Jay T. Hirschauer
Indianapolis, Indiana ATTORNEY FOR APPELLEES
Jay T. Hirschauer
Indiana Code § 22-9-1-6, but does not have authority to award punitive damages.
The Alders then filed an eviction action against Jackson. Jackson prevailed in that suit but
was warned by the trial court that if she continued to violate the one family rule the court
would find in the Alders' favor the next time they sought eviction. After being served with
another eviction notice, Jackson moved the mobile home from Stoney Pike.
Jackson and Stovall filed a complaint against the Alders with the Indiana Civil Rights Commission alleging housing discrimination based on race. After an investigation, a hearing was held and the hearing officer issued proposed findings of fact, conclusions of law and a proposed order, all of which the Commission adopted substantively verbatim. The Commission found that the Alders committed unlawful discriminatory practices when they constructively evicted Jackson from the park based on Stovall's race. The Commission found the Alders' proffered explanation, that Jackson violated the one family per home rule, to be pretextual, noting that other unmarried couples, including Jackson and her former husband, had lived in one home in the park without being evicted.
As a remedy for the discrimination, the Commission ordered the Alders to pay Jackson $1,797.96 in out-of-pocket damages, $80 for emotional distress and $100 in punitive damages. The Alders were also ordered to pay the expenses of returning Jackson's mobile home to the lot it occupied in Stoney Pike. If the home could not be moved, the Alders were ordered to provide Jackson with an equivalent home in exchange for her home. Stovall was awarded $15 in out-of-pocket damages, $35 for emotional distress and $200 in punitive damages. The Commission also directed remedial action including a general cease and desist order against harassment of Jackson and Stovall or anyone visiting the park because of their
race, and some specific steps.See footnote
Although the Alders denied any liability, these were not
challenged as appropriate remedies.
The Alders sought judicial review of the Commission's order in the Cass Superior Court.See footnote 3 The trial court found a substantial basis to support the Commission's finding of discrimination against Jackson and its order to pay Jackson for her expenses in moving her mobile home. However, consistent with several decisions of the Court of Appeals,See footnote 4 the court found that the Commission had no authority to order compensation for emotional distress or punitive damages, or to order the Alders to pay for the return of Jackson's home to Stoney Pike. The trial court did not address the Alders' contention that Stovall lacked standing under the Act because he had not been denied housing.
Jackson, Stovall and the Indiana Civil Rights Commission (the Appellants) appealed arguing that the trial court erred by (1) failing to find that Stovall was denied equal opportunity in housing; (2) finding that there was no substantial basis in law for the Commission to order the Alders to return Jackson's mobile home to its former lot; and (3)
finding that there was no substantial basis in law for the Commission to award emotional
distress or punitive damages.See footnote
The Alders did not cross-appeal but contended in their brief
that there was no substantial basis to support the Commission's finding of discrimination
against Jackson and Stovall or, because the home belonged to Jackson's parents, that Jackson
incurred any expenses.See footnote
The Court of Appeals held that (1) because Stovall did not apply for housing from the Alders, he did not suffer housing discrimination; (2) the Commission did not have the authority to award damages for emotional distress or punitive damages; (3) the issue of the Commission's authority to order the Alders to move Jackson's mobile home was moot because the home in question no longer exists;See footnote 7 and (4) the trial court properly upheld the Commission's award of out-of-pocket expenses to Jackson. Indiana Civil Rights Comm'n v. Adler, 689 N.E.2d 1274 (Ind. Ct. App. 1997).
Ind. Code § 4-21.5-5-14(d) (1998). We give deference to the expertise of the agency and will not reverse simply because we may have reached a different result than the Commission. This Court will not reweigh conflicting evidence or judge the credibility of witnesses. Fuller v. Allison Gas Turbine Div., General Motors Corp., 670 N.E.2d 64, 67 (Ind. Ct. App. 1996). However, although an agency's interpretation of a statute is entitled to great weight, courts rather than administrative agencies must resolve questions of statutory construction. Indiana
Dep't of Natural Resources v. Town of Syracuse, 686 N.E.2d 410, 411 (Ind. Ct. App. 1997).
In sum, the trial court's and this Court's review of the Commission's decision is limited to consideration of (1) whether there is substantial evidence to support the agency's finding and order and (2) whether the action constitutes an abuse of discretion, is arbitrary, capricious, or in excess of statutory authority. Indiana Dep't of Envtl. Management v. Conard, 614 N.E.2d 916, 919 (Ind. 1993).
evidence supports the Commission's conclusion that Stovall was personally aggrieved by
the Alders' discriminatory practices. Stovall's race was the target of Alders' efforts to
remove Jackson, who until her association with Stovall, was permitted to live undisturbed
in the park. Jackson testified that she didn't have any problems with Mr. Adler and his
wife until Jackson and Stovall started seeing each other more frequently and Stovall visited
Jackson's home more often. After the Alders' attempted to evict Jackson, Stovall testified
that everything got even worse . . . everybody was looking at [me] like, you know, [I was]
some type of monster or something. In an effort to allow Jackson to continue living at the
park, Stovall discontinued his visits to her home and the two stayed at his home. This is
sufficient to support a finding that Stovall was personally aggrieved by the Alders'
discriminatory practices and, as such, is a proper complainant entitled to recover under the
Civil Rights Law.
