570 F.2d 12 (1st Cir. 1978), 77-1381, Coalition of Black Leadership v. Cianci

Docket Nº:77-1381.
Citation:570 F.2d 12
Party Name:The COALITION OF BLACK LEADERSHIP, etc., et al., Plaintiffs, Appellees, v. Vincent A. CIANCI, Jr., etc., et al., Defendants, Appellees, Providence Lodge No. 3, Fraternal Order of Police, Defendant, Appellant.
Case Date:January 27, 1978
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the First Circuit

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570 F.2d 12 (1st Cir. 1978)

The COALITION OF BLACK LEADERSHIP, etc., et al., Plaintiffs, Appellees,


Vincent A. CIANCI, Jr., etc., et al., Defendants, Appellees,

Providence Lodge No. 3, Fraternal Order of Police,

Defendant, Appellant.

No. 77-1381.

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit

January 27, 1978

Argued Nov. 8, 1977.

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Joseph F. Penza, Jr., Providence, R. I., for defendant, appellant.

David F. Reilly, Providence, R. I., with whom Alden C. Harrington, Providence, R. I., was on brief, for Coalition of Black Leadership, etc., et al., plaintiffs, appellees.

Vincent J. Piccirilli, Providence, R. I., on brief for Vincent A. Cianci, Jr., defendant, appellee.

Before COFFIN, Chief Judge, CAMPBELL and BOWNES, Circuit Judges.

COFFIN, Chief Judge.

In 1971 a class action suit was filed in the district court of Rhode Island on behalf of the black residents of the city of Providence alleging various violations of the civil rights of the plaintiff class by the defendants, various police officers and public officials of Providence. After trial a consent decree was entered into and filed in March, 1973. The decree provided for a procedure through which civilians' complaints against police officers could be filed, investigated, and resolved. In 1976 the Rhode Island Legislature enacted a law, the "Law Enforcement Officers' Bill of Rights" which required certain procedures to be followed in the processing of civilian complaints against police officers. This law conflicted in part with the terms of the consent decree. The city of Providence, apparently finding itself bound by inconsistent legal requirements, moved for relief from judgment. Plaintiffs and defendant, the Fraternal Order of Police of the City of Providence (hereinafter F.O.P.), filed memoranda with the district court. The court construed defendant's memorandum as a motion to vacate the consent decree, denied the motion, and ordered both parties to work out modifications in the decree so that the protection of policemen's rights mandated by state law and the right of plaintiffs to be free from "racially discriminatory police conduct" could to the extent possible, both be achieved. Defendant appeals that order.

Defendant raises two arguments in urging that the consent decree be vacated in its entirety. First, they maintain that the relevant facts of the case have changed so much since the entering of the consent decree that principles of equity and fairness require that the decree be vacated. Second,

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they argue that according to the holding of Rizzo v. Goode, 423 U.S. 362, 96 S.Ct. 598, 46 L.Ed.2d 561 (1975), the district court did not have sufficient jurisdiction over the original case to enter a consent decree and that this jurisdictional failure can be raised by the parties at any time to vacate a consent decree. We shall examine each contention in turn.

There is little dispute that a sufficient change in circumstances is a meritorious reason for a court to modify an injunctive or consent decree. Defendant's position appears to be that the procedures required by the new state law make the provisions of the consent decree unnecessary and that the continued application of the decree would result in unfairness since Providence police officers would be subject to different regulations than would the police officers in other parts of Rhode Island. We do not agree with defendant's analysis. The consent decree at least in part was designed to protect the rights of those citizens who felt themselves to be aggrieved by unconstitutional police misconduct. The purpose of the new state legislation was to protect police officers from any impairments of their rights when their conduct is questioned. While there is obvious subject matter overlap between the decree and the legislation, it is also obvious that neither was developed to meet these dual and partially inconsistent purposes. We do not see how we can accept as an abstract proposition and defendants have supplied us with no actual evidence to bolster their position that the additional incremental requirements imposed by the consent decree but not mandated by the new state legislation are so onerous that they amount to unfair hardships inflicted on police officers and yet are so marginal that they provide no additional protection to civilian complainants.

Moreover, the fact that the new legislation might accomplish much of what a consent decree was designed to achieve cannot be viewed as justification for vacating the decree. In United States v. Swift & Company, 189 F.Supp. 885, 906 (N.D.Ill.1960), aff'd mem., 367 U.S. 909, 81 S.Ct. 1918, 6 L.Ed.2d 1249 (1961), the court dispensed with a similar argument attacking the continued validity of an antitrust consent decree by explaining, "It is of no avail to argue . . . that the antitrust laws, including revised Section 7 of the Clayton Act, 15 U.S.C.A. § 18, concerning mergers, and the Robinson-Patman Act, 15 U.S.C.A. §§ 13-13b, 21a concerning predatory price-cutting, now provide ample remedies for future violations. The public now enjoys the specific protections of a decree."

Finally, the district court clearly pointed out in its order of July 18, 1977 that it would make every effort to see to it that policemen in Providence received all the protection provided for by the Law Enforcement Officers' Bill of Rights consistent with an effective civilian complaint system. 1 Given the lower court's flexibility we fail to see how defendant can maintain that it will suffer undue hardship or that any difficulty it experiences would not be necessitated by the same initial needs which provoked the original lawsuit and eventually the consent decree.

Defendant's second argument is that at this late stage it should have the consent decree vacated because under the holding of Rizzo v. Goode, supra, the district court did not have jurisdiction to enter any form of decree in this case. While defendant asserts that it wishes only to prevent the prospective application of the decree, its argument would seem to suggest either that the consent decree was void at its

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