PROVIDENCE JOURNAL CO. v. MCCOY

94 F. Supp. 186 (1950) | Cited 0 times | D. Rhode Island | June 12, 1950

The plaintiffs bring this action against the defendants under the Constitution and laws of the United States to enforce their right to inspect and make use of certain public records of the City of Pawtucket, in the County of Providence and State of Rhode Island, having to do with tax cancellations or abatements; to enjoin the defendants, or certain of them, from withholding said records from the plaintiffs or from limiting or infringing upon the plaintiffs' right to inspect and make use of said records; to order the defendants, or certain of them, to permit the plaintiffs to inspect and make use of said records; to recover damages sustained by the plaintiffs as the result of the defendants' improper and illegal conduct; and to obtain an appropriate declaratory judgment as to the matters in issue.

The plaintiffs allege that this action, together with the right of the plaintiffs to bring and maintain the same, arises under Article XIV of the Amendments to the Constitution of the United States, under Article XIV of the Amendments to the Constitution of the United States (as embracing and making effective Article I of the Amendments), under the provisions of R.S. § 1979, Title 8 U.S.C.A. § 43, R.S. § 1980(3), Title 8 U.S.C.A. § 47(3) and R.S. § 1981, Title 8 U.S.C.A. § 48.

The plaintiffs allege that the matter in controversy exceeds, exclusive of interest and costs, the sum of $ 3,000.

The plaintiffs further allege that jurisdiction is conferred upon this Court by Section 24(1), (12), and (14) of the Judicial Code, as amended, Title 28 U.S.C., 1940 ed. § 41(1), (12), and (14), Title 28 U.S.C.A. §§ 1331 and 1343, effective September 1, 1948.

The complaint further alleges in substance that the defendants, by their course of conduct, refuse to make available to the plaintiffs tax cancellation resolutions and lists; that the defendants discriminated against the plaintiffs by furnishing one of said lists to another newspaper while continuing to refuse it to the plaintiffs; that the defendants designed, framed and secured the passage of an ordinance in order to block the access of the plaintiffs to said tax cancellation resolutions and lists; that the defendants refuse to make the tax cancellation resolutions and lists available to the plaintiffs under color of said ordinance; that the defendants furnished said tax cancellation resolutions and lists to another newspaper while continuing to refuse these records to the plaintiffs, also under color of said ordinance; and that the defendants purposefully and intentionally designed and carried out an illegal conspiracy to prevent the plaintiffs from inspecting and making use of said tax cancellation resolutions and lists and that this course of conduct on the part of the defendants deprived the plaintiffs of their rights under the Constitution and laws of the United States.

The plaintiffs pray that the defendants be enjoined from withholding said tax cancellation resolutions and lists from the plaintiffs; from limiting or infringing the plaintiffs' rights to inspect and make use of said tax cancellation resolutions and lists in that they be ordered to permit the plaintiffs to inspect and make use of said tax cancellation resolutions and lists.

They further pray that pursuant to the provisions of Section 274d of the Judicial Code as amended, Title 28 U.S.C.A. § 400, Tit. 28 U.S.C.A. Chapter 151, §§ 2201 and 2202 effective September 1, 1948, that the Court adjudicate:

(a) The rights of the plaintiffs to have access to and inspect and make use of said tax cancellation resolutions and lists;

(b) The respects in which the defendants have acted and are acting illegally and wrongfully in withholding said tax cancellation resolutions and lists from the plaintiffs;

(c) The respects in which the defendants have violated and are violating the plaintiffs' rights under the Constitution and laws of the United States;

(d) The public character of said tax cancellation resolutions and lists;

(e) The unconstitutionality of the ordinance passed on January 21, 1948 and of the resolutions passed February 9, 1948.

The defendants filed a motion to dismiss the complaint on the ground that there is no jurisdiction of this Court over the subject matter and that the complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. The defendants further move that the Providence Journal Company and each of the individual defendants be dropped as improper parties; that the complaint does not comply with the provisions of Rule 8 subsections (a) and (e) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, 28 U.S.C.A., and that it fails to join indispensable parties.

The determination of the defendants' motion as amended was deferred until the trial.

