O'SULLIVAN, Circuit Judge.
On March 16, 1963, the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee enjoined appellee, William Chase, from violating the Fair Labor Standards Act, 29 U.S.C. § 201 et seq. Appellee, under the name of Bill Chase Used Cars, carried on a relatively small operation — in part reconditioning and reselling
The Secretary's complaint, filed January 15, 1963, charged Chase with various violations of the Act, but did not seek the recovery of any amounts allegedly due to appellee's employees. Chase did not respond to process and on March 16, 1963, default decree was entered permanently enjoining Chase from further violations of the Act.
On October 6, 1966, the Secretary filed a petition for adjudication of civil contempt, charging that Chase had, during the period since March 16, 1963, committed violations of the Act, all in contempt of the injunction. In addition to an adjudication of contempt, the petition prayed that Chase be required to purge himself therefrom by paying to the Secretary, for the benefit of Chase's employees, wages that he had allegedly and illegally withheld from them, and to pay a compensatory fine to reimburse the Secretary for the costs of his investigation and the expenses of the litigation. Chase's answer denied that he was subject to the Fair Labor Standards Act, and further denied any violations, even were he subject to the Act. He pleaded affirmatively that any claim for minimum wages or overtime compensation for work done prior to October 6, 1964, was barred by the two-year period of limitations provided by Title 29, U.S.C. Section 255(a).
At trial, the District Court found Chase guilty of civil contempt of the Court's injunction. He directed that Chase purge himself of such contempt by paying to the Secretary $1,121.03 as a compensatory fine to reimburse the Secretary, in part, for the expenses of his investigation and the prosecution of the contempt action; he ordered Chase to pay the costs of the proceeding in the amount of $127.50. He did not require Chase to pay any sum as minimum or overtime wages due to his employees.
During trial, appellee's counsel objected to evidence of violations occurring prior to October 6, 1964, upon the ground that recovery therefor was barred by the limitation provided in § 255. The District Judge received such evidence and expressed himself as follows:
He later expressed a view that the statute of limitations did apply, but again reserved ruling on the point. Thereafter he sustained defense counsel's motion to strike such evidence. In his Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law, the District Judge dealt with this subject as follows:
Thereafter, in an Amendment to Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law, the District Judge concluded that the evidence did not permit him to make any award for minimum wages or overtime payment. The Amendment reads:
In arriving at the compensatory fine, the District Judge followed the limitations statute to exclude therefrom government expenses incurred prior to October 6, 1964. The judgment accordingly required only that Chase purge himself of contempt by paying the compensatory fine and the costs of the suit.
The government's appeal to us presents its statement of question involved as:
In the per curiam opinion of this Court in Frost-Arnett Co. v. Tobin, 264 F.2d 246 (6th Cir. 1959), we affirmed an unreported decision of the District Court for the Western District of Tennessee, wherein the District Judge, in a contempt case like the one at bar, refused to apply the limitations statute, § 255, in fixing the amount of back wages required to be paid by an offending employer. There, interposition of the statute of limitations was belatedly made after the case had been tried and findings of fact and conclusions of law filed. Leave to plead the statute was then granted, and on the same day the matter was disposed of by an order concluding:
No further discussion of the point was set out by the District Judge or by this Court in its affirming per curiam.
In reaching a contrary conclusion in the present case, we need not conclude that our 1959 Frost-Arnett decision was erroneous. We think the Congress, by its 1961 amendment of 29 U.S.C. § 217 — the section that permits the Secretary's injunction proceedings — evidenced a purpose to limit the recovery allowable in proceedings brought by the Secretary, including those for civil contempt, by the statute of limitations contained in § 255. A 1949 amendment to § 217 provided that no court would have jurisdiction in injunctive proceedings brought by the Secretary "to order the payment to employees of unpaid minimum wages or unpaid overtime compensation * * *." By the 1961 amendment, Pub.L. 87-30, 75 Stat. 74, this language was displaced and § 217 now permits the courts in such injunction proceedings to order payment of wages found to be due, but provides:
In the light of the above amendment to § 217, the reasoning of such cases as Tobin v. Mason & Dixon Lines, 102 F.Supp. 466, 473-74 (E.D.Tenn.1951) and Tobin v. Alma Mills, 92 F.Supp. 728, 734 (W.D.S.C.1950) is applicable here. In both cases the respective District Judges held that the § 255 limitation period did apply in the situation here involved. In Tobin v. Mason & Dixon Lines, the only other case in this circuit besides Frost-Arnett, supra, in which the point was discussed,
This makes sense to the writer.
We note also that § 255 was amended in 1966 by Pub.L. 89-601, 80 Stat. 844 to allow actions for unpaid minimum wages, overtime compensation, or liquidated damages to be commenced within three years in the case of a "cause of action arising out of a willful violation * * *." (Emphasis supplied.) We read this limitation on recovery for willful conduct as a further indication that Congress does not intend that claims against an employer, including those sought in an action denominated as proceedings for civil contempt, are to be allowed to reach back into time without limit.
Here the decree out of which the contempt arose was entered upon the default of appellee, a small operator who claimed that after its entry he had not violated the Act, and there were close questions whether he was subject to the Act, or had in fact violated it.
We observe also that the District Judge, whether required to do so, would have had the right, as chancellor, to employ a relevant limitations statute in providing the sanctions to be imposed for contempt of his injunction. The collection of unpaid minimum and overtime compensation following, and as a means of implementing a finding of contempt, is nowhere provided for by relevant statute. By court decision, however, it has become recognized that a chancellor, whose injunction has been disobeyed, may require a contemptuous employer to pay to the Secretary for the benefit of employees, past due compensation as a condition of purging himself of contempt. McComb v. Jacksonville Paper Co., 336 U.S. 187, 69 S.Ct. 497, 93 L.Ed. 599 (1949); Fleming v. Warshawsky & Co., 123 F.2d 622, (7th Cir. 1941); Cf. Porter v. Warner Holding Co., 328 U.S. 395, 398, 399, 66 S.Ct. 1086, 90 L.Ed. 1332, 1337 (1946). We consider that under the facts of this case the District Judge would have been permitted to employ the maxim that "equity follows the law" and where, as here, the employees and the Secretary could have enforced their claims in suits at law, to use the relevant statute of limitations to measure the remedy.
The duty of the District Judge here was to fashion a remedial order which would vindicate his decree and impose such sanctions as would accomplish a purging of the contempt committed. The terms and style of such an order were within his discretion as chancellor. Triple "AAA" Co. v. Wirtz, 378 F.2d 884, 887 (10th Cir. 1967); Buckley v. Wirtz, 326 F.2d 838, 839 (10th Cir. 1964); Mitchell v. Strickland Transportation Co., 267 F.2d 821, 823 (5th Cir. 1959). These cases do not deal directly with the matter of sanctions but generally with the style of the original decree, but we consider them apposite. The chancellor may, of course, be reversed for abuse of such discretion. McComb v. Jacksonville Paper Co., supra; Mitchell v. Pidcock, 299 F.2d 281, 286-289 (5th Cir. 1962). But we would find no abuse of discretion in this case.
While it is not of controlling importance, we read the District Judge's relevant Finding of Fact as covering the entire time after entry of the default decree in 1963. He said: