United States District Court, Northern District of Illinois, E.D
November 28, 1972
SCOTT WRIGHT AND BLANCHE WRIGHT, HIS WIFE, PLAINTIFFS,
KAINE REALTY AND GLADYS HOPKINS, DEFENDANTS.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: McLAREN, District Judge.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
This matter is now before the Court upon defendants' motion
to determine whether the Court's power to award punitive
damages for housing discrimination under 42 U.S.C. § 1982 has
been preempted by the specific damage limitation contained in
42 U.S.C. § 3612(c).
Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, 42 U.S.C. § 3601
et seq., provides a detailed method for the elimination of
discrimination in the sale and leasing of housing based upon
race, color, religion and national origin. Section 1982 of the
Civil Rights Act of 1866, 42 U.S.C. § 1982, broadly declares
"All citizens of the United States shall have the
same right, in every State and Territory, as is
enjoyed by white citizens thereof to inherit,
lease, sell, hold, and convey real and personal
In Jones v. Alfred H. Meyer Co., 392 U.S. 409
, 413, 88 S.Ct.
2186, 20 L.Ed.2d 1189 (1968), § 1982 was held to provide a
private right of action for equitable relief to victims of
private racial discrimination in the sale and leasing of
housing. This right of action was held in Sullivan v. Little
Hunting Park, Inc., 396 U.S. 229
, 235, 90 S.Ct. 400, 24 L.Ed.2d
386 (1969), to encompass the remedy of damages as well. It has
also been held that punitive damages may be awarded in § 1982
actions. Lee v. Southern Home Sites Corp., 429 F.2d 290
(5th Cir. 1970); Wills v. Trans World Airlines, Inc.,
200 F. Supp. 360, 367 (S.D.Cal. 1961). Thus, the victim of racial
discrimination in private housing has a claim under both the
1866 Act and Title VIII of the 1968 Act.
Plaintiffs have alleged that defendants refused, on the
basis of racial discrimination, to sell or show certain homes
which were available for sale by them. This action is claimed
to violate 42 U.S.C. § 1982 and 3604. For relief, plaintiffs
request, inter alia, $30,000 in punitive damages. By their
motion, defendants assert that the $1000 limit on such damages
in 42 U.S.C. § 3612(c) preempts any larger award that might
otherwise be made under § 3604.
Normally the "cardinal principle of statutory construction"
— that the more specific controls over the general, e.g.,
Central Commercial Co. v. C.I.R., 337 F.2d 387, 389 (7th Cir.
1964) — would compel the result for which defendants contend.
In Jones, supra, 392 U.S. at 416, 88 S.Ct. at 2191, however,
the Supreme Court made the flat statement that "[Title VIII's]
enactment had no effect upon § 1982."
It thus appears to this Court that Sullivan, supra, must be
read to say that in § 1982 actions, the courts are given
discretionary power to grant such relief as they find necessary
and appropriate, notwithstanding more recent civil rights acts
and their limits on relief which are also applicable. Based
upon Jones and Sullivan and the cases cited above holding that
punitive damages may be awarded in § 1982 actions — which
holdings appear to be fully supported by Jones and Sullivan
— defendants' motion, which is, in effect, a motion to strike,
will be denied.
Plaintiffs further contend in their brief that they may be
awarded punitive damages without proving that defendants acted
wilfully and wantonly, since this established requirement does
not appear in § 3612(c). This contention is untenable. If
accepted, it would lead to the equally untenable conclusion
that actual damages can be recovered without proof thereof
because the act does not specifically require it. Punitive
damages are not favored in the law and, in the view of this
Court, are to be awarded only with caution and within narrow
limits. Aladdin Mfg. Co. v. Mantle Lamp Co., 116 F.2d 708, 717
(7th Cir. 1941). In this particular case, although this Court's
power to award such damages in an amount in excess of $1000 has
not been preempted, the limitation in § 3612(c) will naturally
be a consideration in determining the amount of any award which
may be called for. Cf. Lee v. Southern Home Sites Corp.,
444 F.2d 143, 146 (5th Cir. 1971); Waters v. Wisconsin Steel
Workers of International Harvester Co., 427 F.2d 476, 487 (7th
It is so ordered.
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