Lapinski v. Copacino.

Citation131 Conn. 119,38 A.2d 592
CourtSupreme Court of Connecticut
Decision Date21 June 1944


Appeal from Court of Common Pleas, Litchfield County; Bordon, Judge.

Action by Theodore Lapinski, a tenant, against Joseph Copacino, his landlord, under the Emergency Price Control Act of 1942, 50 U.S.C.A.Appendix, § 901 et seq., to recover the penalty provided for an overcharge in rent, tried to the court. From a judgment for plaintiff, defendant appeals.

No error.

John J. Casale, of Torrington, for appellant (defendant).

Fleming James, Jr., of Washington, D. C., and Sidney S. Cassel, of Waterbury (Thomas I. Emerson, David London, and Edward H. Hatton, all of Washington, D. C., and William B. Sleigh, Jr., of Boston, Mass., on the brief), for intervenor-appellee (administrator of Office of Price Administration).

Joseph J. Davis, of Waterbury, for appellee (plaintiff).


MALTBIE, Chief Justice.

The plaintiff, a tenant in a building of the defendant, his landlord, located in Torrington, in the Waterbury defense area, brought this action to the Court of Common Pleas, seeking to recover damages on the ground that the defendant had demanded and received rent from him for several months in an amount in excess of the maximum fixed by the regulations of the federal Office of Price Administration under the provisions of the Emergency Price Control Act of 1942, 56 Stat. at Large, Chap. 26, p. 23, U.S.C. (Sup.1941-1943) Title 50, § 901 et seq., 50 U.S.C.A.Appendix, § 901 et seq. It is not questioned that the premises were within an area in which the provisions of the act applied. Despite the defendant's contention that the act was not enforceable in a state court, the court gave judgment for the plaintiff, and from that judgment the defendant has appealed. He has renewed before us his contention that the act was not enforceable in the Court of Common Pleas, and claims also that the damages awarded were excessive and unconstitutional as amounting to the imposition of an excessive fine. Section 205(e), so far as material to the issues before us, reads as follows: ‘If any person selling a commodity violates a regulation, order, or price schedule prescribing a maximum price or maximum prices, the person who buys such commodity for use or consumption other than in the course of trade or business may bring an action either for $50 or for treble the amount by which the consideration exceeded the applicable maximum price, whichever is the greater, plus reasonable attorney's fees and costs as determined by the court. For the purposes of this section the payment or receipt of rent for defense-area housing accommodations shall be deemed the buying or selling of a commodity, as the case may be. If any person selling a commodity violates a regulation, order, or price schedule prescribing a maximum price or maximum prices, and the buyer is not entitled to bring suit or action under this subsection, the Administrator may bring such action under this subsection on behalf of the United States. Any suit or action under this subsection may be brought in any court of competent jurisdiction, and shall be instituted within one year after delivery is completed or rent is paid.’

The record suggests certain questions as to the jurisdiction of the Court of Common Pleas over the subject matter of the action, and although the defendant does not raise them, we must take cognizance of them before we can go further with the case. Marcil v. A. H. Merriman & Sons, Inc., 115 Conn. 678, 682, 163 A. 411. Section 4(a) of the act makes it unlawful for any person to demand or receive rent in an area to which the act applies in violation of any duly established price regulation or schedule; and § 205(c) provides that United States District Courts shall have jurisdiction of criminal proceedings for violations of § 4 ‘and, concurrently with State and Territorial courts, of all other proceedings under section 205 of this Act.’ It was clearly within the intent of the Congress that state courts should have jurisdiction of actions brought by tenants for a recovery based upon such an overcharge of rent as occurred in this case. See Galveston, H. & S. A. R. Co. v. Wallace, 223 U.S. 481, 490, 32 S.Ct. 205, 56 L.Ed. 516; State of Missouri ex rel. St. Louis, B. & M. R. Co. v. Taylor, 266 U.S. 200, 208, 45 S.Ct. 47, 69 L.Ed. 247, 42 A.L.R. 1232; Grubb v. Public Utilities Commission, 281 U.S. 470, 476, 50 S.Ct. 374, 74 L.Ed. 972; Emerson v. Mary Lincoln Candies, Inc., 173 Misc. 531, 532, 17 N.Y.S.2d 851, affirmed 287 N.Y. 577, 38 N.E.2d 234; Forsyth v. Central Foundry Co., 240 Ala. 277, 281, 198 So. 706; Adair v. Traco Division, 192 Ga. 59, 62, 14 S.E.2d 466. It is true that § 256 of the Judicial Code of the United States, 36 Stat. at Large, p. 1161, 28 U.S.C. § 371, 28 U.S.C.A. § 371, vests in the courts of the United States exclusive jurisdiction ‘of all suits for penalties and forfeitures incurred under the laws of the United States,’ and that the Supreme Court has not readily construed federal statutes as creating exceptions to this provision. United States v. Mooney, 116 U.S. 104, 6 S.Ct. 304, 29 L.Ed. 550; Lees v. United States, 150 U.S. 476, 14 S.Ct. 163, 37 L.Ed. 1150. In the case last cited, however, it is recognized that special statutory provisions may create exceptions to the general rule. We need not inquire whether the action before us is one for a penalty or forfeiture within the scope of § 256, because, if is were, the explicit terms of the provision of § 205(e), that any action under it might be brought in any court of competent jurisdiction, would create an exception. Our Court of Common Pleas has exclusive jurisdiction of civil actions for legal relief wherein the matter in demand shall exceed $100 and shall not exceed $2500. General Statutes, Sup.1941, § 808f. The defendant has not claimed, and could not well claim, that, as far as Congressional action is concerned, the Court of Common Pleas could not rightly entertain this action.

