415 U.S. 189 (1974), 72-1035, Curtis v. Loether

Docket Nº:No. 72-1035
Citation:415 U.S. 189, 94 S.Ct. 1005, 39 L.Ed.2d 260
Party Name:Curtis v. Loether
Case Date:February 20, 1974
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 189

415 U.S. 189 (1974)

94 S.Ct. 1005, 39 L.Ed.2d 260




No. 72-1035

United States Supreme Court

Feb. 20, 1974

Argued December 5, 1973




The Seventh Amendment of the Constitution entitles either party to demand a jury trial in an action for damages in the federal courts under § 812 of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, which authorizes private plaintiffs to bring civil actions to redress violations of the Act's fair housing provisions. Pp. 191-198.

467 F.2d 1110, affirmed.

MARSHALL, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.

MARSHALL, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE MARSHALL delivered the opinion of the Court.

Section 812 of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, 82 Stat. 88, 42 U.S.C. § 3612, authorizes private plaintiffs to bring civil actions to redress violations of Title VIII, the fair housing provisions of the Act, and provides that

[t]he court may grant as relief, as it deems appropriate, any permanent or temporary injunction, temporary restraining order, or other order, and may award to the plaintiff

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actual damages and not more than $1,000 punitive damages, together with court costs and reasonable attorney fees. . . .

The question presented in this case is whether the Civil Rights Act or the Seventh Amendment requires a jury trial upon demand by one of the parties in an action for damages and injunctive relief under this section.

Petitioner, a Negro woman, brought this action under § 812, claiming that respondents, who are white, had refused to rent an apartment to her because of her race, in violation of § 804(a) of the Act, 42 U.S.C. § 3604(a). In her complaint she sought only injunctive relief and punitive damages; a claim for compensatory damages was later added.1 After an evidentiary hearing, the District Court granted preliminary injunctive relief, enjoining the respondents from renting the apartment in question to anyone else pending the trial on the merits. This injunction was dissolved some five months later with the petitioner's consent, after she had finally obtained other housing, and the case went to trial on the issues of actual and punitive damages.

Respondents made a timely demand for jury trial in their answer. The District Court, however, held that

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jury trial was neither authorized by Title VIII nor required by the Seventh Amendment, and denied the jury request. Rogers v. Loether, 312 F.Supp. 1008 (ED Wis.1970). After trial on the merits, the District Judge found that respondents had, in fact, discriminated against petitioner on account of her race. Although he found no actual damages, see n. 1, supra, he awarded $250 in punitive damages, denying petitioner's request for attorney's fees and court costs.

[94 S.Ct. 1007] The Court of Appeals reversed on the jury trial issue. Rogers v. Loether, 467 F.2d 1110 (CA7 1972). After an extended analysis, the court concluded essentially that the Seventh Amendment gave respondents the right to a jury trial in this action, and therefore interpreted the statute to authorize jury trials so as to eliminate any question of its constitutionality. In view of the importance of the jury trial issue in the administration and enforcement of Title VIII and the diversity of views in the lower courts on the question,2 we granted certiorari, 412 U.S. 937 (1973).3 We affirm.

The legislative history on the jury trial question is sparse, and what little is available is ambiguous. There seems to be some indication that supporters of Title VIII were concerned that the possibility of racial prejudice on juries might reduce the effectiveness of civil

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rights.damages actions.4 On the other hand, one bit of testimony during committee hearings indicates an awareness that jury trials would have to be afforded in damages actions under Title VIII.5 Both petitioner and respondents have presented plausible arguments from the wording and construction of § 812. We see no point to giving extended consideration to these arguments, however, for we think it is clear that the Seventh Amendment entitles either party to demand a jury trial in an action for damages in the federal courts under § 812.6

The Seventh Amendment provides that "[i]n suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved."

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Although the thrust of the Amendment was to preserve the right to jury trial as it existed in 1791, it has long been settled that the right extends beyond the common law forms of action recognized at that time. Mr. Justice Story established the basic principle in 1830:

The phrase "common law," found in this clause, is used in contradistinction to equity, and admiralty, and [94 S.Ct. 1008] maritime jurisprudence. . . . By common law, [the Framers of the Amendment] meant . . . not merely suits, which the common law recognized among its old and settled proceedings, but suits in which legal rights were to be ascertained and determined, in contradistinction to those where equitable rights alone were recognized, and equitable remedies were administered. . . . In a just sense, the amendment then may well be construed to embrace all suits which are not of equity and admiralty jurisdiction, whatever might be the peculiar form which they may assume to settle legal rights.

Parsons v. Bedford, 3 Pet. 433, 446-447 (1830) (emphasis in original).

Petitioner nevertheless argues that the Amendment is inapplicable to new causes of action created by congressional enactment. As the Court of Appeals observed, however, we have considered the applicability of the...

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