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Seaton v. Sky Realty Co.

decided: February 20, 1974.


Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division.

Clark, Associate Justice,*fn* Fairchild and Stevens, Circuit Judges.

Author: Fairchild

FAIRCHILD, Circuit Judge.

Mr. and Mrs. Seaton, who are black, were awarded compensatory and punitive damages against defendants Sky Realty Company, a real estate broker, Jerry Carr, its manager, and Art Potocki, one of its salesmen, for racially motivated refusal to negotiate for the sale of a dwelling in a predominantly white area of Chicago. They and the owner, Mrs. Schmidt, were found, after a bench trial, to have violated 42 U.S.C. §§ 1982*fn1 and 3604.*fn2 Mrs. Schmidt did not appeal. The other defendants challenge the sufficiency of the evidence. We affirm.

After a summary of the facts, the district court found as follows:

"Taken in its entirety, the plaintiffs have amply demonstrated through the evidence and the circumstances involved that Sky Realty Company, Inc., the defendant Jerry Carr, the defendant Art Potocki are systematically engaged in violation of both Sections 1982 and 3604, particularly as they relate to these plaintiffs."

There was evidence, some undisputed and some showing, when credibility was resolved as the district judge did, that when Mrs. Seaton telephoned to inquire about the Schmidt home which had been advertised, Potocki assured her it was for sale, and made an appointment, but when she and her husband appeared, he told them it had been sold; that later, when investigators inquired, Carr and Potocki produced a written offer; that the purported offer had not been and never was accepted; that the usual course of business had not been followed in the receipt of the purported offer; that when Potocki was ultimately induced to show the Schmidt property to the Seatons, he did so in a grudging, uncooperative, and deliberately discouraging manner; that the house was eventually sold for substantially less than the figure quoted to the Seatons or specified in the purported offer; that it is a practice at Sky Realty for prospect sheets to contain notations of race or national origin where the prospect is of a minority race or ethnic group; and that the prospect sheet for the Seatons contained the notation "Col" as an abbreviation for colored.

There are other details, but we find ample evidence to support the finding made by the judge, and it approaches the frivolous to contend, as defendants do, that his finding was clearly erroneous.

With respect to compensatory damages, defendants assert that "there is no evidence that the plaintiffs suffered any loss or damages."

The finding of the district court was as follows:

"Although the record is sparse as to the actual damages suffered, testimony was introduced that the plaintiff Jerome Seaton suffered great embarrassment because of the action of the defendants during his attempt with his wife to visit the property . . . . and further, the plaintiffs were forced, by virtue of the wrongful actions of the various defendants, to make several trips to and from the home site and the offices of the defendant Sky Realty Co. The Court therefore concludes that actual damages have been adequately shown and they are therefore assessed in the amount of $500."

Mr. Seaton testified, apparently with reference to the visit to the Schmidt home with Mr. Potocki, when the Seaton children were present: "I was humiliated. I was intimidated, not only as a person but as a man. He stripped me of my right as a father to my kids." It appears to be defendants' position that unless there is evidence of economic or financial loss, or medical evidence of mental or emotional impairment, there can be no award of compensatory damages.

We conclude, to the contrary, that an award of compensatory damages under § 1982 or "actual damages" under § 3612 is appropriate for humiliation caused by the type of violations of rights established here. Humiliation can be inferred from the circumstances as well as established by the testimony. Mr. Seaton was subjected to a racial indignity which is one of the relics of slavery which 42 U.S.C. § 1982 was enacted to eradicate. Jones v. Mayer Co., 392 U.S. 409, 441-443, 20 L. Ed. 2d 1189, 88 S. Ct. 2186 (1968).

Compensatory damages are an appropriate remedy for deprivation of a federal right, are governed by federal standards, and "both federal and state rules on damages may be utilized, whichever better serves the policies expressed in the federal statutes. . . . . The rule of damages, whether drawn from federal or state sources, is a federal rule responsive to the need whenever a federal right is ...

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