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Mon, 01.11.1954

Amos v. Prom is Decided

The Surf Ballroom

*On this date in 1954, Amos v. Prom, Inc. was decided. this case involved a Black citizen being denied access to a public business based on race.

The plaintiff was George Dunn and William Pappas citizens and residents of the State of Iowa. The defendant is a corporation organized under the laws of the State of Delaware. It is engaged in the operation of a public ballroom, or dance hall, in the City of Clear Lake, Cerro Gordo County, Iowa, known as the Surf. The plaintiff brought this action in this Court. Jurisdiction is based upon the diversity of citizenship. The plaintiff is a Negro.

In her complaint, she alleged that on December 8, 1951, the defendant, because of her color, refused to admit her to its dance hall and that such refusal constituted a violation of the Iowa Civil Rights Act, Sections 735.1 and 735.2, Code of Iowa 1950, I.C.A. The plaintiff asked for the recovery of compensatory and exemplary damages because of such refusal. The pivotal question in the litigation was whether the defendant's dance hall came within *617 the provisions of the Iowa Civil Rights Act.

The Iowa Civil Liberties Union requested, and was granted, leave of Court to file a brief as amicus curiae. The brief and argument of the amicus curiae were in favor of the construction of the Act urged by the plaintiff. At the end of all of the evidence, the defendant moved for a directed verdict on the ground that the defendant's dance hall was not within the provisions of the Iowa Civil Rights Act. The motion was denied. This opinion is explanatory of that ruling. The defendant also raised the same question by exceptions to instructions, although under the rule recently adopted in this Circuit it was not necessary for it to do so to have the denial of its motion for a directed verdict reviewed on appeal.

The Court instructed the jury that the defendant's dance hall was within the provisions of the Iowa Civil Rights Act and that the defendant had refused the plaintiff admittance to its dance hall solely because of her color and that such refusal was in violation of that Act and that the only question for the jury to determine was the number of damages to which the plaintiff was entitled. The jury was instructed that in addition to an award of compensatory damages an award of exemplary damages might be made. The jury awarded the plaintiff $400 as compensatory damages but did not award exemplary damages.


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