Searching over 5,500,000 cases.

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Official citation and/or docket number and footnotes (if any) for this case available with purchase.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Rogers v. Loether


decided: September 29, 1972.


Swygert, Chief Judge, Stevens, Circuit Judge, and Campbell, District Judge.*fn*

Author: Stevens

STEVENS, Circuit Judge.

The question presented is whether appellant was entitled to a jury trial in an action for compensatory and punitive damages brought under § 812 of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, 42 U.S.C. § 3612.*fn1

In her complaint, plaintiff alleged that the three defendants had refused to rent her an apartment because of her race.*fn2 She requested injunctive relief restraining defendants from renting the apartment to anyone else, money damages for her actual losses, punitive damages of $1,000, and attorney's fees.

The district court, after an extended hearing, entered a preliminary injunction. Subsequently, with plaintiff's consent, the injunction was dissolved; thereafter only plaintiff's claims for compensatory and punitive damages and attorney's fees remained. Defendants' request for a jury trial of those issues was denied, D.C., 312 F. Supp. 1008. After trial, the court found that plaintiff had suffered no actual damages but assessed punitive damages of $250; the prayer for attorney's fees was denied.

On appeal defendants contend that the finding of discrimination is clearly erroneous, that it was error to award punitive damages, and that they were entitled to a jury trial. We shall not describe the evidence of discrimination except to note that it was marginal; whichever way the trial judge had ruled, his determination of that issue would not have been clearly erroneous.*fn3 We are also satisfied that if his finding of discrimination is accepted, an award of punitive damages was authorized by the statute notwithstanding the absence of any actual loss to the plaintiff.*fn4 We shall confine our analysis to the jury trial issue.

The district court held that a jury trial was not required by the Seventh Amendment*fn5 or by a fair interpretation of the statute.*fn6

The court rejected the constitutional claim on the grounds (1) that the cause of action was created by statute and not recognized at common law; and (2) that the statutory claim invoked the equitable powers of the court and the amendment has no application to the recovery of money damages as an incident to complete equitable relief. Both propositions are supported by N.L.R.B. v. Jones & Laughlin Steel Corp., 301 U.S. 1, 48-49, 57 S. Ct. 615, 81 L. Ed. 893.*fn7

The district court also considered the award of damages in a housing discrimination case arising under the 1968 Act analogous to an award of back pay in an employment discrimination case under the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and therefore relied on cases holding that there is no right to a jury trial in such litigation.*fn8 In its opinion the district court placed no reliance on the argument, sometimes advanced by proponents of civil rights legislation, that allowance of a jury trial might undermine effective enforcement of the statute.*fn9

Our study of the issue persuades us that (1) the constitutional right to trial by jury applies in at least some judicial proceedings to enforce rights created by statute; (2) this action for damages is "in the nature of a suit at common law";*fn10 (3) the nature of the claim is "legal" within the test identified in Ross v. Bernhard, 396 U.S. 531, 538, 90 S. Ct. 733, 24 L. Ed. 2d 729; (4) the right to a jury trial may not be denied on the ground that the damage claim is incidental to a claim for equitable relief; (5) cases involving an award of back pay pursuant to the 1964 Act are inapplicable; and finally (6) in view of our grave doubts as to the constitutionality of a denial of the right to a jury trial and the failure of Congress expressly to indicate that the traditional procedure for litigating damage claims should not be followed, the statute should be construed to authorize trial by jury. Accordingly, we have decided to reverse.


The Seventh Amendment preserves the substance of the right to a jury trial which existed under English common law when the amendment was adopted.*fn11 It has never been suggested that the application of the amendment is narrowly confined to such common law writs as might be enforceable in a federal court. On the contrary, since the bulk of the civil litigation in the federal judicial system involves the assertion of a federal right derived either from an act of Congress or the Constitution itself, necessarily the principal significance of the Seventh Amendment has been in such cases.*fn12 It is perfectly clear that the fact that a litigant is asserting a statutory right does not deprive him or his adversary of the protection of the amendment.

