling price a judgment for damages and costs under § 205(e) of the Emergency Price Control Act, 56 Stat. 34, as amended. The State Supreme Court reversed and, pursuant to local practice, remitted the case and record to the Superior Court. 71 R.I. 472, 47 A.2d 312. This Court granted certiorari. 329 U.S. 703. Reversed and remanded, p. 394.

Page 387

BLACK, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE BLACK delivered the opinion of the Court.

Section 205(e)1 of the Emergency Price Control Act provides that a buyer of goods above the prescribed ceiling price may sue the seller "in any court of competent jurisdiction" for not more than three times the amount of the overcharge plus costs and a reasonable attorney's fee. Section 205(c)2 provides that federal district courts shall have jurisdiction of such suits "concurrently with State and Territorial courts." Such a suit under § 205(e) must be brought "in the district or county in which the defendant resides or has a place of business. . . ."

The respondent was in the automobile business in Providence, Providence County, Rhode Island. In 1944, he sold an automobile to petitioner Testa, who also resides

Page 388

in Providence, for $1100, $210 above the ceiling price. The petitioner later filed this suit against respondent in the State District Court in Providence. Recovery was sought under § 205(e). The court awarded a judgment of treble damages and costs to petitioner. On appeal to the State Superior Court, where the trial was de novo, the petitioner was again awarded judgment, but only for the amount of the overcharge plus attorney's fees. Pending appeal from this judgment, the Price Administrator was [67 S.Ct. 812] allowed to intervene. On appeal, the State Supreme Court reversed, 71 R.I. 472, 47 A.2d 312. It interpreted § 205(e) to be "a penal statute in the international sense." It held that an action for violation of § 205(e) could not be maintained in the courts of that State. The State Supreme Court rested its holding on its earlier decision in Robinson v. Norato, 71 R.I. 256, 43 A.2d 467, 468, in which it had reasoned that a state need not enforce the penal laws of a government which is "foreign in the international sense;" § 205(e) is treated by Rhode Island as penal in that sense; the United States is "foreign" to the State in the "private international," as distinguished from the "public international," sense; hence, Rhode Island courts, though their jurisdiction is adequate to enforce similar Rhode Island "penal" statutes, need not enforce § 205(e). Whether state courts may decline to enforce federal laws on these grounds is a question of great importance. For this reason, and because the Rhode Island Supreme Court's holding was alleged to conflict with this Court's previous holding in Mondou v. New York, N.H. & H. R. Co., 223 U.S. 1, we granted certiorari. 329 U.S. 703.3

Page 389

For the purposes of this case, we assume, without deciding, that § 205(e) is a penal statute in the "public international," "private international," or any other sense. So far as the question of whether the Rhode Island courts properly declined to try this action, it makes no difference into which of these categories the Rhode Island court chose to place the statute which Congress has passed. For we cannot accept the basic premise on which the Rhode Island Supreme Court held that it has no more obligation to enforce a valid penal law of the United States than it has to enforce a penal law of another state or a foreign country. Such a broad assumption flies in the face of the fact that the States of the Union constitute a nation. It disregards the purpose and effect of Article VI, § 2 of the Constitution, which provides:

This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof, and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land, and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding.

It cannot be assumed, the supremacy clause considered, that the responsibilities of a state to enforce the laws of a sister state are identical with its responsibilities to enforce federal laws. Such an assumption represents an erroneous evaluation of the statutes of Congress and the prior decisions of this Court in their historic setting. Those decisions establish that state courts do not bear the same relation to the United States that they do to foreign countries. The first Congress that convened after the Constitution was adopted conferred jurisdiction upon the

Page 390

state courts to enforce important federal civil laws,4 and succeeding Congresses conferred on the states jurisdiction over federal crimes and actions for penalties and forfeitures.5

[67 S.Ct. 813] Enforcement of federal laws by state courts did not go unchallenged. Violent public controversies existed throughout the first part of the Nineteenth Century until the 1860's concerning the extent of the constitutional supremacy of the Federal Government. During that period, there were instances in which this Court and state courts broadly questioned the power and duty of state courts to exercise their jurisdiction to enforce United States civil and penal statutes or the power of the Federal Government to require them to do so.6 But, after the fundamental issues over the extent of federal supremacy had been resolved by war, this Court took occasion in 1876 to review the phase of the controversy concerning the relationship of state courts to the Federal Government. Claflin v. Houseman, 93 U.S. 130. The opinion of a unanimous Court in that case was strongly buttressed by historic references and persuasive reasoning. It repudiated

