HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
THIRTIETH LEGISLATURE, 2020
STATE OF HAWAII
A BILL FOR AN ACT
RELATING TO DECLARATORY JUDGMENTS.
BE IT ENACTED BY THE LEGISLATURE OF THE STATE OF HAWAII:
SECTION 1. The legislature finds that since the enactment of the judicial remedy of declaratory judgments in state law, the role of declaratory judgments within the State's jurisprudence has changed. Declaratory judgments, which were introduced in the State by Act 162, Session Laws of Hawaii 1921, were viewed by various contemporaneous legal scholars as a broad remedy capable of:
(1) Resolving actual controversies when no other cause of action was available because, although foreseeable, no injury has yet occurred nor has any penalty accrued; and
(2) Resolving actual controversies where injury has occurred or penalties have accrued, but the parties sought only a statement of rights.
Declaratory judgments merely declare the existing rights, relations, statuses, privileges, and obligations of the parties to a controversy without imposing coercive relief, such as an injunction or the payment of damages. See Edson R. Sunderland, A Modern Evolution in Remedial Rights – The Declaratory Judgment, 16 Mich. L. Rev. 69, 75-77 (1917). An oft-cited example of the utility of declaratory judgments is to clarify the rights and obligations of parties under a contract without requiring one party to breach the contract or sue for nonperformance.
However, subsequent to the introduction of declaratory judgments to the State's jurisprudence, this originally broad remedy was restricted to instances in which another cause of action was not available, for example, prior to the occurrence of a legally cognizable injury. See Kaleikau v. Hall, 27 Haw. 420 (1923); Kaaa v. Waiakea Mill Co., 29 Haw. 122 (1926). Believing that it was not the intent of the "legislature to provide a new remedy or method of procedure for cases for which an adequate remedy and method of procedure had already been provided," Kaleikau at 428, the State's courts restricted the reach of the declaratory judgment remedy even though the authorizing statute explicitly stated that courts shall have such power to issue the remedy "whether or not consequential relief is, or at the time could be, claimed." Act 162, Session Laws of Hawaii 1921.
To overturn this restriction, the legislature passed Act 74, Session Laws of Hawaii 1945, which, among other things, reiterated that "the mere fact that an actual or threatened controversy is susceptible of relief through a general common law remedy, or an equitable remedy, or an extraordinary legal remedy, whether such remedy is recognized or regulated by statute or not, shall not debar a party from the privilege of obtaining a declaratory judgment or decree in any case where the other essentials to such relief are present." In justifying the necessity of Act 74, the House Judiciary Committee stated that "[t]he benefits sought to be had under our present law have been negated by two decisions of our Supreme Court. The State of Pennsylvania[,] which has a similar law like that of our present law[,] has enacted this bill into its law." H. Stand. Com. Rep. No. 76, in 1945 House Journal, at 566. Pennsylvania, too, "had professed to discover, in the face of clear wording of the [Pennsylvania statute] to the contrary, that the [statute] could not be used where another remedy was available." Edwin Borchard, Pennsylvania's Clarifying Amendment for Declaratory Judgments, 93 U. Pa. L. Rev. 50, 50-51 (1944).
However, the legislature finds that the remedy of declaratory judgments has now become too broad, where the remedy has been authorized in instances of a general disagreement of a government action without a showing of an actual controversy. The remedy of a declaratory judgment has always been intended to be limited to an actual controversy as "[n]obody thought of conferring upon the courts power to decide imaginary, academic or moot cases." Edwin Borchard, Progress of the Declaratory Judgment, 35 Yale L. J. 473, 475 (1926). While the contours of an actual controversy are hard to define, when determining whether an actual controversy exists, "'the question is whether the facts alleged, under all the circumstances, show that there is a substantial controversy, between parties having adverse legal interests, of sufficient immediacy and reality to warrant a declaratory judgment.'" Asato v. Procurement Policy Bd., 132 Haw. 333, 355 (2014)(quoting Kaho'ohanohano v. State, 114 Haw. 302, 332 (2007)); see Medimmune, Inc. v. Genentech, Inc., 549 U.S. 118, 127 (2007)(stating the same standard for determining when a controversy qualifies as a justiciable controversy in which declaratory relief may be granted under the Federal Declaratory Judgment Act).
The legislature understands that part of the inquiry of determining whether parties have adverse legal interests is determining whether a plaintiff has sufficient standing to bring the suit. For the purposes of determining whether parties have adverse legal interests, the legislature believes that declaratory judgments should be reserved for instances where a plaintiff alleges more than a disagreement. In Tax Foundation of Hawaii v. State, the plaintiff, as a taxpayer, was found to have a concrete interest in a right to have moneys transferred from one governmental agency to another. 144 Haw. 175, 202-03 (2019). While the legislature believes that the expenditures of public moneys and the proper management of such expenditures are of public importance, the legislature does not believe that general disagreement challenges to government actions are the proper use of declaratory judgments. A plaintiff should show a personal stake in the proceedings beyond a mere disagreement with the government action and shall implicate an actual or threatened injury or penalty.