In Parsons v. Bedford, 28 U.S. (3 Pet.) 433, 7 L. Ed. 732, Mr. Justice Story, writing for the Court, rejected the contention expressed by Mr. Justice M'Lean in dissent that the amendment was inapplicable because the claim arose not under the common law but rather under the statutes of Louisiana.*fn13 Mr. Justice Story focused on the character of the claim as a "legal right" and eloquently described the purpose of the amendment:

"The trial by jury is justly dear to the American people. It has always been an object of deep interest and solicitude, and every encroachment upon it has been watched with great jealousy. The right to such a trial is, it is believed, incorporated into, and secured in every state constitution in the union; and it is found in the constitution of Louisiana. One of the strongest objections originally taken against the constitution of the United States, was the want of an express provision securing the right of trial by jury in civil cases. As soon as the constitution was adopted, this right was secured by the seventh amendment of the constitution proposed by Congress; and which received an assent of the people so general, as to establish its importance as a fundamental guarantee of the rights and liberties of the people. This amendment declares, that 'In suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved; and no fact once tried by a jury shall be otherwise re-examinable in any Court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.' At this time there were no states in the union, the basis of whose jurisprudence was not essentially that of the common law in its widest meaning; and probably no states were contemplated, in which it would not exist. The phrase 'common law,' found in this clause, is used in contradistinction to equity, and admiralty, and maritime jurisprudence. . . . By common law, they meant what the constitution denominated in the third article 'law;' 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; or where, as in the admiralty, a mixture of public law, and of maritime law and equity was often found in the same suit. Probably there were few, if any, states in the union, in which some new legal remedies differing from the old common law forms were not in use; but in which, however, the trial by jury intervened, and the general regulations in other respects were according to the course of the common law. Proceedings in cases of partition, and of foreign and domestic attachment, might be cited as examples variously adopted and modified. In a just sense, the amendment then may well be construed to embrace all suits, which are not of equity and admiralty jurisdiction, whatever may be the peculiar form which they may assume to settle legal rights." 28 U.S. at 445-446, 7 L. Ed. 732.

In an unbroken line of cases involving enforcement of statutory rights, the Supreme Court has treated the right to a jury trial as a matter too obvious to be doubted. Thus, in a civil action to recover a statutory penalty for a violation of the immigration laws, the first Mr. Justice Harlan, speaking for the Court, said that the "defendant was, of course, entitled to have a jury summoned in this case." Hepner v. United States, 213 U.S. 103, 115, 29 S. Ct. 474, 479, 53 L. Ed. 720. In an action for treble damages under § 7 of the Sherman Act, Mr. Justice Holmes, also speaking for a unanimous Court, considered it plain that "the statute should not be read as attempting to authorize liability to be enforced otherwise than through the verdict of a jury in a court of common law." Fleitmann v. Welsbach Street Lighting Co., 240 U.S. 27, 29, 36 S. Ct. 233, 234, 60 L. Ed. 505. In a case alleging violation of the Safety Appliance Act of 1910, which did not expressly authorize a private remedy, the Court found an implied right to recover damages in a jury trial "according to a doctrine of the common law." Texas & Pacific Ry. v. Rigsby, 241 U.S. 33, 39, 36 S. Ct. 482, 484, 60 L. Ed. 874. In a case involving an ambiguous claim for damages, either as an amount due under a contract or as a statutory claim for damages for trademark infringement, the Court held that the claim was "wholly legal in its nature however the complaint is construed" and that the "constitutional right to trial by jury" was applicable to the claim. Dairy Queen, Inc. v. Wood, 369 U.S. 469, 477, 82 S. Ct. 894, 899, 8 L. Ed. 2d 44. And in an action brought under § 4 of the Clayton Act, the Court has expressly characterized the right to a jury trial as "constitutional." Beacon Theatres, Inc. v. Westover, 359 U.S. 500, 510, 79 S. Ct. 948, 3 L. Ed. 2d 988.*fn14

N.L.R.B. v. Jones & Laughlin Steel Corp., 301 U.S. 1, 48-49, 57 S. Ct. 615, 81 L. Ed. 893, does not hold -- as is sometimes assumed -- that no jury trial is required in a cause of action created by statute since any such action would have been unknown to the common law and therefore beyond the reach of the Seventh Amendment. The Jones & Laughlin opinion expressly recognizes that the amendment is applicable not only to a suit at common law, but also to a judicial proceeding "in the nature of such a suit." The distinction drawn in the opinion is not between substantive rights derived from the common law as opposed to those created by statute; it is the difference between a proceeding "in the nature of a suit at common law" and a "statutory proceeding."*fn15

The Court's reference to a "statutory proceeding" rather than to a judicial proceeding brought to redress a right created by statute is important. Cases such as Parsons v. Bedford and Fleitmann v. Welsbach Street Lighting Co. were such judicial proceedings, and their teaching is not undermined in the slightest by the Jones & Laughlin holding. The procedure approved by Jones & Laughlin was, of course, fundamentally different from a common law trial. It was administrative rather than judicial and did not invoke the original jurisdiction of a court in determining factual issues or fashioning a remedy. The initial case was not "tried" in a court of law or equity; it was "tried" in a separate proceeding created by statute.*fn16

