Kentucky Press Ass'n, Inc. v. Kentucky

Decision Date07 July 2006
Docket NumberNo. 05-5224.,05-5224.
Citation454 F.3d 505
PartiesKENTUCKY PRESS ASSOCIATION, INC., Plaintiff-Appellant, v. COMMONWEALTH OF KENTUCKY, Defendant, Janice Marshall, in her official capacity as the Clerk of the Franklin Circuit Court and The Franklin District Court and on behalf of all others similarly situated; Eleanore Garber, in her official capacity as Family Court Judge and on behalf of all others similarly situated; Deborah Deweese, in her official capacity as District Judge and on behalf of all others similarly situated, Defendants-Appellees.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Sixth Circuit

Jon L. Fleischaker, Dinsmore & Shohl, Louisville, Kentucky, for Appellant. D. Brent Irvin, Office of the Attorney General, Frankfort, Kentucky, for Appellees.


Jon L. Fleischaker, R. Kenyon Meyer, Jeremy S. Rogers, Dinsmore & Shohl, Louisville, Kentucky, for Appellant. D. Brent Irvin, Office of the Attorney General, Frankfort, Kentucky, for Appellees. Karen Quinn, Timothy G. Arnold, Gail Robinson, Kentucky Department of Public Advocacy, Frankfort, Kentucky, for Amici Curiae.

Before: NORRIS and BATCHELDER, Circuit Judges; RICE, District Judge.*



Plaintiff-Appellant Kentucky Press Association ("KPA"), a non-profit corporation whose members include newspapers throughout Kentucky, appeals the dismissal for failure to state a claim of its suit against Defendants-Appellants the Commonwealth of Kentucky and various Kentucky court officials (collectively, "the Commonwealth"), claiming violation of KPA's First Amendment right of access to court proceedings. Specifically, KPA makes a facial challenge to four Kentucky statutory provisions, claiming that they deny the media any access to Kentucky's juvenile court proceedings and records pertinent thereto. The district court rejected the Commonwealth's jurisdictional, abstention, and sovereign immunity arguments, but held that KPA's complaint did not state a claim for a First Amendment right of access to juvenile records and proceedings. Because KPA has not challenged the relevant statutes in the Kentucky courts, which could well render an interpretation of these statutes that provides for the access that KPA seeks and thus avoids the constitutional issue presented in this case, we will dismiss the appeal for failure to present a case or controversy sufficiently ripe for adjudication, and remand this case to the district court with instructions that it be dismissed on that ground.


KPA filed suit in the district court, making a facial challenge to the constitutionality of four provisions of the Kentucky Uniform Juvenile Code ("KUJC"). K.R.S. § 610.070(3) provides that "[t]he general public shall be excluded" from juvenile hearings, and allows access only to the immediate families of parties before the court, victims and their families, witnesses, attorneys, certain government officials, and "such persons admitted as the judge shall find have a direct interest in the case or in the work of the court, and such other persons as agreed to by the child and his attorney." K.R.S. § 610.320(3) provides that the mental, medical, treatment, psychological, law enforcement, and court records of juveniles "shall not be opened to scrutiny by the public," with exceptions for law enforcement and court records regarding certain serious offenses. K.R.S. § 610.330 mandates that the juvenile court order that all records pertaining to the particular juvenile proceeding be sealed, provided the petitioning juvenile meets the relevant prerequisites for expungement. And finally, K.R.S. § 610.340 generally requires that all juvenile records remain confidential, allowing disclosure only to a limited class of individuals, including "persons authorized to attend a juvenile court hearing pursuant to K.R.S. 610.070," and in situations "ordered by the court for good cause." K.R.S. § 610.340(1)(a).