In light of this broadening use of declaratory judgments, the legislature finds it necessary to:
(1) Codify the standard for determining whether standing exists; and
(2) Reinstate the restriction of the Kaleikau Court, limiting the use of declaratory judgments to those instances where an actual controversy has not yet resulted in injury or penalty.
The purpose of this Act is to clarify and redefine the scope of declaratory judgments in the State by:
(1) Restricting declaratory judgments to instances where a legally cognizable injury has not yet occurred and consequential relief could not presently be claimed;
(2) Further amending the instances in which declaratory judgments would not be available; and
(3) Requiring that a plaintiff show a personal stake in the actual controversy beyond a generally available grievance by establishing injury-in-fact standing.
SECTION 2. Section 632-1, Hawaii Revised Statutes, is amended to read as follows:
controversies subject to. [
(a)[ ]] In cases of actual controversy, courts of
record, within the scope of their respective jurisdictions, shall have power to
make binding adjudications of legal relations, status, right[ ,
whether or not], and privilege only if consequential relief [ is,
or at the time could be, claimed,] could not be claimed and no
action or proceeding shall be open to objection on the ground that a judgment
or order merely declaratory of right is prayed for; provided that declaratory
relief may not be obtained in [ any]:
[, or in any];
controversy with respect to taxes[
, or in any];
(3) Any controversy with respect to the determination of a future effect of a constitutional provision;
(4) Any case
where a divorce or annulment of marriage is sought[
(5) Any case where a statute provides a special form of remedy for a specific type of case; and
(6) Any case where another cause of action exists pursuant to section 632-6.
Controversies involving the interpretation of deeds, wills, other instruments of writing, statutes, municipal ordinances, and other governmental regulations may be so determined, and this enumeration does not exclude other instances of actual antagonistic assertion and denial of right.
[(b)] Relief by declaratory judgment may be granted
in civil cases where an actual controversy exists between contending parties,
or where the court is satisfied that antagonistic claims are present between
the parties involved which indicate imminent and inevitable litigation, or
where in any such case the court is satisfied that a party asserts a legal
relation, status, right, or privilege in which the party has a concrete
interest and that there is a challenge or denial of the asserted relation,
status, right, or privilege by an adversary party who also has or asserts a
concrete interest therein, and the court is satisfied also that a declaratory
judgment will serve to terminate the uncertainty or controversy giving rise to
the proceeding. Where, however, a
statute provides a special form of remedy for a specific type of case, that
statutory remedy shall be followed; but the mere fact that an actual or
threatened controversy is susceptible of relief through a general common law
remedy, a remedy equitable in nature, or an extraordinary legal remedy, whether
such remedy is recognized or regulated by statute or not, shall not debar a
party from the privilege of obtaining a declaratory judgment in any case where
the other essentials to such relief are present.]
(b) Notwithstanding any other law that may be construed to the contrary, plaintiffs seeking declaratory relief shall have legal standing only if the plaintiff has alleged a personal stake in the outcome of the controversy by establishing the following:
(1) The plaintiff suffered an actual or threatened injury;
(2) The injury is fairly traceable to the defendant's actions; and
(3) A favorable decision will likely provide relief for the plaintiff's injury.
The injury in paragraph (1) must be an actual or threatened harm to a legally protected interest. The plaintiff must show a distinct and palpable injury to the plaintiff rather than a generally available grievance that no more directly affects plaintiff than it does the public at large. The injury must be distinct and palpable, as opposed to abstract, conjectural, or merely hypothetical."
SECTION 3. Section 632-6, Hawaii Revised Statutes, is amended to read as follows:
"§632-6 Provisions, remedial. This chapter is declared to be remedial. Its purpose is to afford relief from the
uncertainty and insecurity attendant upon controversies over legal rights[
without requiring]; provided that once one of the parties interested
[ so to invade] invades the rights asserted by the other [ as to
entitle the party to], the parties shall be barred from the remedy under
this chapter and shall maintain an ordinary action therefor. [ It is to be liberally interpreted and
administered, with a view to making the courts more serviceable to the people.]"
SECTION 4. Statutory material to be repealed is bracketed and stricken. New statutory material is underscored.
SECTION 5. This Act shall take effect upon its approval.
Declaratory Judgments; Standing; Courts; Personal Stake; Injury-In-Fact
Prohibits declaratory judgments when there is a cause of action and in other certain instances. Requires a plaintiff to show a personal stake in the actual controversy beyond a general disagreement or complaint by requiring a showing of an injury-in-fact.
The summary description of legislation appearing on this page is for informational purposes only and is not legislation or evidence of legislative intent.