Amos v. Prom, Civ. No. 571.

CourtUnited States District Courts. 8th Circuit. Northern District of Iowa
Citation115 F. Supp. 127
Decision Date30 September 1953
PartiesAMOS v. PROM, Inc.
Docket NumberCiv. No. 571.

115 F. Supp. 127

AMOS
v.
PROM, Inc.

Civ. No. 571.

United States District Court, N. D. Iowa, Central Division.

September 30, 1953.


115 F. Supp. 128
COPYRIGHT MATERIAL OMITTED
115 F. Supp. 129
George D. Dunn (of Dunn & Dunn), Mason City, Iowa, and William Pappas, Mason City, Iowa, for plaintiff

Thomas B. Roberts and Frederic M. Miller (of Brody, Parker, Miller, Roberts & Thoma), Des Moines, Iowa, and Edward R. Boyle (of Boyle & Schuler), Clear Lake, Iowa, for defendant.

115 F. Supp. 130

GRAVEN, District Judge.

The plaintiff is a citizen and a resident of the State of Iowa. The defendant is a corporation organized under the laws of the State of Delaware. It is engaged in the operation of a public ballroom at Clear Lake, Cerro Gordo County, Iowa, known as the Surf. The plaintiff, a Negro, alleges in her complaint that on December 8, 1951, the defendant refused to admit her to its ballroom and that such refusal constituted a violation of the Iowa Civil Rights Statute, Section 735.1, Code of Iowa 1950, I.C.A. The plaintiff asks $3,000 compensatory damages and $7,000 exemplary damages because of such refusal. The plaintiff's claim is based upon the Iowa statute referred to and not on any federal statute or the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. The defendant has moved to dismiss the action on the ground that under the Iowa law it would be legally impossible for the plaintiff to recover damages in an amount exceeding $3,000, the jurisdictional amount required by Section 1332 of Title 28 of the United States Code, 28 U.S.C.A. § 1332. The motion requires consideration of the Iowa Civil Rights Statute and the Iowa rules of law relating to compensatory and exemplary damages.

The Iowa Civil Rights Statute referred to provides: "All persons within this state shall be entitled to the full and equal enjoyment of the accommodations, advantages, facilities, and privileges of inns, restaurants, chophouses, eating houses, lunch counters, and all other places where refreshments are served, public conveyances, barber shops, bathhouses, theaters, and all other places of amusement." The judicial history of this statute is discussed by Goostree, The Iowa Civil Rights Statute: A Problem of Enforcement, 37 Iowa Law Review 242 (1952). The statute was originally enacted in 1884. It has been before the Iowa Supreme Court in only four cases. The Iowa Court first considered the statute in the case of State v. Hall, 1887, 72 Iowa 525, 34 N.W. 315. In that case the question before the Court was the sufficiency of an indictment charging the defendant with having violated the provisions of the statute by refusing to render barber service to a Negro. The Court held the indictment insufficient in failing to allege that there were no good reasons applicable for all alike for refusal of service at the defendant's barber shop. In the case of Humburd v. Crawford, 1905, 128 Iowa 743, 105 N.W. 330, the plaintiff sought damages for a violation of the statute. The Iowa Court regarded the statute as remedial in character and sustained an award of damages against an innkeeper who refused to serve the plaintiff because of his color. In Brown v. J. H. Bell Co., 1910, 146 Iowa 89, 123 N.W. 231, 124 N.W. 901, 27 L.R.A.,N.S., 407, the Iowa Court again treated the statute as being remedial in character but held a booth at which free samples were distributed as an independently operated part of an exhibition did not come within the provisions of the statute. In State v. Katz, 1949, 241 Iowa 115, 40 N.W.2d 41, the Iowa Court affirmed the conviction of the owner of a drug store which had discriminatorily denied service to Negroes. In that case the Court held that the general provisions of the statute covered establishments which were not specifically named therein. Following the Sergeant Rice burial case, the Iowa Legislature in 1953 enacted Chapter 84, Acts of 55th General Assembly, I.C.A. § 566A.1 et seq., which makes unlawful any discrimination on account of race or color by any privately owned cemetery, except those of religious or fraternal organizations. As to the Sergeant Rice case, see Rice v. Sioux City Memorial Park Cemetery, D.C.Iowa 1952, 102 F.Supp. 658; Rice v. Sioux City Memorial Park Cemetery, Iowa 60 N.W.2d 110.

The defendant's motion to dismiss is based upon the claim that under the rules of Iowa law relating to compensatory and exemplary damages it would be legally impossible for the plaintiff to recover damages in excess of $3,000.

