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Doe v. Coupe

Court of Chancery of Delaware, New Castle

July 14, 2015

Doe, et al.
v.
Coupe

Submitted: July 9, 2015

Joseph C. Handlon, Esq. Roopa Sabesan, Esq. Meredith Stewart Tweedie, Esq. Delaware Department of Justice

Richard H. Morse, Esq. American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Delaware

Dear Counsel:

The plaintiffs bring this action against the Commissioner of the Delaware Department of Correction, seeking an order preliminarily and permanently enjoining the defendant from continuing to require that the plaintiffs wear GPS monitor ankle bracelets, and declaring that the statute pursuant to which the defendant enforces the GPS monitoring requirement is unconstitutional. The defendant moved under Court of Chancery Rule 12(b)(1) to dismiss the complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. For the reasons set forth herein, I deny the motion.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiffs, Mary Doe, John Doe 1, and John Doe 2, [1] are citizens and residents of Delaware. They previously were convicted and incarcerated for sex crimes, and each now is on either probation or parole. As a result of their criminal records, each Plaintiff has been assigned to "Risk Assessment Tier III" of the sex offender registry administered by the Delaware State Bureau of Investigation pursuant to 11 Del. C. § 4121. In 2007, that statute was amended to require that, "Notwithstanding any provision of this section or title to the contrary, any Tier III sex offender being monitored at Level IV, III, II or I, shall as a condition of their probation, wear a GPS locator ankle bracelet paid for by the probationer."[2] In the case of each Plaintiff, the GPS monitor requirement was enacted after he or she was convicted of the offenses that have resulted in his or her status as a registered sex offender.[3] Plaintiffs aver that no government agency has made a finding that any of them poses a continuing danger such that requiring them to wear the GPS monitor bracelets would increase public safety.[4]

Plaintiffs commenced this action against Defendant, Robert M. Coupe, the Commissioner of the Delaware Department of Correction, on May 4, 2015. The Probation and Parole section of the Department of Correction administers the GPS Monitoring Statute. By this action, Plaintiffs seek an order of this Court "preliminarily and permanently enjoining [D]efendant from requiring them to continue wearing the GPS devices. Plaintiffs also seek a declaration that 11 Del. C. § 4121(u) on its face and as applied by [D]efendant violates the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution, "[5] or that the application of the GPS Monitoring Statute to individuals, such as Plaintiffs, convicted of sex offenses before the statute's effective date, July 12, 2007, violates the Ex Post Facto clause of the U.S. Constitution. Plaintiffs also challenge the statute facially and as applied under Article I, § 6 of the Delaware Constitution.

Defendant moved to dismiss the Complaint under Rule 12(b)(1) for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. Defendant contends that Plaintiffs have an adequate remedy at law because they have the ability to obtain a declaration from the Superior Court that the GPS Monitoring Statute is unconstitutional, either facially or as applied to Plaintiffs. Defendant contends, moreover, that should such a declaratory judgment issue, it would be "self-executing, " requiring no further injunctive relief to enforce it. Plaintiffs counter by arguing that the core relief they seek is equitable in nature-i.e., an injunction requiring Defendant to stop forcing Plaintiffs to wear the GPS-monitoring ankle bracelets. Thus, Plaintiffs assert that, notwithstanding that the Superior Court conceivably could adjudicate the constitutionality of the GPS Monitoring Statute and render a declaratory judgment in that regard, subject matter jurisdiction is proper in the Court of Chancery because the ultimate relief Plaintiffs seek is equitable in nature.

II. ANALYSIS

A. Legal Standard

The Court of Chancery is a court of limited jurisdiction. It does "not have jurisdiction to determine any matter wherein sufficient remedy may be had by common law, or statute, before any other court or jurisdiction of this State."[6]Absent a statutory delegation of subject matter jurisdiction, this Court can acquire subject matter jurisdiction over a case only if a plaintiff: (1) invokes an equitable right; or (2) requests an equitable remedy when there is no adequate remedy at law.[7] The plaintiff bears the burden of establishing that this Court has subject matter jurisdiction.[8] In making its determination as to subject matter jurisdiction, the court must review the allegations of the complaint as a whole to determine the true nature of the claim.[9] Determining whether a plaintiff truly seeks equitable relief is a context-specific inquiry. As stated by then-Vice Chancellor Chandler:

It has been frequently said that this Court, in determining jurisdiction, will go behind the "facade of prayers" to determine the "true reason" for which the plaintiff has brought suit. By this it is meant that a judge in equity will take a practical view of the complaint, and will not permit a suit to be brought in Chancery where a complete legal remedy otherwise exists but where the plaintiff has prayed for some type of traditional equitable relief as a kind of formulaic "open sesame" to the Court of Chancery. A practical ...

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