Here there is no statutory proceeding. The statute authorizes a "civil action" in the courts of the United States. The rights protected and the relief available are set forth in the statute, but the proceeding is not statutory in the Jones & Laughlin or Guthrie*fn17 sense.*fn18 The issue we must consider, therefore, is whether an action for damages authorized by the Civil Rights Act of 1968 is, in the language of Jones & Laughlin, "in the nature of a suit at common law."


There are three reasons why this action is the kind of case which is appropriately described as in the nature of a suit at common law.

First, the tribunal whose jurisdiction is invoked is a court created pursuant to Article III of the Constitution. Unquestionably, congressional power to prescribe the procedures to be employed in such a court is limited by the Constitution and specifically by the Seventh Amendment.*fn19 The proceeding is judicial in character rather than administrative or "statutory." In all respects -- at least all except the right to a jury trial if our appraisal of that right is not correct -- it is clear that the procedure to be followed in this case is precisely that which is applicable to suits at common law which are tried in the federal judicial system.

Second, the remedy sought, including both compensatory and punitive damages, is the relief most typical of an action at law. If, as the scholars have consistently indicated, we should look to history for guidance in determining whether or not a claim is of the kind which is triable to a jury,*fn20 unquestionably the prayer for damages points to that result.*fn21

Finally, the nature of the substantive right asserted, although not specifically recognized at common law, is analogous to common law rights. An English innkeeper who refused, without justification, to rent lodgings to a traveler was apparently liable in an action at law triable to a jury.*fn22 Refusing to rent an apartment on the false ground that an applicant is an unfit tenant, when race is the real motivation, is a species of defamation; libel and slander, of course, are common law causes of action. Discrimination might involve mental distress or other emotional harm, and the developing common law of torts recognizes a cause of action for the intentional infliction of emotional harm.*fn23

We therefore conclude that a suit for damages for discrimination in the sale or rental of housing facilities is sufficiently analogous to a suit at common law to be appropriately characterized as a "legal" claim triable to a jury.


Although the full implications of the Supreme Court's decision in Ross v. Bernhard, 396 U.S. 531, 90 S. Ct. 733, 24 L. Ed. 2d 729 have yet to be determined, it is clear that mere analogy to history may not be sufficient to define the scope of the Seventh Amendment. In that case the constitutional right to a jury trial was held to encompass at least some claims in litigation which historically had been the exclusive province of equity. That was a derivative action brought by a shareholder in the name of a corporation. The shareholder's standing to litigate was governed by equitable principles; the corporate claim which he asserted was, at least in part, legal.*fn24

History was unquestionably relevant to the Court's analysis of the question whether a jury trial was required in such a case. But, following the lead set in Beacon and Dairy Queen, the traditional treatment of the entire litigation was subordinated to the traditional characterization of particular claims. Thus, the Court had "no doubt" that a claim for money damages predicated on breach of contract or gross negligence was legal in character.

This conclusion did not rest, as it might, simply on the fact that such a claim was enforceable at common law in England in 1791. Instead, the Court identified history as only one of three criteria that should be considered in determining the "legal" nature of an issue. The other two were: "second, the remedy sought; and, third, the practical abilities and limitations of juries."*fn25 Indeed, not only did the Court identify these two additional criteria; it also implied, without expressly stating, that history may be a less reliable guide than the other two.*fn26 We have already concluded that under an historical analysis a jury trial is required in the present case; we proceed to consider the other two criteria.

Under the second and third criteria identified in Ross v. Bernhard, the civil rights claim asserted in this case was certainly appropriate for determination by a jury. The relief sought was actual damages and punitive damages. Both the determination of the amount which would adequately compensate a litigant for an unliquidated claim and the punitive element of the award are appropriate for jury determination. As we have already discussed, juries historically have been required where the remedy sought was damages, either compensatory or punitive.

The "practical abilities and limitations of juries" obviously present no obstacle to their determination of the issues presented in these civil rights cases. Typically, the facts are not complex and decision turns on appraisals of credibility and motive. Certainly such matters are far more suitable for jury determination than complicated commercial issues that routinely arise in derivative and antitrust litigation. Thus, the third as well as the second criterion identified in Ross v. Bernhard strongly militates in favor of recognition of the right to a jury trial in a case of this kind.