115 F. Supp. 131
In the case of Thompson v. Mutual Benefit, Health and Accident Ass'n of Omaha, Nebraska, D.C.1949, 83 F.Supp. 656, where both compensatory and exemplary damages were claimed, this Court held that under the applicable Iowa law it would be legally impossible for the plaintiff to recover in excess of $3,000 and remanded the case to the state court from which it had been removed. It is well settled that such impossibility must, however, appear to a legal certainty. Bell v. Preferred Life Assurance Society, 1943, 320 U.S. 238, 64 S.Ct. 5, 88 L.Ed. 15; Wyoming Ry. Co. v. Herrington, 10 Cir., 1947, 163 F.2d 1004; 1 Cyclopedia of Federal Procedure, 3d Ed., Sec. 2.186. And in tort actions where the amount is unliquidated the amount which plaintiff seeks as damages will generally be accepted as the amount in controversy. 1 Cyclopedia of Federal Procedure, 3d Ed., Sec. 2.196. Exemplary damages in a complaint may be included in computing the amount necessary for federal court jurisdiction. Bell v. Preferred Life Assurance Society, supra; Young v. Main, 8 Cir., 1934, 72 F.2d 640. Plaintiff's complaint here asks for compensatory and exemplary damages in the aggregate of $10,000 and therefore may be dismissed for lack of jurisdictional amount only if it appears certain that under Iowa law an award of damages in excess of $3,000 would not be permitted to stand

Plaintiff claims compensatory damages in the amount of $3,000, which is insufficient by itself to confer jurisdiction on this Court, for Sec. 1332 of Title 28 of the United States Code requires an amount in excess of $3,000. Rule 15(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, 28 U.S.C.A., permits plaintiff to amend her complaint before the service of a responsive pleading, and a motion to dismiss is not a "responsive pleading" within the meaning of the rule. Ohio Casualty Ins. Co. v. Farmers Bank of Clay, Ky., 6 Cir., 1949, 178 F.2d 570. See 6 Cyclopedia of Federal Procedure, 3d Ed., Sec. 18.03. The plaintiff has indicated no desire to amend. However, an amendment by the plaintiff increasing her claim for compensatory damages would not render the defendant's motion moot, for the defendant claims that under the Iowa law it would be legally impossible for the plaintiff to recover by way of compensatory damages, or exemplary damages, or both, an amount in excess of $3,000.

Plaintiff's allegations must, of course, be taken as true when ruling on a motion to dismiss solely on the ground of lack of jurisdictional amount. Gibbs v. Buck, 1938, 307 U.S. 66, 59 S.Ct. 725, 83 L.Ed. 1111. The allegations state that plaintiff was intentionally and maliciously refused admission to defendant's ballroom solely because she is a Negro; that such refusal was wrongful in that it violated the Iowa Civil Rights Statute, Sec. 735.1, I.C.A.; and, that the plaintiff suffered great emotional distress as a result of this refusal.

In Iowa exemplary damages ordinarily cannot be awarded unless there is a basis for compensatory damages, and the amount of the exemplary damages must be reasonably proportionate to the compensatory damages awarded. Crum v. Walker, 1950, 241 Iowa 1173, 44 N.W. 2d 701; Shannon v. Gaar, 1944, 234 Iowa 1360, 15 N.W.2d 257; Kinney v. Cady, 1942, 232 Iowa 403, 4 N.W.2d 225; Gregory v. Sorenson, 1932, 214 Iowa 1374, 242 N.W. 91; Clark Bros. v. Anderson & Perry, 1931, 211 Iowa 920, 234 N.W. 844; Roggensack v. Winona Monument Co., 1930, 211 Iowa 1307, 233 N.W. 493; Morrow v. Scoville, 1928, 206 Iowa 1134, 221 N.W. 802; Jones v. Van Donselaar, 1925, 200 Iowa 176, 204 N.W. 416; Taylor v. Williamson, 1924, 197 Iowa 88, 196 N.W. 713, there is no mathematical ratio and exemplary damages may considerably exceed compensatory damages in some cases; Brause v. Brause, 1920, 190 Iowa 329, 177 N.W. 65; Stricklen v. Pearson Const. Co., 1918, 185 Iowa 95, 169 N.W. 628; Wildeboar v. Petersen, 1918, 182 Iowa 1185, 166 N.W. 464, reversed where $5,000 exemplary damages and $150 compensatory damages; Soesbe v. Lines, 1917, 180

