United States District Court, D. Rhode Island
JOHN FREITAS, et al. Plaintiffs
PETER KILMARTIN, in his official capacity as Attorney General of the State of Rhode Island, and A.T. Wall II, in his official capacity as Director of the Department of Corrections of the State of Rhode Island. Defendants
J. McConnell, Jr. United States District Judge
issue before the Court is whether Defendants are entitled to
a jury trial on Plaintiffs' claim for injunctive and
declaratory relief. The Court concludes they are not and
grants Plaintiffs' Motion to Strike Demand for Trial by
Jury. (EFC No. 11).
are level-three sex offenders within the meaning of Rhode
Island's Sexual Offender Registration and Community
Notification Act (SORCNA). They challenge the
constitutionality of a recent amendment to that Act, which
increased the residence restrictions applicable to them.
Originally enacted in 1996, SORCNA required certain
individuals convicted of enumerated offenses to register
their residences with the state. In 2008, the R.I. General
Assembly amended SORCNA to prohibit persons subject to its
terms from residing within three hundred feet of any school.
In 2015, the General Assembly again amended the statute to
prohibit level-three sex offenders from residing within one
thousand feet of any school. R.I. Gen. Laws §
11-37.1-10(d) ("Any level-three (3) sex offender who
knowingly resides within one thousand feet (1, 000') of
any school, public or private, shall be guilty of a felony
and, upon conviction, may be imprisoned for not more than
five (5) years, or fined not more than five thousand dollars
($5, 000), or both."). Plaintiffs' residences are
more than three hundred, but less than one thousand, feet
away from a school. Because of the newly amended statute,
they are prohibited from continuing to live at their
residences. They allege this prohibition is unconstitutional.
filed a complaint (EOF No. 1) pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §
1983, seeking a declaration that the new SORCNA amendment
violated the United States Constitution, and an injunction
preventing its enforcement. Plaintiffs did not seek damages
and did not demand a jury trial. Defendants demanded a jury
trial in their Answer (ECF No. 9), and Plaintiffs moved under
Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(f) to strike the Defendants' demand. (ECF
No. 11). Defendants then filed an opposition, (ECF No. 26),
and Plaintiffs a reply memorandum. (ECF No. 30).
Seventh Amendment preserves the right of trial by jury in
suits at common law, where the value in controversy exceeds
twenty dollars. U.S. Const, amend. VII, Prior to the adoption
of the amendment, juries were customary in English law
courts, but not in courts of equity or admiralty. Tull v.
United States, 481 U.S. 412, 417 (1987). The United
States Supreme Court has interpreted the amendment to
preserve the right to a jury trial in the types of suits that
would have been tried in the English law courts, including
for analogous statutory causes of action, but not in other
types of civil actions. Id.
determine whether a statutory action is more similar to cases
that were tried in courts of law than to suits tried in
courts of equity or admiralty, the Court must examine both
the nature of the action and of the remedy sought."
Id. This is done by a two-part test. First, courts
analogize the statutory action to 18th-century actions
brought in English courts before the merger of law and
equity. Id. Second, courts look at whether the
remedy sought is "legal or equitable in nature."
Id. The second "stage of the analysis is more
important than the first stage." Braunstein v.
McCabe, 571 F.3d 108, 118 (1st Cir. 2009).
is undisputed that when the Seventh Amendment was adopted
there was no action equivalent to § 1983, framed in
specific terms for vindicating constitutional rights."
City of Monterey v. Del Monte Dunes at Monterey,
Ltd., 526 U.S. 687, 709 (1999). The Court therefore
moves to the second, more important, stage of analysis -
evaluating the remedies sought. Here, Plaintiffs seek
injunctive and declaratory relief. An injunction is the
quintessential equitable remedy, and it is "settled law
that the Seventh Amendment does not apply" in suits
seeking only injunctive relief. Id. at 719. The
remaining issue therefore is whether Plaintiffs' request
for declaratory relief triggers the right to a jury trial. It
for declaratory relief "are neither inherently legal nor
inherently equitable." El Dia, Inc. v. Hernandez
Colon, 963 F.2d 488, 493 (1st Cir. 1992). In determining
when a specific suit seeking declaratory relief triggers the
right to a jury trial, decisions interpreting the Declaratory
Judgment Act are instructive. One party cannot use the
Declaratory Judgment Act to circumvent the other party's
Seventh Amendment right to a jury trial by bringing a
preemptive action seeking declaratory relief. See Beacon
Theatres, Inc. v. Westovei; 359 U.S. 500, 504 (1959);
see also Medlmmune, Inc. v. Genetech, Inc., 535
F.Supp.2d 1020, 1024 (CD. Cal. 2008). But when no jury trial
right is being circumvented, a demand for declaratory relief
does not endow the opposing party with such a right. See
Owens-Illinois, Inc. v. Lake Shore Land Co., 610 F.2d
1185, 1189 (3d Cir. 1979).
are not circumventing Defendants' Seventh Amendment right
to a jury trial by seeking declaratory relief in this case.
Defendants could not have brought a civil suit for legal
damages if Plaintiffs had not brought their suit first. The
only way the issues in this case could have otherwise been
litigated would have been in a criminal prosecution, which
does not implicate the Seventh Amendment right to a jury
trial at all. Just as in El Dia, Plaintiffs here
seek declaratory and injunctive relief on a constitutional
challenge, which allows us to "conclude, without serious
question, that this suit is equitable in nature and,
therefore, governed by traditional principles of equity
jurisprudence." 963 F.2d at 493. Defendants are not
entitled to a trial by jury.
careful examination of the memoranda submitted and the
relevant case law, it is clear that Defendants are not
entitled to a jury trial. The Plaintiffs3 Motion to Strike
(EOF No. 11) the demand for a jury trial is GRANTED.
 Level-three sex offenders are
individuals with a high risk to re-offend, as determined by
the sex offender board of review. R.I. Gen. Laws ...