The defendant invokes the principle that one independent sovereignty will not lend its courts to the enforcement of the provisions in the statutes of another sovereignty which are strictly penal, a principle which applies as between different states. Cristilly v. Warner, 87 Conn. 461, 463, 88 A. 711, 51 L.R.A.,N.S., 415; 3 Beale, Conflict of Laws, p. 1639. It can well be maintained that it is no proper function of the judicial machinery of one state to lend itself to the enforcement of the strictly penal provisions of the statutes of another state. In fact, serious administrative difficulties would be presented should the attempt be made. Where the nature of the statute is such that it may be invoked by an individual for his personal gain, the situation presented is somewhat different. In this state we take a broad view of the extent to which our courts should go in the enforcement of individual rights arising under the statutes of another state. Daury v. Ferraro, 108 Conn. 386, 143 A. 630, 62 A.L.R. 1323; Reily v. Antonio Pepe Co., 108 Conn. 436, 445, 143 A. 568; Broderick v. McGuire, 119 Conn. 83, 93, 174 A. 314, 94 A.L.R. 890. Where the immediate redress to be afforded is to the individual, many of the reasons which stand in the way of enforcing strictly penal statutes are inapplicable.

In discussing the somewhat similar conclusion reached in a number of jurisdictions that the courts of one soverignty will not enforce the revenue laws of another, Professor Beale (op. cit., p. 1637), noting that the reasons why one state will not enforce penal statutes of another are rarely stated, quotes from the concurring opinion of Judge Learned Hand in Moore v. Mitchell, 2 Cir., 30 F.2d 600, 604, affirmed on another ground 281 U.S. 18, 50 S.Ct. 175, 74 L.Ed. 673. In that case the treasurer of Indiana sought to recover money claimed to be due that state as taxes on property which the owner, since deceased, had neglected to return for assessment, but the action was dismissed. Judge Hand said: ‘While the origin of the exception in the case of penal liabilities does not appear in the books, a sound basis for it exists, in my judgment, which includes liabilities for taxes as well. Even in the case of ordinary municipal liabilities, a court will not recognize those arising in a foreign state, if they run counter to the ‘settled public policy’ of its own. Thus a scrutiny of the liability is necessarily always in reserve, and the possibility that it will be found not to accord with the policy of the domestic state. This is not a troublesome or delicate inquiry when the question arises between private persons, but it takes on quite another face when it concerns the relations between the foreign state and its own citizens or even those who may be temporarily within its borders. To pass upon the provisions for the public order of another state is, or at any rate should be, beyond the powers of a court; it involves the relations between the states themselves, with which courts are incompetent to deal, and which are intrusted to other authorities. It may commit the domestic state to a position which would seriously embarrass its neighbor. Revenue laws fall within the same reasoning; they affect a state in matters as vital to its existence as its criminal laws. No court ought to undertake an inquiry which it cannot prosecute without determining whether those laws are consonant with its own notions of what is proper.'

In Claflin v. Houseman, 93 U.S. 130, 23 L.Ed. 833, wherein the right of an assignee in bankruptcy to sue in a state court to recover assets of the bankrupt was upheld, the court said (93 U.S. at page 136, 23 L.Ed. 833): ‘The laws of the United States are laws in the several States, and just as much binding on the citizens and courts thereof as the State laws are. The United States is not a foreign sovereignty as regards the several States, but...

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  • Schaffer v. Leimberg
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts
    • June 21, 1945
    ......Miller v. Municipal Court of the City of Los Angeles, 22 Cal.2d 818, 142 P.2d 297;Lapinski v. Copacino, 131 Conn. 119, 38 A.2d 592;Lambros v. Brown, Md., 41 A.2d 78;Beasley v. Gottlieb, 131 N.J.L. 117, 35 A.2d 49; Compare Bowles v. Farmers ......
  • Bowles v. Barde Steel Co.
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    ......607, 19 N.W. 2d 62. See also Egling v. Lombardo, 181 Misc. 108, 43 N.Y.S. 2d 358; Schaffer v. Leimberg, Mass., 62 N.E. 2d 193; Lapinski v. Copacino, 131 Conn. 119, 38 Atl.2d 592; Ordway v. Central National Bank, 47 Md. 217, 28 Am. Rep. 455; Cooke v. State National Bank of Boston, ......
  • Sullins v. Rodriguez
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    ......Rose, supra, at 375, 110 S.Ct. 2430. .         We have embraced these principles in our decisions as well. As we said in Lapinski v. Copacino, 131 Conn. 119, 128, 38 A.2d 592 (1944), a federal statute, "though of federal origin, is just as much the law of this state as a ......
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    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts
    • June 21, 1945
    ...... overcharged. Miller v. Municipal Court of the City of Los. Angeles, 22 Cal. (2d) 818. Lapinski v. Copacino, 131. Conn. 119. Lambros v. Brown, ---- Md. ----. [1] Beasley v. Gottlieb, 131 N. J. L. 117. Compare Bowles v. Farmers. National Bank, ......
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