This conclusion is consistent with federal decisions upholding damage awards to parties other than the party who was denied housing. In construing Indiana's Civil Rights Law we look to federal case law for guidance. Indiana Civil Rights Comm'n v. Southern Indiana Gas & Elec. Co., 648 N.E.2d 674, 680-81 (Ind. Ct. App. 1995). In Secretary of Housing and Urban Development v. Blackwell, the Eleventh Circuit held that white tenants to whom the vendor leased the house after refusing to close a purchase with African- American purchasers were aggrieved parties entitled to damages for economic and emotional losses. 908 F.2d 864, 873 (11th Cir. 1990). The white couple testified that although they rented the house unaware of the defendant's refusal to sell the home to the
black couple, they suffered embarrassment and the wife suffered stress at her job as a teacher
in a multi-racial school as a result of defendant's discrimination and the publicity
surrounding it. The court also approved moving costs because the couple had to relocate
when the house was sold to the African-American couple. See also Mountain Side Mobile
Estates Partnership v. Secretary of Hous. and Urban Dev., 56 F.3d 1243, 1249 (10th Cir.
1995) (unrelated adult residing with family in mobile home park had standing as aggrieved
person to challenge housing discrimination based on familial status).
Because Stovall was aggrieved by the Alders' discriminatory practices, the Commission was authorized to restore his losses. See Ind. Code § 22-9-1-6(k)(A) (1998). The Commission awarded Stovall $15 in out-of-pocket damages. Based on Stovall's testimony that he had not incurred any economic losses as a result of the case or from Jackson's move, we conclude that there is no substantial evidence to support that award. His emotional distress and punitive damages are discussed below.
purpose of this chapter, including but not limited to the power: (A) to restore the
complainant's losses incurred as a result of discriminatory treatment, as the commission may
deem necessary to assure justice . . . . Ind. Code § 22-9-1-6(k)(A) (1998). In construing
a statute, our primary goal is to determine the intent of the General Assembly. Smith v.
State, 675 N.E.2d 693, 696 (Ind. 1996); Spaulding v. International Bakers Serv., Inc., 550
N.E.2d 307, 309 (Ind. 1990). To this end, we give words their common and ordinary
meaning. Spaulding, 550 N.E.2d at 309.
A. Emotional Distress
The General Assembly explicitly authorized the Commission to restore the complainant's losses incurred as a result of discriminatory treatment in fashioning a remedy under the Civil Rights Law. A plain reading of this language permits the Commission to award damages to compensate for both economic and emotional distress losses. The statute does not purport to limit the scope of losses to economic losses as it does for employment discrimination cases. See Indiana Civil Rights Comm'n v. Midwest Steel, 450 N.E.2d 130, 140-41 (Ind. Ct. App. 1983) (award in employment cases limited to wages, salary or commission under Indiana Code § 22-9-1-6(k)(A)). Instead, the statute's use of the broad term losses incurred as a result of discrimination permits the Commission to award an amount of damages that will make a victim of discrimination whole. Accordingly, we agree with Judge Rucker's dissent that the plain, everyday, and common meaning of the term losses includes emotional distress damages. See Indiana Civil Rights Comm'n v. Alder, 689 N.E.2d 1274, 1281 (Ind. Ct. App. 1997) (Rucker, J., dissenting); see also Indiana Civil
Rights Comm'n v. Washburn Realtors, Inc., 610 N.E.2d 293, 297-99 (Ind. Ct. App. 1993)
(Rucker, J., dissenting).
This result is consistent with other jurisdictions permitting civil rights agencies to compensate victims for both economic and emotional distress losses, see Donald T. Kramer, ed., Annotation, Recovery of Damages as Remedy for Wrongful Discrimination Under State or Local Civil Rights Provisions, 85 A.L.R.3d 351, 374 § 8 (1978) (collecting cases), and federal decisions under the Fair Housing Act which permits an Administrative Law Judge to award actual damages suffered by aggrieved person. See, e.g., Secretary, HUD on behalf of Herron v. Blackwell, 908 F.2d 864 (11th Cir. 1990) (upholding damage awards for economic losses and emotional distress); Phillips v. Hunter Trails Community Ass'n, 685 F.2d 184 (7th Cir. 1982) (reducing award for emotional distress to $10,000 for each plaintiff and approving $2,675 in actual expenditures). The Commission did not exceed its statutory authority in awarding damages for emotional distress.
B. Punitive Damages
The Commission also ordered the Alders to pay Jackson $100 and Stovall $200 for punitive damages. The Appellants urge a broad reading of losses incurred to support the award of punitive damages. As explained above, losses includes any injury, economic or emotional, suffered as a result of the discrimination. However, the purpose of punitive damages is not to compensate for injury, and punitive damages do not compensate a loss of the claimant. Rather, punitive damages are designed to penalize or punish or deter the defendant. See Carroll v. Statesman Ins. Co., 509 N.E.2d 825 (Ind. 1987); see also 22 Am.
Jur. 2d Damages §733 (1988). Moreover, as a general matter, punitive damages require
explicit statutory authorization if they are to be recovered under a statutory cause of action.
22 Am. Jur. 2d Damages §737 (1988). The plain language of the Civil Rights Law simply
does not authorize the Commission to award punitive damages. Particularly in awards
authorized to be made by an agency rather than a court, we would not infer authority to
award punitive damages in the absence of clear legislative language to that effect.
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