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Evans v. Ross

Decided: September 21, 1959.

MELVIN S. EVANS AND JOHN R. NORWOOD, COMPLAINANTS-RESPONDENTS,
v.
BURT J. ROSS, TRADING AS HOLLY HOUSE, RESPONDENT-APPELLANT



Goldmann, Freund and Haneman. The opinion of the court was delivered by Goldmann, S.j.a.d.

Goldmann

[57 NJSuper Page 225] Melvin S. Evans and John R. Norwood filed complaints with the Division Against Discrimination, in the State Department of Education, charging Burt J. Ross, trading as Holly House, with violating the Law Against Discrimination (L. 1945, c. 169, as amended; N.J.S.A. 18:25-1 et seq.), and specifically N.J.S.A.

18:25-12(f), in that he refused to rent any banquet or meeting room facilities in Holly House to their organization, the Moorestown Civic Club, because it was an all-Negro group. Ross answered and by way of separate defenses alleged, among other things, that (1) although the dining room at Holly House was a place of public accommodation, the banquet and meeting rooms were not, but were private facilities for the use of such specific persons and groups as he might contract with; (2) the Division was without jurisdiction to hear the complaints; and (3) he had not committed any act of unlawful discrimination within the meaning of the statute. Following a full public hearing the Commissioner of Education filed a decision and order in which he found Ross guilty of discrimination, as charged, and ordering him "to cease and desist from discriminating against any and all persons and any and all groups in the rental of banquet and/or meeting facilities or in extending any other service of the Holly House on account of race, creed, color, or national origin." N.J.S.A. 18:25-17.

Ross thereupon appealed to the County Court. N.J.S.A. 18:25-21. The parties stipulated that the county judge should decide the factual situation upon the transcript taken below. The County Court affirmed the decision of the Commissioner. Ross thereupon appealed to this court. N.J.S.A. 18:25-23.

The complainants, representing the Moorestown Civic Club, went to Holly House on April 24, 1958 and inquired of Ross as to the possibility of having a banquet at his establishment on any Saturday in June. They explained that the club was an all-Negro organization. Ross told them there were no Saturdays available. They made like inquiry as to any Saturday in May, and then July and August. In each case Ross gave them the same answer. They told Ross that it appeared he did not care to rent his facilities to their group, and he said, "That's right." These allegations were established by uncontradicted evidence at the hearing; indeed, Ross admitted he told complainants

he did not wish to rent out his banquet rooms to a Negro group. He also admitted there were rooms that would have been available to other applicants. The Holly House reservation book showed that beginning with May 24, 1958 there was at least one room available every Saturday evening for the rest of the summer.

The Commissioner of Education found as a fact that the banquet and meeting room facilities of Holly House are operated as places of public accommodation and that Ross unlawfully refused to rent these facilities to the Moorestown Civic Club on account of its Negro membership. He also rejected the argument that the Division had no jurisdiction. The County Court came to the same conclusions.

The first contention on this appeal is that the Division had no jurisdiction to hear the complaints and to enforce those portions of the Law Against Discrimination which deal with public accommodations. The argument made is that under N.J.S.A. 18:25-6 the jurisdiction of the Division to hear complaints is limited to charges of discrimination in employment. Section 6 of the act provides:

"There is created in the State Department of Education a division to be known as 'The Division Against Discrimination' with power to prevent and eliminate discrimination in employment against persons because of race, creed, color, national origin or ancestry or because of their liability for service in the armed forces of the United States, by employers, labor organizations, employment agencies or other persons and to take other actions against discrimination because of race, creed, color, national origin or ancestry or because of their liability for service in the armed forces of the United States, as herein provided; and the division created hereunder is given general jurisdiction and authority for such purposes." (Italics ours)

Although recognizing that the Law Against Discrimination has since 1945 been amended in many respects (of which more hereafter), appellant points out that section 6 has not been changed so as to enlarge the original jurisdiction of the Division. Pointing to the above italicized phrase, "as herein provided," he contends that the Legislature thereby specifically limited the jurisdiction of the Division

to the specific type of complaint set out in that section -- discrimination in employment. The argument is ...


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