United States District Court, D. Rhode Island
LMG Rhode Island Holdings, Inc.
Rhode Island Superior Court, Providence County; Hon. Netti C. Vogel; and Eugene J. McCaffrey, III
J. MCAULIFFE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
plaintiff newspaper's (the “Journal”) motion
to alter the judgment reargues that which was previously
asserted and considered, and fails to identify any manifest
errors of law or fact necessary to the order of dismissal,
nor has it presented any newly discovered evidence of any
repeat and, perhaps, clarify: “In light of the
circumstances presented, the Journal has failed to persuade
the court that issuance of a ‘declaratory judgment'
(in the nature of [prospective] injunctive relief) against a
sitting Rhode Island state court judge would constitute
either a necessary or appropriate exercise of this
court's discretion.” Order of Dismissal (document
no. 27), at 6.
relief is intended to define legal rights with respect to
present and future conduct. See e.g., Johnson v.
McCuskey, 72 Fed.Appx. 475, 477 (7th Cir. 2003);
Aldrich v. Considine, 2013 WL 4679722 at 7 (D. Mass.
Aug. 29, 2013) (collecting cases). Declaratory relief is not
meant to reach past conduct.
the Journal easily could have sought federal relief in a
timely manner when it thought its rights to juror access were
being infringed, but it failed to do so. It did not file its
federal complaint in this case until after the perceived
infringement was fully abated, and, indeed, until after the
Journal already had access to the jurors at issue. That is,
the state court orders about which it complains had already
been rescinded before the Journal sought federal relief from
those very orders. (As noted in its federal complaint, the
Journal filed an earlier suit in state court raising similar
or related issues, but voluntarily dismissed that suit
without prejudice before filing the complaint in this court.)
the Journal now seems to be denying that it seeks declaratory
relief sounding like prospective injunctive relief, that is
precisely what the complaint, fairly read, seeks. The
complaint seeks a declaration that “post-verdict, in
the absence of a compelling government interest demonstrated
by specific, on-the-record factual findings, Judge Vogel may
not prohibit the media from contacting jurors or otherwise
impede the jury interview process.” Complaint (document
no. 1), at 17. In its memorandum in support of its motion to
amend or alter the judgment (document no. 29-1), the Journal
writes: “To be clear, the Journal does not seek
injunctive relief and is not asking this Court to direct
Judge Vogel to do anything. The Journal is requesting a
limited declaration to the effect that, in the absence of a
compelling government interest demonstrated by specific,
on-the-record factual findings, a judge may not prohibit the
press from contacting jurors or otherwise impede the jury
interview process after a verdict has been rendered in a
criminal case.” Id. at 18 (emphasis in the
clear, the nature of the relief the Journal claims it seeks
is not clear. Nevertheless, it seems evident to the court
that the declaration desired is intended and phrased in such
a way as to be seen as controlling future conduct by the
state judge in future cases. But, if the Journal is not
seeking prospective relief sounding like an injunction with
respect to future conduct, then there is certainly no need to
declare rights with respect to the past conduct involved
here. If the Journal is seeking prospective relief against
the state judge, however, such relief is inappropriate for
all the reasons previously given, and the complaint does not
describe a claim warranting discretionary declaratory relief.
See, e.g., Stevens v. Osuna, 877 F.3d 1293, 1308-13
(11th Cir. 2017) (on similar facts, with similar declaratory
relief sought, declaratory relief denied on grounds of
judicial immunity, declaratory judgment discretion, absence
of necessity and usefulness, and comity (separation of
applicable law is reasonably clear with respect to public
trials and public access to jurors, and when jurors'
identities may be shielded from the public, as well as when
access to jurors may and may not be limited. Future disputes
about such matters are better resolved in the context of the
particular facts and circumstances in which they arise.
Should the Journal or any other interested party think that
access to jurors is being incorrectly impeded in some future
case, there are adequate remedies readily available, and
capable counsel surely will have an opportunity to seek such
relief in a timely fashion. There is simply no need, and it
would be inadvisable, to attempt to fashion some declaration
sounding like an injunction that, at best, could only restate
the presently applicable law.
the Declaratory Judgment Act, Congress sought to place a
remedial arrow in the district court's quiver; it created
an opportunity, rather than a duty, to grant a new form of
relief to qualifying litigants. Consistent with the
nonobligatory nature of the remedy, a district court is
authorized, in the sound exercise of its discretion, . . . to
dismiss an action seeking a declaratory judgment before
trial.” DeNovelis v. Shalala, 124 F.3d 298,
313 (1st Cir. 1997) (quoting Wilton v. Seven Falls
Co., 515 U.S. 277, 288 (1995)).
because the Journal argues extensively that the so-called (by
the Journal) “gatekeeper” letter from Judge Vogel
to jurors dated April 26, 2018, somehow survived and remains
an obstacle to its ability to access the jurors at issue,
that point should be addressed. The pleadings show that the
state court's subsequent May 7 and May 16 actions vacated
all restrictions on juror access previously imposed by the
court, and the parties cannot reasonably dispute that the
Journal was free to access the jurors thereafter. As the
defendant points out, the letter speaks for itself, and it
does not appear to this court to be an impediment to access,
and it certainly was not an impediment after the state court
categorically vacated its orders restricting access. In any
event, even that possibility is not sufficient in context to
warrant the exercise of discretion to grant declaratory
relief in the form sought by plaintiff.
the facts as pled in the complaint as true, and for the
reasons previously given, and discussed here, and included in
defendant's memorandum in opposition, granting
declaratory relief as sought by plaintiff is unnecessary and
would be inappropriate.
motion to amend or alter judgment (document no. ...