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Martin v. Mazziotti

Decided: June 29, 1951.

PAUL MARTIN, MICHAEL GIULIANO, FRANK PETRUCCI AND JEAN FRATELLO, PLAINTIFFS-RESPONDENTS,
v.
JULIA MAZZIOTTI, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT



Eastwood, Bigelow and Schettino. The opinion of the court was delivered by Schettino, J.s.c.

Schettino

Defendant appeals from four judgments awarding treble damages in the total amount of $5,310 and counsel fees in the total amount of $1,000 arising out of alleged violations of the Federal Housing and Rent Act of 1947.

The four plaintiffs joined their respective claims in a single action instituted on January 10, 1950.

Plaintiff, Martin, admittedly paid $50 per month from January 15, 1949, through the period covered by the complaint. He alleged that the maximum authorized rental was $30 per month, but the registration certificate apparently proved that the authorized rental was $20 per month. He claimed, and the jury found, that he paid a bonus of $225 in February, 1949. The judgment in his favor is in the sum of $1,755 which is treble the rental charge over the authorized rental of $20 per month, and treble the bonus. The court allowed a counsel fee of $250.

Plaintiff, Giuliano, admittedly paid $50 per month throughout the period covered by the complaint. The authorized maximum rent was $27 per month. He claimed and the jury found that he paid a bonus of $225. His judgment is in the sum of $1,494 which is treble the excess charge and bonus. Counsel fee of $250 was allowed with respect to his claim.

Plaintiff, Petrucci, admittedly paid $50 per month throughout the period in suit. The authorized maximum rental was $32 per month. He claimed and the jury found that he paid a bonus of $225. His judgment is in the sum of $1,323, which is treble the excess charge and bonus. Counsel fee of $250 was allowed on this claim.

Plaintiff, Mrs. Fratello, admittedly paid the sum of $35 per month for the first six months covered by the complaint and the sum of $50 per month for the remaining six months. The authorized maximum rent was $22 per month. No bonus was here involved. Her judgment is in the sum of $738 which is treble the excess charge. A counsel fee of $250 was allowed as to her claim.

Defendant contends: (1) It was error to allow recovery for the bonus payments made by Giuliano and Petrucci because those payments were made more than one year before suit was instituted; (2) it was error to leave to the jury the issue respecting the allowance of treble damages; (3) the trial court erred in admitting testimony as to alleged violations of the New Jersey Tenement House Act; (4) the trial court erred in refusing to admit into evidence a release executed by Giuliano, and (5) counsel fees should be modified if the judgments are reduced on appeal.

I

The Housing and Rent Act of 1947 as amended provides with respect to these claims that "Suit to recover such amount may be brought in any Federal, State, or Territorial court of competent jurisdiction within one year after the date of such violation." 50 U.S.C.A. App., sec. 1895. Bonus payments are included in the statutory definition of "rent," 50 U.S.C.A. App., sec. 1892 (e), and the limitation upon the time for suit applies to such payments.

The record shows that Giuliano paid the bonus in November, 1948. Petrucci testified that his bonus payment was made around January 5, 1949. Since both payments were accordingly made more than one year before suit was instituted, recovery therefor was accordingly barred by the statute. Demosse v. Shimmel , 12 N.J. Super. 356 (Cty. Ct. 1951); Getto v. Silpe , 9 N.J. Super. 610 (Cty. Ct. 1950).

Defendant properly urged below that recovery for these bonus payments was precluded by the statutory limitation. Their inclusion in the judgment appears to have been inadvertent. The trial court expressly accepted defendant's request to charge in this regard and said that he would apply the limitation in calculating the damages upon the basis of the jury's answers to three questions submitted with respect to other issues in the case. After the jury returned its verdict, ...


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