Testa v. Katt,
330 U.S. 386 (1947)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Testa v. Katt, 330 U.S. 386 (1947)

Testa v. Katt

No. 431

Argued February 14, 1947

Decided March 10, 1947

330 U.S. 386


Section 205(e) of the Emergency Price Control Act, 56 Stat. 34, as amended, provides that a buyer of goods at above the ceiling price may sue the seller "in any court of competent jurisdiction" for three times the amount of the overcharge plus costs and a reasonable attorney's fee, and § 205(c) provides that the federal district courts shall have jurisdiction of such suits "concurrently with" state courts. Having purchased an automobile at above the ceiling price, the purchaser sued the seller under § 205(e) and obtained judgment for damages and costs in a state court having adequate general jurisdiction to enforce similar claims arising under state law. On appeal, the State Supreme Court reversed the judgment on the ground that the suit was for a penalty based on a statute of a foreign sovereign, and could not be maintained in the state courts.

Held: assuming, without deciding, that § 205(e) is a penal statute, the state courts were not free under Article VI of the Constitution to refuse enforcement of the claim. Claflin v. Houseman, 93 U. S. 130; Mondou v. New York, N.H. & H. R. Co., 223 U. S. 1. Pp. 330 U. S. 389-394.

71 R.I. 472, 47 A.2d 312, reversed.

A state court of competent jurisdiction awarded the purchaser of an automobile at above the ceiling price a judgment for damages and costs under § 205(e) of the Emergency Price Control Act, 56 Stat. 34, as amended. The State Supreme Court reversed and, pursuant to local practice, remitted the case and record to the Superior Court. 71 R.I. 472, 47 A.2d 312. This Court granted certiorari. 329 U.S. 703. Reversed and remanded, p. 330 U. S. 394.

Page 330 U. S. 387

Primary Holding

State courts cannot use state policy or a disagreement with the judgment of Congress as grounds for refusing to enforce rights provided by federal law.


Buyers who paid more than the price ceiling on certain goods were entitled to receive treble the overcharge plus attorney's fees from sellers under the Emergency Price Control Act. It could be enforced in either state or federal court. The ceiling price for a certain car was set at $890 in 1944, and Testa bought a car from a dealer called Katt for $1,100. He received the full amount of damages under the law after bringing suit in a Rhode Island state court. The state appellate court reduced the damages award to the amount of the overcharge plus his attorney fees. The state Supreme Court then reversed the judgment on the basis that it was not required to enforce penal laws such as this Act when they were imposed by a government that was foreign in the international sense. The state court defined the federal government as foreign in the private international sense.



  • Hugo Lafayette Black (Author)
  • Frederick Moore Vinson
  • Stanley Forman Reed
  • Felix Frankfurter
  • William Orville Douglas
  • Frank Murphy
  • Robert Houghwout Jackson
  • Wiley Blount Rutledge
  • Harold Hitz Burton

The Constitution as well as federal laws and treaties trump any state law and are binding on judges in state courts under the Supremacy Clause, no matter their individual policy preferences. All federal laws are binding on state courts to the same effect, and a state court cannot decline to enforce them on the basis that they conflict with a state policy.

Case Commentary

The Necessary and Proper Clause may be the implicit source of the Congressional power to require state courts to enforce rights created by federal laws, or it may have its basis in the power of Congress to create inferior courts.

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