History indicates that a jury trial is required. And if the Supreme Court adheres to its identification of two additional criteria in Ross v. Bernhard, both the damage relief sought and the character of the issue to be tried compel the conclusion that the litigants are entitled to a jury.


The Jones & Laughlin holding that the Seventh Amendment is inapplicable to an N.L.R.B. proceeding terminating in the entry of an order directing reinstatement and awarding back pay was supported not only by the Court's characterization of the proceeding as statutory, but also by reference to chancery practice in which damages could be awarded as an element of complete equitable relief.*fn27 In this case the district court also regarded the relief authorized by the 1968 Act as primarily equitable and considered it appropriate to award damages as incident to such relief.

As the case developed, the defendant's right to demand a jury was not determined until after plaintiff's claim for equitable relief had been abandoned. Nevertheless, we share the district court's view that the right to a jury trial in this kind of case may properly be tested by the character of the relief requested in plaintiff's complaint. Our decision is not predicated on the special circumstance that only the damage claims remained when defendant's demand for a jury was denied.

At common law, a court of equity, in a proceeding properly before it, would hear and determine any legal issues incidental to the equitable issues and award any legal relief which might be incidental to equitable relief.*fn28 Multiplicity of suits could thus be avoided. And if equitable relief were no longer appropriate, the chancellor might nevertheless award damages or, in his discretion, permit the complaint to be amended to state only a legal claim which would then be triable to a jury.*fn29

Today, however, legal and equitable issues can both be raised in one "civil action" under the Federal Rules. Thus, the avoidance of a multiplicity of suits and the desire to afford a complete remedy in one proceeding are no longer justifications for the "incidental" power of an equity court to award money damages. The right of the court, without a jury, to award "incidental" legal relief was nevertheless thought secure under the Federal Rules until the Supreme Court indicated differently in Beacon Theatres, Inc. v. Westover, 359 U.S. 500, 79 S. Ct. 948, 3 L. Ed. 2d 988, and Dairy Queen, Inc. v. Wood, 369 U.S. 469, 82 S. Ct. 894, 8 L. Ed. 2d 44.

In Beacon, the Court upheld the petitioner's right to a jury trial of his counterclaim for treble damages under the antitrust laws which he had asserted in response to a complaint seeking, in part, equitable relief. In Dairy Queen, plaintiff sought injunctive relief against use of a trademark and an accounting to determine the amount due under a contract deemed breached. The district court held that the proceeding was either "purely equitable" or that any legal issues were "incidental" to the equitable issues. Mr. Justice Black, speaking for the Court, disposed of the "incidental" issue quite bluntly: "No such rule may be applied in the federal courts."*fn30 Referring to Beacon, he wrote:

"The holding in Beacon Theatres was that where both legal and equitable issues are presented in a single case, 'only under the most imperative circumstances, circumstances which in view of the flexible procedures of the Federal Rules we cannot now anticipate, can the right to a jury trial of legal issues be lost through prior determination of equitable claims.' That holding, of course, applies whether the trial judge chooses to characterize the legal issues presented as 'incidental' to equitable issues or not. Consequently, in a case such as this where there cannot even be a contention of such 'imperative circumstances,' Beacon Theatres requires that any legal issues for which a trial by jury is timely and properly demanded be submitted to a jury. There being no question of the timeliness or correctness of the demand involved here, the sole question which we must decide is whether the action now pending before the District Court contains legal issues."*fn31

It would appear that Beacon and Dairy Queen have mandated that once any claim for money damages is made, the legal issue -- whether defendant breached a duty owed plaintiff for which defendant is liable in damages -- must be tried to a jury whether or not there exists an equitable claim to which the damage claim might once have been considered "incidental."*fn32 We therefore conclude that the right to a jury trial of a claim for damages under the Civil Rights Act of 1968 may not be denied on the ground that such damages are merely incidental to the prayer for injunctive relief.*fn33


Since the district court relied on several cases*fn34 holding that in an employee's suit for reinstatement and back pay under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the employer is not entitled to a jury trial, we should briefly indicate why we think the reasoning of those cases is inapplicable here.

First, insofar as the cases hold that back pay is a legal remedy which may be recovered as incidental to equitable relief, we believe they cannot stand in the face of Beacon and Dairy Queen.