The defendants filed their answer in which they allege that the complaint fails to state a claim against the defendants upon which relief can be granted and deny conspiracy or improper withholding of records. The defendants traverse the plaintiffs' allegation that the matter in controversy exceeds, exclusive of interest, the sum of $ 3,000. The defendants' answer also alleges that the tax abatement records of the City of Pawtucket are open to the inspection of all persons thereunto lawfully authorized upon compliance with reasonable requirements of law set forth by the Supreme Court of the State of Rhode Island in 1893, In re Caswell's Request, 18 R.I. 835, 29 A.2d 259, 27 L.R.A. 82, and that the parties to the complaint are improperly joined both as parties plaintiff and as parties defendant.

Tit. 28 U.S.C.A. § 1331 provides: 'The district courts shall have original jurisdiction of all civil actions wherein the matter in controversy exceeds the sum or value of $ 3,000, exclusive of interest and costs, and arises under the Constitution, laws or treaties of the United States.'

Tit. 28 U.S.C.A. § 1343 provides:

'The district courts shall have original jurisdiction of any civil action authorized by law to be commenced by any person:

'(1) To recover damages for injury to his person or property, or because of the deprivation of any right or privilege of a citizen of the United States, by any act done in furtherance of any conspiracy mentioned in section 47 of Title 8;

'(2) To recover damages from any person who fails to prevent or to aid in preventing any wrongs mentioned in section 47 of Title 8 which he had knowledge were about to occur and power to prevent;

'(3) To redress the deprivation, under color of any State law, statute, ordinance, regulation, custom or usage, of any right, privilege or immunity secured by the Constitution of the United States or by any Act of Congress providing for equal rights of citizens or of all persons within the jurisdiction of the United States.'

The Providence Journal (hereinafter referred to as the Journal), is a corporation organized and existing under the laws of the State of Rhode Island, is, and for many years has been, engaged in the business of publishing two daily newspapers (the Providence Journal and the Evening Bulletin) and one weekly newspaper (the Providence Sunday Journal). These newspapers have a wide circulation throughout the State of Rhode Island and a substantial circulation in the City of Pawtucket. The Journal is, and was at the commencement of this action, a taxpayer of the City of Pawtucket and maintains an office in that city.

Sevellon Brown is a citizen of the United States and of the State of Rhode Island. He is, and was at the commencement of this action, the editor and publisher of the Journal and, as such, is the chief executive officer of the newspapers published by said company.

Joseph A. Kelly is a citizen of the United States and of the State of Rhode Island. He is, and was at the commencement of this action, a reporter for, and the manager of, the Pawtucket Bureau of the Journal and a resident and taxpayer of the City of Pawtucket.

The plaintiffs seek, through this proceeding, to enforce their right to inspect public records of the City of Pawtucket having to do with tax cancellations or abatements with a view to publication of information contained therein.

The defendants hereinafter listed were at all pertinent times officials of the City of Pawtucket. Ambrose P. McCoy is the Mayor and, as such, is the chief executive officer of the city. James M. Donovan is the City Clerk and Clerk of the Board of Aldermen; Mary G. McCaughey is Deputy City Clerk and, in the absence of Donovan, is Acting City Clerk and Clerk of the Board of Aldermen. James J. Garvey, Louis A. Murphy and Edward J. Bigoness are Assessors of Taxes (Bigoness' death having been noted on the record, the action against him was dismissed). Vincent J. McAloon is City Treasurer and as such performs the duties and exercises the powers conferred upon the Collector of Taxes. Raymond F. Henderson is a member of the Board of Aldermen. Robert A. Magill is a member of the Common Council and all of the defendants, except Magill, continue to occupy these positions.

The joint resolution of the City Council passed and approved by the Mayor on December 31, 1947, reads as follows:

'Whereas, the Board of Assessors of Taxes of the City of Pawtucket has, in accordance with the provisions of Chapter 209 of the Ordinances of the City of Pawtucket, approved April 20, 1923, filed with the City Auditor a list of abatements of taxes with the reason for said abatement listed thereon;

'Now, Therefore, Be It Resolved, That the City Auditor and the City Treasurer be and they hereby are authorized to credit on their accounts receivable, as abatements of taxes, the sum of $ 89,377.l2, which represents the amount of taxes on Real Estate, Tangible Personal and Intangible Personal Property, as set forth in said list of abatements of taxes submitted by said Board of Assessors of Taxes, which said list is hereto affixed and made a part of this resolution.' Similar tax abatement or cancellation resolutions were passed in the years 1942, 1943, 1945 and February 1947. These resolutions were passed on the following dates and in the following amounts: Date AmountDecember 31, 1942 $ 20,081.42December 31, 1943 $ 111,416.14December 31, 1945 $ 142,172.89February 12, 1947 $ 107,205.44

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