115 F. Supp. 132
Iowa 943, 164 N.W. 129, 25:1 ratio excessive; Waltham Piano Co. v. Freeman, 1913, 159 Iowa 567, 141 N.W. 403; Welsh v. Haleen, 1912, 157 Iowa 647, 138 N.W. 502; International Harvester Co. v. Iowa Hardware Co., 1909, 146 Iowa 172, 122 N.W. 951, 29 L.R.A.,N.S., 272, $500 exemplary damages and $300 attorney's fee permitted where only $40 compensatory damages; Ahrens v. Fenton, 1908, 138 Iowa 559, 115 N.W. 233; Connelly v. White, 1904, 122 Iowa 391, 98 N.W. 144; Hooker v. Chittenden, 1898, 106 Iowa 321, 76 N.W. 706; Boardman v. Marshalltown Groc. Co., 1898, 105 Iowa 445, 75 N.W. 343; Union Mill Co. v. Prenzler, 1897, 100 Iowa 540, 69 N.W. 876, $5,000 exemplary damages permitted where compensatory damages totaled $770.06; Davis v. Seeley, 1894, 91 Iowa 583, 60 N.W. 183; Schwartz v. Davis, 1894, 90 Iowa 324, 57 N.W. 849; Kuhn v. Chicago, M. & St. P. R. Co., 1888, 74 Iowa 137, 37 N.W. 116; Saunders v. Mullen, 1885, 66 Iowa 728, 24 N. W. 529, reversed where $650 exemplary damages and $50 compensatory damages; Sadler v. Bean, 1874, 38 Iowa 684, reversed where exemplary damages were five times compensatory damages. See 17 Iowa L.Rev. 413. But see Lane v. Mitchell, 1911, 153 Iowa 139, 133 N.W. 381, 36 L.R.A.,N.S., 968

An award of only nominal damages will not support an award of exemplary damages. Roggensack v. Winona Monument Co., supra; Morrow v. Scoville, supra; Stricklen v. Pearson Const. Co., supra;...

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38 practice notes
  • Sheely v. Mri Radiology Network, P.A., No. 06-13791.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (11th Circuit)
    • October 24, 2007
    ...is an element of actual or compensatory, as distinguished from exemplary or punitive, damages." (citing, inter alia, Amos v. Prom, Inc., 115 F.Supp. 127, 131, 132 (N.D.Iowa 1953) (holding, in case where plaintiff alleged she was "intentionally and maliciously refused admission to defendant'......
  • Stockdale v. Agrico Chemical Co., Div. of Con. Oil Co., Civ. No. 69-C-2010-C.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 8th Circuit. Northern District of Iowa
    • March 21, 1972
    ...are only permissible in cases of fraud, malice, gross negligence, oppression or an illegal 340 F. Supp. 262 act. In Amos v. Prom, 115 F.Supp. 127 (1953), Judge Graven meticulously summarized the Iowa law as follows: "Exemplary damages may be awarded where it appears that the defendant is gu......
  • Williams v. Yazoo Valley-Minter City Oil Mill, Inc., No. GC 76-77-S.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. Northern District of Mississippi
    • November 22, 1978
    ...doer, and therefore may not be exacted against persons who have not participated in the wrong, 25 C.J.S. Damages § 125(1); Amos v. Prom, 115 F.Supp. 127, 134 (N.D.Iowa 1953) (decision under Iowa Civil Rights Act). An award of punitive damages against the current ownership (a majority of who......
  • Basista v. Weir, No. 14816.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (3rd Circuit)
    • January 8, 1965
    ...in New York, Underwriters' Laboratories, Inc. v. Smith, 41 Misc.2d 756, 246 N.Y.S.2d 436 (1964), but not in Iowa, Amos v. Prom, Inc., 115 F.Supp. 127 (D.C.Iowa Since the statutory authority upon which the actions are based are not the same, it is not important that state courts may also hav......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
38 cases
  • Sheely v. Mri Radiology Network, P.A., No. 06-13791.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (11th Circuit)
    • October 24, 2007
    ...is an element of actual or compensatory, as distinguished from exemplary or punitive, damages." (citing, inter alia, Amos v. Prom, Inc., 115 F.Supp. 127, 131, 132 (N.D.Iowa 1953) (holding, in case where plaintiff alleged she was "intentionally and maliciously refused admission to defendant'......
  • Stockdale v. Agrico Chemical Co., Div. of Con. Oil Co., Civ. No. 69-C-2010-C.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 8th Circuit. Northern District of Iowa
    • March 21, 1972
    ...are only permissible in cases of fraud, malice, gross negligence, oppression or an illegal 340 F. Supp. 262 act. In Amos v. Prom, 115 F.Supp. 127 (1953), Judge Graven meticulously summarized the Iowa law as follows: "Exemplary damages may be awarded where it appears that the defendant is gu......
  • Williams v. Yazoo Valley-Minter City Oil Mill, Inc., No. GC 76-77-S.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. Northern District of Mississippi
    • November 22, 1978
    ...doer, and therefore may not be exacted against persons who have not participated in the wrong, 25 C.J.S. Damages § 125(1); Amos v. Prom, 115 F.Supp. 127, 134 (N.D.Iowa 1953) (decision under Iowa Civil Rights Act). An award of punitive damages against the current ownership (a majority of who......
  • Basista v. Weir, No. 14816.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (3rd Circuit)
    • January 8, 1965
    ...in New York, Underwriters' Laboratories, Inc. v. Smith, 41 Misc.2d 756, 246 N.Y.S.2d 436 (1964), but not in Iowa, Amos v. Prom, Inc., 115 F.Supp. 127 (D.C.Iowa Since the statutory authority upon which the actions are based are not the same, it is not important that state courts may also hav......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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