Page 391

the assumption that federal laws can be considered by the states as though they were laws emanating from a foreign sovereign. Its teaching is that the Constitution and the laws passed pursuant to it are the supreme laws of the land, binding alike upon states, courts, and the people, "anything in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the contrary notwithstanding."7 It asserted that the obligation of states to enforce these federal laws is not lessened by reason of the form in which they are cast or the remedy which they provide. And the Court stated that,

If an act of Congress gives a penalty to a party aggrieved, without specifying a remedy for its enforcement, there is no reason why it should not be enforced, if not...

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381 practice notes
  • Indian Child Welfare Act Proceedings
    • United States
    • Federal Register June 14, 2016
    • 14 de Junho de 2016
    ...the ``power of Congress to pass laws enforceable in state courts.'' New York v. United States, 505 U.S. 144, 178 (1992); Testa v. Katt, 330 U.S. 386, 394 (1947); F.E.R.C. v. Mississippi, 456 U.S. 742, 760-61 (1982). The Court also has explained that ``if a power is delegated to Congress in ......
  • 143 B.R. 798 (Bkrtcy.D.R.I. 1992), 92-11258, In re Flynn
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States Bankruptcy Courts First Circuit
    • 7 de Agosto de 1992
    ...court approval, private contractual agreements may not over-ride an express provision of the Federal Bankruptcy Code. See Testa v. Katt, 330 U.S. 386, 67 S.Ct. 810, 91 L.Ed. 967 (1947) (the U.S. Constitution and the laws passed pursuant to it are the supreme laws of the land); In re Ann Arb......
  • 206 B.R. 831 (Bkrtcy.E.D.Va. 1997), 92-11704, In re NVR L.P.
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States Bankruptcy Courts Fourth Circuit
    • 7 de Março de 1997
    ...exercise jurisdiction over a federal claim, Claflin v. Houseman, 93 U.S. 130, 23 L.Ed. 833 (1876), but compels it to do so, Testa v. Katt, 330 U.S. 386, 67 S.Ct. 810, 91 L.Ed. 967 (1947). Moreover, Seminole does not seem to remove from Congress its prerogative to abrogate the common law sov......
  • 116 N.W.2d 350 (Mich. 1962), 63, Scholle v. Hare
    • United States
    • Michigan Supreme Court of Michigan
    • 18 de Julho de 1962
    ...where, as found here, one of its provisions stands in conflict with provisions of a State Constitution? For answer see Testa v. Katt, 330 U.S. 386, 390, 391, 67 S.Ct. 810, 813, 91 L.Ed. 967, wherein Claflin v. Houseman, 93 U.S. 130, 23 L.Ed. 833, 3 was unanimously characterized as follows: ......
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339 cases
  • 143 B.R. 798 (Bkrtcy.D.R.I. 1992), 92-11258, In re Flynn
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States Bankruptcy Courts First Circuit
    • 7 de Agosto de 1992
    ...court approval, private contractual agreements may not over-ride an express provision of the Federal Bankruptcy Code. See Testa v. Katt, 330 U.S. 386, 67 S.Ct. 810, 91 L.Ed. 967 (1947) (the U.S. Constitution and the laws passed pursuant to it are the supreme laws of the land); In re Ann Arb......
  • 206 B.R. 831 (Bkrtcy.E.D.Va. 1997), 92-11704, In re NVR L.P.
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States Bankruptcy Courts Fourth Circuit
    • 7 de Março de 1997
    ...exercise jurisdiction over a federal claim, Claflin v. Houseman, 93 U.S. 130, 23 L.Ed. 833 (1876), but compels it to do so, Testa v. Katt, 330 U.S. 386, 67 S.Ct. 810, 91 L.Ed. 967 (1947). Moreover, Seminole does not seem to remove from Congress its prerogative to abrogate the common law sov......
  • 116 N.W.2d 350 (Mich. 1962), 63, Scholle v. Hare
