the Secretary of Agriculture's regulations governing the marketing of fluid milk in the New York-New Jersey milk marketing area, as applied to plaintiffs, constituted a prohibited economic trade barrier to milk producers and sellers outside the New York-New Jersey milk marketing area. Accordingly, I entered judgment in favor of plaintiffs John P. Strittmatter, d/b/a Strittmatters Dairy, Delbert and Ed Thomas, Lowell Friedlin, Arthur Bloom, James L. Harris, and Milk Marketing, Inc., and I denied defendant's motion for summary Judgment.
At that time, I also ordered that in the event that the parties were unable to agree on the appropriate measure of damages due to plaintiffs, they should "apply to the Court for a determination of damages." See Docket No. 47, at 17. Ultimately, the parties were unable to agree on the appropriate measure of damages, with defendant taking the position that "monetary refunds or damages are inappropriate because, in balancing the equities of the situation, the plaintiffs have not suffered any net loss." See Docket No. 48, Exhibit A, at 1. Plaintiffs thereafter filed an Application for Entry of Order Establishing Damages and Other Appropriate Relief (Docket No. 48) and a Motion for Immediate Entry of Order Confirming Declaratory and Injunctive Relief (Docket No. 49).
As plaintiffs correctly note, numerous courts have awarded refunds to prevailing plaintiffs in "milk order cases" where payments were made pursuant to regulations subsequently found invalid. See, e.g., Abbotts Dairies Division of Fairmont Foods, Inc. v. Butz, 584 F.2d 12, 18-21 (3d Cir. 1978); Borden, Inc. v. Butz, 544 F.2d 312, 319-20 (7th Cir. 1976); Fairmont Foods Co. v. Hardin, 143 U.S. App. D.C. 40, 442 F.2d 762, 773 (D.C. Cir. 1971); Kinnett Dairies, Inc. v. Madigan, 796 F. Supp. 515, 516 (M.D. Ga. 1992); Cumberland Farms, Inc. v. Lyng, 1989 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 8753, 1989 WL 85062 (D.N.J. July 18, 1989).
Nevertheless, defendant urges that "the equities in this case . . . argue against ordering any refund" (see Docket No. 48, Exhibit A, at 2), citing authority for the proposition that the court should be guided by equitable principles in awarding refunds of money paid pursuant to invalid regulations. Id. See, e.g., Democratic Central Comm. v. Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Comm'n, 158 U.S. App. D.C. 7, 485 F.2d 786, 825 (D.C. Cir. 1973) ("Restitution is essentially an equitable remedy."), cert. denied, 415 U.S. 935, 39 L. Ed. 2d 493, 94 S. Ct. 1451 (1974); Blair v. Freeman, 125 U.S. App. D.C. 207, 370 F.2d 229, 239-40 (D.C. Cir. 1966) (plaintiffs' eight year delay in filing action objecting to milk marketing regulation "is not laches barring all relief, but it certainly affects the relief that may be claimed"; although regulation declared invalid and injunction entered against future enforcement, plaintiffs not entitled to refund of monies paid pursuant to invalid regulation). Defendant bases his "equitable considerations" argument in this case primarily on the facts that "the producers have been able to receive Class I prices for their milk and to receive the protection of the marketing order system and the market administrator." See Docket No. 48, Exhibit A, at 2.
Taken to its logical conclusion, however, defendant's argument would never permit restitution in a case involving an invalid milk pricing order -- because in every case, the producers "receive the protection of the marketing order system and the market administrator." Id. Defendant's "equitable considerations" argument paints with too broad a brush and must be rejected. As the Third Circuit in Abbotts Dairies explained:
Equitable restitution to [the plaintiffs] to the extent of the monies in the producer-settlement fund reserve is . . . appropriate in our view. Denial of restitution on the facts presented here would virtually remove any possibility of recovery of overpayments due to invalid milk pricing orders.