Second, to the extent that they hold, relying on N.L.R.B. v. Jones & Laughlin Steel Corp., 301 U.S. 1, 48-49, 57 S. Ct. 615, 81 L. Ed. 893, that a jury trial is not required because the right vindicated is a statutory right, we reject the conclusion because it fails to differentiate between a statutory proceeding and the enforcement of a statutory right in an ordinary "civil action" in the courts.

Third, an acceptable rationale for awarding back pay in a non-jury judicial proceeding is consistent with our analysis of the damage claims asserted in this case. It is not unreasonable to regard an award of back pay as an appropriate exercise of a chancellor's power to require restitution.*fn35 Restitution is clearly an equitable remedy. As Professor Moore put it:

"In equity, restitution is usually thought of as a remedy by which defendant is made to disgorge illgotten gains or to restore the status quo, or to accomplish both objectives."*fn36

The retention of "wages" which would have been paid but for the statutory violation (of improper discharge) might well be considered "ill-gotten gains"; ultimate payment restores the situation to that which would have existed had the statute not been violated.*fn37

The payment of compensatory damages in a housing discrimination case, however, is not a return to plaintiff of something which defendant illegally obtained or retained; it is a payment in money for those losses -- tangible and intangible -- which plaintiff has suffered by reason of a breach of duty by defendant. Such damages, as opposed to rent overcharges,*fn38 unpaid overtime wages,*fn39 or back pay, cannot properly be termed restitution.*fn40

Whether or not the jury trial issue was correctly resolved in the back pay cases arising under the 1964 Act,*fn41 we are satisfied that they are not applicable to the question presented to us under the 1968 statute.


As the district court correctly emphasized, there are persuasive reasons for interpreting § 812 to authorize "the court" but not a jury to award damages to an injured party. When those words are used in connection with the allowance of fees, they clearly describe the judge rather than the jury.*fn42 Therefore, it is argued that the same words in the clause providing that the "court" may award damages must also refer to the trial judge rather than the jury.

The argument is persuasive but not compelling. The "award" may refer to the entry of judgment by the court just as the amount which a plaintiff may "recover" in antitrust litigation is finally determined by the court's judgment rather than the verdict of a jury, which is unmentioned in the Clayton Act but is undeniably required if demanded by either party.

Other language in the statute implies, without expressly stating, that a jury's participation is appropriate. The statutory reference to "damages" and also to "punitive damages" would normally contemplate a jury verdict as an element of the judicial process leading up to the final award.*fn43 Certainly it is highly unusual for a federal statute to authorize a court to impose punishment, even if limited to $1,000, without according the defendant the right to a jury trial.*fn44

The term "civil action" in legislation enacted since the merger of law and equity in 1938 is comparable to the words "action at law" or "suit in equity" which were used previously.*fn45 The words "action at law" implied a right to jury trial. The words "civil action," as Beacon, Dairy Queen and Ross make clear, do not in any sense imply that there is no right to a jury trial -- a "civil action" asserting a legal claim is triable to a jury.

The legislative history of the 1968 act is silent on the question. There is no evidence that the proponents of the legislation expressed fear that the right to a jury trial would undermine the statute's effectiveness, or conversely, that opponents accepted any compromise in reliance on an assurance that juries could be demanded. The policy considerations which prompted the legislation probably favor a denial of the right; on the other hand, the more basic constitutional considerations which surround the right to a jury as a protection against the over-zealous judge, point the other way. Nor, if the right to have a jury represent a fair cross section of the community and the desirability of broadening lay participation in judicial implementation of civil rights are kept in mind, can one assert that policy considerations unequivocally favor one view rather than the other.

In the end, we look to another canon of construction as controlling in this case. As Mr. Justice Holmes stated in United States v. Jin Fuey Moy: "A statute must be construed, if fairly possible, so as to avoid not only the conclusion that it is unconstitutional, but also grave doubts upon that score." 241 U.S. 394, 401, 36 S. Ct. 658, 659, 60 L. Ed. 1061. See also United States v. Campos-Serrano, 404 U.S. 293, 92 S. Ct. 471, 30 L. Ed. 2d 457.*fn46

Even if our discussion of the Seventh Amendment is deemed inadequate to overcome an unambiguous statutory denial of a jury trial in an action to recover compensatory and punitive damages, there are certainly enough "grave doubts upon that score" that we should place an interpretation on the statute which will avoid the constitutional issue. We therefore hold that it was error for the district court to refuse defendants' request for a jury trial.

The judgment is reversed and the case is remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

Reversed and remanded.

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Official citation and/or docket number and footnotes (if any) for this case available with purchase.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.