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RICHARDS v. SMOLTICH

January 16, 1973

SARAH RICHARDS ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
JAMES SMOLTICH ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: McGARR, District Judge.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiffs allege that defendants separately and in concert deprived them of their rights, privileges and immunities by subjecting them to a pattern of conduct consisting of trespass to the person, unlawful search and seizure of property and persons, ransacking the premises, false arrest, false imprisonment, invasion of their privacy, and other related rights. Defendants are officers of the Sheriff's Police, DeKalb County, Illinois, Northern Illinois University Police, and the City of DeKalb Police Department. The incident in question arose out of a drug raid by these officers upon the premises at 430 North First Street, DeKalb, Illinois, on January 20, 1969, during which the above-mentioned rights were alleged to have been violated. Plaintiffs demanded a trial by jury. Defendants also originally demanded a jury trial, but later withdrew this demand and filed a motion to strike plaintiffs' demand. Defendants base this motion upon the "statutory" nature of the cause of action, Section 1983 of Title 42, United States Code.

The issue is controlled by the principles announced by the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in the recent case of Rogers v. Loether, 467 F.2d 1110 (7th Cir., 1972). That case held that plaintiff was entitled to a jury trial in an action for compensatory and punitive damages under Section 812 of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, 42 U.S.C. § 3612. While that case dealt with a different statute, the principles contained therein when applied to Section 1983 are compelling.

The Seventh Amendment to the United States Constitution provides:

    "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 tried by a jury, shall be otherwise
  reexamined in any Court of the United States,
  than according to the rules of the common law."

In the case of Parsons v. Bedford, 28 U.S. (3 Pet.) 433, 7 L.Ed. 732, the United States Supreme Court rejected the distinction that a jury trial was improper because the claim arose not under the common law but under the statutes of Louisiana. Rather, the Court focused on the character of the claim as a "legal right". In a number of cases involving enforcement of statutory rights, the Supreme Court has granted the right to a jury trial. In Beacon Theatres, Inc. v. Westover, 359 U.S. 500, 79 S.Ct. 948, 3 L.Ed.2d 988 (1959), the Court held that the right to a jury trial existed in an action brought under Section 4 of the Clayton Act. In Dairy Queen v. Wood, 369 U.S. 469, 82 S.Ct. 894, 8 L.Ed.2d 44 (1962), the Court applied the Seventh Amendment to an ambiguous claim for damages, either as an amount due under the contract or as a statutory claim for damages for trademark infringement. In Texas & Pacific Railway v. Rigsby, 241 U.S. 33, 36 S.Ct. 482, 60 L.Ed. 874 (1916), the Court upheld the right to a jury trial in an action for violation of the Safety Appliance Act of 1910. In Fleitmann v. Welsbach Street Lighting Co., 240 U.S. 27, 36 S.Ct. 233, 60 L.Ed. 505 (1916), the Court found a right to a jury trial in an action for treble damages under Section 7 of the Sherman Act. Finally, in Hepner v. United States, 213 U.S. 103, 29 S.Ct. 474, 53 L.Ed. 720 (1909), the Court applied the Seventh Amendment right to trial by jury to a civil action to recover a statutory penalty for a violation of Sections 4 and 5 of the Immigration Act of 1903.

The crucial distinction as noted by the Supreme Court in N.L.R.B. v. Jones & Laughlin Steel Corp., 301 U.S. 1, 57 S.Ct. 615, 81 L.Ed. 893 (1937), is that the Seventh Amendment is applicable not only to a suit at common law but also to a judicial proceeding "in the nature of such a suit". As stated in Rogers v. Loether, 467 F.2d 1110, 1115 (7th Cir. 1972);

    "The distinction drawn in the opinion (Jones &
  Laughlin) 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'."

According to the Seventh Circuit, this distinction between "statutory" and judicial proceedings related to whether the action was administrative rather than judicial and thus did not invoke the original jurisdiction of a Court in determining factual issues or fashioning a remedy. Rogers v. Loether at 1115.

In the instant action, Section 1983 of Title 42 through Section 1343(3) of Title 28, United States Code provides that District Courts shall have original jurisdiction of any civil action:

    "(3) To redress the deprivation under color of
  any State law, statute, ordinance, regulation,
  custom or usage of any right, privilege or
  immunity secured by the Constitution of the
  United States or by any Act of Congress providing
  for equal rights of citizens or of all persons
  within the jurisdiction of the United States."

28 U.S.C. § 1343(3)

The rights protected are statutory but the proceeding is judicial. Therefore, the issue is whether an action under Section 1983 is "in ...


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