Bradley v. Saxbe, Civ. A. No. 74-1327.

CourtUnited States District Courts. United States District Court (Columbia)
Writing for the CourtDavid J. Anderson, Dept. of Justice, Washington, D. C., for defendant
Citation388 F. Supp. 53
PartiesTom BRADLEY et al., Plaintiffs, v. William B. SAXBE, Defendant.
Docket NumberCiv. A. No. 74-1327.
Decision Date18 December 1974

388 F. Supp. 53

Tom BRADLEY et al., Plaintiffs,
William B. SAXBE, Defendant.

Civ. A. No. 74-1327.

United States District Court, District of Columbia.

December 18, 1974.

388 F. Supp. 54

Charles S. Rhyne, Washington, D. C., for plaintiffs.

David J. Anderson, Dept. of Justice, Washington, D. C., for defendant.

388 F. Supp. 55


GESELL, District Judge.

Plaintiff organizations representing their member cities, counties and mayors, respectively, seek a declaratory judgment to the effect that they, their named officers, and their full-time salaried employees are exempt from registration under the Federal Regulation of Lobbying Act, 2 U.S.C. § 261 et seq. They contend that the organizations are, in each case, mere extensions or agents of the public officials who created them, that all their activities are financed entirely from public funds, and that while their officers and employees are admittedly engaged in lobbying activity, they are not required to register under section 308 of the Act because such organizations, officers and employees are exempted from registration as "public officials acting in their official capacity," by section 308 of the Act, 2 U.S.C. § 267(a). Asserting that they are threatened with imminent criminal prosecution for failure to register, they filed this complaint to resolve the controversy. The matter comes before the Court on cross-motions for summary judgment and has been fully briefed and argued.*

The general rule that equity will not act in anticipation of criminal prosecutions is subject to exceptions. Zemel v. Rusk, 381 U.S. 1, 19, 85 S.Ct. 1271, 14 L.Ed.2d 179 (1965); Evers v. Dwyer, 358 U.S. 202, 79 S.Ct. 178, 3 L.Ed.2d 222 (1958). While there is no precise test in such situations, one important factor is whether the penalties involved are so great that unless declaratory relief is entertained, the plaintiffs will, as a practical matter, be compelled to forego their legal position and be obliged to submit. See Terrace v. Thompson, 263 U.S. 197, 212, 44 S.Ct. 15, 68 L.Ed. 255 (1923). See also, Pierce v. Society of Sisters, 268 U.S. 510, 45 S.Ct. 571, 69 L.Ed. 1070 (1925). This factor is clearly present here since under 2 U.S.C. § 269(b) any person convicted of violating the Lobbying Act is automatically prohibited for three years from "attempting, directly or indirectly, to influence the passage or defeat of any proposed legislation" in Congress. To the employees of plaintiff organizations, the threat that upon conviction they would be barred for three years from continuing their employment is obviously far more imposing than the possibility of being fined in a test case. Rather than run that risk, if declaratory relief is denied, they may well be forced to submit to a statute they sincerely claim cannot legally be applied to them. See National Assn. of Manufacturers v. McGrath, 103 F.Supp. 510, 512 (D.D.C.), vacated as moot, 344 U.S. 808, 73 S.Ct. 31, 97 L.Ed. 627 (1952).

This in terrorem effect is made all the more compelling by the disturbing First Amendment overtones, discussed more fully below, of threatened criminal prosecutions in these circumstances. See N. A.A.C.P. v. Button, 371 U.S. 415, 433, 83 S.Ct. 328, 9 L.Ed.2d 405 (1963); Dombrowski v. Pfister, 380 U.S. 479, 485-489, 85 S.Ct. 1116, 14 L.Ed.2d 22 (1965); Epperson v. Arkansas, 393 U.S. 97, 89 S.Ct. 266, 21 L.Ed.2d 228 (1968); National Student Assn. v. Hershey, 134 U.S.App.D.C. 56, 412 F.2d 1103 (1969); Tatum v. Laird, 144 U.S.App.D.C. 72, 444 F.2d 947, rev'd, 408 U.S. 1, 92 S.Ct. 231, 33 L.Ed.2d 154 (1972).

It should also be noted that the principles of federalism and comity which have prompted federal courts to abstain from intervening in pending state criminal prosecutions, Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37, 91 S.Ct. 746, 27 L. Ed.2d 669 (1971); Samuels v. Mackell, 401 U.S. 66, 91 S.Ct. 764, 27 L.Ed.2d 688 (1971); Steffel v. Thompson, 415 U.S. 452, 94 S.Ct. 1209, 39 L.Ed.2d 505 (1974), work in quite the opposite direction

388 F. Supp. 56
here where agents of state officials threatened with federal prosecution seek to invoke the aid of a federal court of equity to clarify their obligations under federal law, cf. Steffel v. Thompson, supra, 415 U.S. at 462, 94 S.Ct. 1209, particularly since the issues presented are purely legal involving statutory interpretation, uncluttered by factual disputes. Compare Abbott Laboratories v. Gardner, 387 U.S. 136, 149, 87 S.Ct. 1507, 18 L.Ed.2d 681 (1967), with United Public Workers v. Mitchell, 330 U.S. 75, 90, 67 S.Ct. 556, 91 L.Ed. 754 (1947). Thus a declaratory judgment is not barred because the issue may also be tested by criminal prosecution

It is necessary next to consider whether there is a sufficient real and tangible threat of criminal prosecution to present a "case or controversy." The Court has concluded this case presents "a substantial controversy, between parties having adverse legal interests, of sufficient immediacy and reality to warrant the issuance of a...

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6 cases
  • Donaggio v. Arlington County, Va., Civ. A. No. 1:94CV1277.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Virginia)
    • March 28, 1995
    ...engage in lobbying and expressly exempted them from the lobbyist registration requirements of 2 U.S.C. § 267. See Bradley v. Saxbe, 388 F.Supp. 53 (D.D.C.1974) (interpreting exclusion for public officials to include organizations lobbying on behalf of member cities, counties, and 24 Compare......
  • Ashton v. Brown, 102
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Maryland
    • September 1, 1992
    ...are very broad terms whose meanings are generally defined in part by the context in which they are used. See, e.g., Bradley v. Saxbe, 388 F.Supp. 53, 57 (D.D.C.1974) (limiting "organization" to business, professional and philanthropic organizations in a lobbying context); Newton Evangelisti......
  • Paradyne Corp. v. US Dept. of Justice, Civ. A. No. 86-2609.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. United States District Court (Columbia)
    • November 3, 1986
    ...criminal or civil liability. The Court believes that Paradyne's fear of prosecution here is real, not chimerical. In Bradley v. Saxbe, 388 F.Supp. 53 (D.D.C.1974), a court in this jurisdiction was called upon to determine whether the threat of prosecution by the DOJ of individuals not compl......
  • Presser v. Brennan, Civ. A. No. C 75-83.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 6th Circuit. United States District Court of Northern District of Ohio
    • February 27, 1975
    ...--------Notes: 1 The complete name of the Fund is Central States Southeast and Southwest Areas Pension Fund. 2 Bradley v. Saxbe, 388 F.Supp. 53 (D.C. 3 Although the complaint asks for both injunctive and declaratory relief, plaintiff now requests declaratory relief only. 4 Citing Goldberg v......
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