The opinion of the court was delivered by: John E. Miller, District Judge.
This is a suit by the plaintiff, a tenant, to recover treble
the amount of certain alleged overcharges received by the
defendant, a landlord, brought under Section 205 of the Housing
and Rent Act of 1947, as amended, 50 U.S.C.A.Appendix, § 1895.
The amount prayed for as liquidated damages is $270.00.
By amendment to the answer, defendant alleges that the court is
Referring then to the applicable expressions of the Congress
pertaining to the question presented here, the court finds the
In Sec. 1895 of Title 50 U.S.C.A. Appendix, relied upon by
plaintiff as conferring jurisdiction in this case, the Congress
provided that suits to enforce claims granted by that section
might be brought "in any Federal, State, or Territorial court of
competent jurisdiction within one year after the date of such
violation." If this amounts to a grant of jurisdiction to hear
and determine all claims arising by virtue of this section, it is
not necessary to search further. If, however, "court of competent
jurisdiction" means that such claims may be entertained only when
the jurisdictional grant is found elsewhere, it becomes necessary
to continue the search. Turning to Title 28 U.S.C.A. Chapter 85,
District Courts: Jurisdiction, Section 1331 appears to be the
only one applicable. That section grants jurisdiction in all
actions arising under the Constitution, laws or treaties of the
United States wherein the matter in controversy exceeds the sum
or value of $3,000.00. As only $270.00 is prayed for in the
instant case, it is readily apparent that Section 1331 does not
confer jurisdiction. The applicability of Section 1355,
pertaining to penalties, has been urged in other cases, but to no
avail, and this court concurs in that conclusion. See: Fields v.
Washington, 3 Cir., 173 F.2d 701, 703.
Therefore, there is no basis for jurisdiction in this case
unless it be held that Section 1895 of Title 50 U.S.C.A.
Appendix, contains a general grant of jurisdiction to hear and
determine all claims arising under that section, regardless of
the amount in controversy.
The identical question presented here has been considered by
the Courts of Appeals of the 3rd and 7th Circuits. In the former,
the court decided, Fields v. Washington, supra, against
jurisdiction, reasoning that Section 1895 did not amount to a
general grant of jurisdiction. It distinguished cases arising
under Section 205(c) of the Emergency Price Control Act,
50 U.S.C.A.Appendix, § 925(c), on the ground that the language
employed by the Congress therein, "The district courts shall have
jurisdiction * * *, concurrently with State and Territorial
courts, of all other proceedings under section 205 of this Act",
was a general grant of jurisdiction.
The 7th Circuit, by a divided court, reached a contrary result.
Adler et al. v. Northern Hotel Co. et al., 7 Cir., 175 F.2d 619.
In the opinion written by Judge Kerner, it was pointed out that
Section 205(e) of the Emergency Price Control Act did contain the
identical words "competent jurisdiction", and under the liberal
construction to be accorded this highly remedial Act, the
language of Section 1895 should be held to be a general grant of
jurisdiction in order that the congressional intent and purpose
be effectuated and a remedy given in all cases intended to be
covered. Emphasis was given to the exact language of Section
1895, that suits "to recover such amount" obviously refers back
to the preceding provisions, it being noted that "such amount"
might be as little as $50.00. In a concurring opinion, Judge
Duffy emphasized the practical aspects of the problem, pointing
out that only rarely would more than $3,000.00 be involved in
such suits. Judge Minton dissented and would follow the 3rd
Circuit decision of Fields v. Washington, supra. He reasoned that
although Section 205(e) of the Emergency Price Control Act
contained the language "court of competent jurisdiction", Section
205(e) was of necessity to be read in the light of Section 205(c)
which conferred jurisdiction upon the district courts to hear and
determine all proceedings under the section. In other words,
under the Emergency Price Control Act a District Court was a
court of competent jurisdiction by virtue of the specific grant
of jurisdiction contained in a preceding section, 205(c). Not so
in the Housing and Rent Act of 1947, Section 205, wherein no such
general grant of jurisdiction appears.
The court has read and considered the decisions of various
District Courts on the question. Among such are the following:
Morozin v. Hausmaninger, D.C.E.D.Pa., 85 F. Supp. 57 (holding
against jurisdiction); Hershenrader v. Campbell et al., D.C.W.D.
Ky., 85 F. Supp. 75 (holding against jurisdiction); Ramseyer v.
Contestabile, D.C. E.D.Pa., 86 F. Supp. 104 (holding against
jurisdiction); McCrae v. Johnson, D.C. Md., 84 F. Supp. 220
(holding against jurisdiction); and Adams v. Backlund, D.C. Neb.,
81 F. Supp. 643 (holding in favor of jurisdiction).
Realizing that the question is still open in the 8th Circuit,
since our Court of Appeals has not passed upon the question, the
court believes that the view denying jurisdiction when the amount
in controversy does not exceed $3,000.00 is the better reasoned
one, and therefore, feels constrained to so conclude. When the
congressional language "court of competent jurisdiction" is given
its usual and ordinary meaning, in the light of the governing
principle that the jurisdiction of United States District Courts
is limited, the court is of the opinion that this language does
not amount to a general grant of jurisdiction.
In short, this court is not a court of competent jurisdiction
to hear and determine the present claim, involving only $270.00,
and an order should be entered dismissing the complaint of
plaintiff for want of jurisdiction.
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