    • United States
    • Michigan Supreme Court of Michigan
    • 18 de Julho de 1962
    ...where, as found here, one of its provisions stands in conflict with provisions of a State Constitution? For answer see Testa v. Katt, 330 U.S. 386, 390, 391, 67 S.Ct. 810, 813, 91 L.Ed. 967, wherein Claflin v. Houseman, 93 U.S. 130, 23 L.Ed. 833, 3 was unanimously characterized as follows: ......
  • 45 Misc.2d 940, Seaman v. Fedourich
    • United States
    • New York Supreme Court of New York
    • 13 de Abril de 1965
    ...6, § 1) gives us original jurisdiction in the first instance, and we are required to assume jurisdiction in the second (Testa v. Katt, 330 U.S. 386, 67 S.Ct. 810, 91 L.Ed. 967; Wasservogel v. Meyerowitz, 300 N.Y. 125, 89 N.E.2d 712; Claflin v. Houseman, Assignee, 93 U.S. 130, 23 L.Ed. 833; ......
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2 firm's commentaries
  • Maine Regulation of Public Utilities: Second Edition
    • United States
    • JD Supra United States
    • 28 de Junho de 2018
    ...within the scope of congressionally delegated authority, can 1041 Id. at 760 (quotations and citations omitted). 1042 Testa v. Katt, 330 U.S. 386 (1947). 1043 Id. at 394. 1044 47 U.S.C. §§ 151-621 (2012). 1045 Id. § 151. 1046 Id. § 152(b). The Relationship Between State and Federal Utility ......
  • Supreme Court Decision in TCPA Telemarketer Claims
    • United States
    • JD Supra United States
    • 18 de Janeiro de 2012
    ...language, 47 U. S. C. §227(b)(3), there islittle doubt that state courts would be obliged to hear TCPA claims.See Testa v. Katt, 330 U. S. 386, 394 (1947). 14 MIMS v. ARROW FINANCIAL SERVICES, LLC Opinion of the Court by 28 U. S. C. §1331 should hold firm against “mere implication flowing f......
35 books & journal articles
  • The Hague Choice of Court Convention and federal power over state courts.
    • United States
    • Georgetown Journal of International Law Vol. 45 Nbr. 1, September 2013
    • 22 de Setembro de 2013
    ...the Commerce Power, Congress would not need to abide by the limitations like anti-commandeering or Eleventh Amendment immunity. (84.) 330 U.S. 386,393 (1947). (85.) 496 U.S. 356,369 (1990). (86.) Testa, 330 U.S. at 388. (87.) Id. (88.) Id. at 392. (89.) See id. (quoting Mondou v. N.Y., New ......
  • The Alden Trilogy: praise and protest.
    • United States
    • Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy Vol. 23 Nbr. 2, March 2000
    • 22 de Março de 2000
    ...of a federal cause of action.'" (quoting Wilson v. Garcia, 471 U.S. 261, 269 (1985))). (95.) Id. at 369; accord Testa v. Katt, 330 U.S. 386 (1947); Claflin v. Houseman, 93 U.S. 130, 136-37 (96.) See Howlett, 496 U.S. at 371-81; see also McKnett v. St. Louis & S.F. Ry. Co., 292 U.S.......
  • The jurisprudence of union.
    • United States
    • Notre Dame Law Review Vol. 89 Nbr. 3, January - January 2014
    • 1 de Janeiro de 2014
    ...the jurisdictional restriction applies neutrally to exclude claims based on state laws as well."). (22) See, e.g., Testa v. Katt, 330 U.S. 386, 394 (1947); Herb v. Pitcairn, 324 U.S. 117, 123 (1945); McKnett v. St. Louis & S.F. Ry., 292 U.S. 230, 233-34 (1934). (23) Compare Howlett......
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    • Stanford Law Review Vol. 53 Nbr. 5, May 2001
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    ...to me in conversation that just as in Alden v. Maine, 527 U.S. 706 (1999), the Court essentially treated the holding of Testa v. Kart, 330 U.S. 386 (1947) (providing that a state court may not refuse to entertain federal causes of action when it entertains analogous state causes of action),......
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