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WOODS v. VENDETTI

June 17, 1949

WOODS
v.
VENDETTI



The opinion of the court was delivered by: GOURLEY

Tighe E. Woods, Housing Expediter, has brought suit for rents charged in excess of an amount fixed pursuant to the Emergency Price Control Act of 1942, its supplements and amendments, 50 U.S.C.a.Appendix, § 901 et seq.

The Expediter claims restitution in behalf of the tenant under Section 205(a), and statutory damages in the amount of double the overcharge under Section 205(e), and such other and further relief as may be fair and equitable, and as to the court may seem just and proper. The tenant was not made a party to the action. The case was heard by the Court without a jury, no request having been made by either of the parties for a jury trial.

 In December, 1946 the defendant purchased a three-story brick structure situate one-half city block from the main business section of the City of Erie. At the time of the purchase the first and second floors were commercially occupied, and the third floor was used as household accommodations. The Expediter contends that the third floor was rented for household purposes, and the defendant contends that the third floor was rented for commercial purposes. The tenant Betty Brez occupied the premises from January 1, 1947, to March 31, 1947, and during the whole of this period paid rental in excess of the maximum which had been fixed for said quarters as a housing accommodation.

 The defendant, Carmen Vendetti, purchased the aforesaid premises from Fred Downing in December of 1946, and commencing on January 1, 1947 and continuing to March 31, 1947 received rental from the tenant in the amount of $ 40.52 a month, the maximum legal rental being $ 25 per month as a housing accommodation.

 Under the Act which was in effect during the time of the matters complained of, jurisdiction existed in the Court regardless of the amount involved, and the citizenship of the parties. Co-Efficient Foundation v. Woods, 5 Cir., 171 F.2d 691; Creedon, Housing Expediter, v. Seele, D.C., 75 F.Supp. 767.

 The Act involved in this proceeding was repealed by the Housing and Rent Act of 1947, 50 U.S.C.A.Appendix, 1891 et seq., which became effective June 30, 1947. Under the provisions of the Act of 1942, its supplements and amendments, 50 U.S.C.A.Appendix, § 901, it was provided, inter alia, that said Act shall be treated as remaining in force for the purpose of sustaining any proper suit, action or prosecution, with respect to any such right, liability or offense which occurred during the effectiveness of said Act.

 The rule of law expressed in our own circuit, which requires the amount in controversy to exceed the sum or value of $ 3,000, does not apply since this rule is based on the interpretation of the Housing and Rent Act of 1947. Fields v. Washington, 3 Cir., 173 F.2d 701.

 The Expediter demands that the defendant be ordered and directed to refund the tenant all amounts in excess of the maximum rents established by the Act and Regulation. Since said action is brought under Section 205(a) and is an equitable proceeding, although the court could have required the tenant to be made a party to the proceeding, it was not necessary. Co-Efficient Foundation v. Woods, supra.

 The power of the Court to direct restitution being made to the tenant is within the highest tradition of a court of equity, and is a separate cause of action from the claim of the Expediter for double the amount of the overcharges which is the penalty that goes to the United States Treasury under Section 205(e). Porter v. Warner Co., 328 U.S. 395, 66 S. Ct. 1086, 90 L. Ed. 1332; Co-Efficient Foundation v. Woods, supra.

 It is, therefore, proper for the court to order restitution of the rents collected by the defendant landlord in the action filed by the Housing Expediter, and to also enter judgment in favor of the Housing Expediter in behalf of the United States for double the amount of the overcharges made. Gates v. Woods, 4 Cir., 169 F.2d 440; Creedon v. Evangelists et al., D.C. 77 F.Supp. 538; Co-Efficient Foundation v. Woods, supra; Porter v. Warner Co., supra.

 Restitution may be directed on the part of the landlord with or without a claim for injunctive relief under the equitable powers of the court. Creedon v. Randolph, 5 Cir., 165 F.2d 918.

 Since I believe that overcharges were made and that the defendant had knowledge that the premises were being used as a housing accommodation, the Expediter, in behalf of the United States, is entitled to judgment for statutory damages pursuant to the action brought under Section 205(e). Bowles v. Heinel Motors, D.C., 59 F.Supp. 759, affirmed 3 Cir., 149 F.2d 815.

 The burden is on the defendant to show lack of willfulness or the taking of practicable precautions, and since said burden has not been met, it is proper for the court to award damages in excess of the amount of the overcharges. Bowles v. Hastings, 5 Cir., 146 F.2d 94; McCoy v. Fleming, 5 Cir., 160 F.2d 4.

 The Court makes the following Findings of Fact and ...


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