KPA maintained in the district court that these provisions, on their face, violate KPA's First Amendment right of access to judicial proceedings, as first established by the Supreme Court in Richmond Newspapers, Inc. v. Virginia, 448 U.S. 555, 100 S.Ct. 2814, 65 L.Ed.2d 973 (1980). The Commonwealth asked the district court to dismiss the case on several jurisdictional and prudential grounds, including standing, ripeness, sovereign immunity, and abstention. The main thrust of these arguments was that it would be improper for a federal court to pass upon the constitutionality of the Kentucky statutes at issue without knowing whether they actually operate to deny KPA the access it seeks. In other words, because KPA never petitioned the Kentucky courts for access to juvenile proceedings-for example, asserting a right of access under K.R.S. § 610.070(3) as a party with a "direct interest in the case or in the work of the court"—it would be premature for a federal court to assume that KPA's interpretation of the KUJC as denying all media access to juvenile proceedings was actually the law of Kentucky, and thus inappropriate for the federal court to make a constitutional ruling based upon that potentially erroneous assumption. The district court rejected these arguments. See Ky. Press Ass'n, Inc. v. Commonwealth of Kentucky, 355 F.Supp.2d 853, 858-63 (E.D.Ky.2005). As to the Commonwealth's basic contention that KPA should have sought access through the Kentucky courts before mounting a facial attack on the constitutionality of the statutes, the district court credited KPA's claim that a facial challenge is appropriate because the statutes' closure provisions make it "impossible for the public or press to know enough facts about any juvenile case to intervene." Id. at 862 n. 2. Having determined that it was appropriate to address KPA's constitutional claim on its merits, however, the district court found that KPA had failed to establish a right of access to juvenile proceedings under the "experience and logic" test of Richmond Newspapers and its progeny, and dismissed the complaint. Id. at 863-64.

KPA appeals this decision, arguing that the district court erred in applying the Supreme Court's "experience and logic" test to its claim for access to juvenile proceedings. KPA emphasizes that it does not seek "boundless public access . . . [to] every juvenile court situation." Rather, KPA contends that Kentucky has thrown a complete "shroud of secrecy" over its juvenile proceedings, and that the "experience and logic" test, properly applied, at least requires that the press be given access to information about a juvenile case sufficient to determine whether to seek access to that proceeding, and that there not be an irrebuttable presumption against access to juvenile proceedings. Noting that it does not waive its jurisdictional arguments, the Commonwealth expressly presses on appeal only its jurisdictional argument that Franklin Circuit clerk Janice Marshall is not a proper defendant under the legal fiction of Ex Parte Young, 209 U.S. 123, 28 S.Ct. 441, 52 L.Ed. 714 (1908). In addition, the Commonwealth argues that the district court correctly applied the Supreme Court's "experience and logic" test in finding no right of access to juvenile proceedings, because such proceedings are not marked by a history of openness, and because openness would not serve a significant positive role in the functioning of a juvenile court system designed to protect children from the public spotlight. See Press-Enterprise Co. v. Super. Ct. of Cal. for the County of Riverside, 478 U.S. 1, 8-9, 106 S.Ct. 2735, 92 L.Ed.2d 1 (1986).


Although the Commonwealth does not expressly pursue its basic jurisdictional arguments on appeal, it has not waived them and, indeed, at oral argument, pointed out that it could not concede jurisdiction. And, we have an independent duty "to inquire sua sponte whenever a doubt arises as to the existence of federal jurisdiction." Mt. Healthy City Sch. Dist. Bd. of Ed. v. Doyle, 429 U.S. 274, 278, 97 S.Ct. 568, 50 L.Ed.2d 471 (1977); see also Patsy v. Bd. of Regents of the State of Fla., 457 U.S. 496, 525, 102 S.Ct. 2557, 73 L.Ed.2d 172 (1982) ("Because of their unusual nature, and because it would not simply be wrong but indeed would be an unconstitutional invasion of the powers reserved to the states if the federal courts were to entertain cases not within their jurisdiction, the rule is well settled that the party seeking to invoke the jurisdiction of a federal court must demonstrate that the case is within the competence of that court.") (Powell, J., dissenting) (quoting Charles A. Wright & Arthur R. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 3522, at 45 (1975)). In light of the Commonwealth's jurisdictional arguments in the district court, along with its and the amicus curiae's contentions on appeal stressing the uncertainty of KPA's claim that Kentucky law bars all press access to juvenile proceedings, we are convinced that KPA's First Amendment claim is not sufficiently ripe for federal court adjudication.

Ripeness is a justiciability doctrine designed "to prevent the courts, through premature adjudication, from entangling themselves in abstract disagreements." Thomas v. Union Carbide Agric. Prods. Co., 473 U.S. 568, 580, 105 S.Ct. 3325, 87 L.Ed.2d 409 (1985) (internal quotation omitted). "Ripeness becomes an issue when a case is anchored in future events that may not occur as anticipated, or at all." Nat'l Rifle Ass'n of Am. v. Magaw, 132 F.3d 272, 294 (1997). "The ripeness doctrine is drawn both from Article III limitations on judicial power and from prudential reasons for refusing to exercise jurisdiction, but, even in a case raising only prudential concerns, the question of ripeness may be considered on a court's own motion." Nat'l Park Hospitality Ass'n v. Dep't of the Interior, 538 U.S. 803, 808, 123 S.Ct. 2026, 155 L.Ed.2d 1017 (2003) (internal citation and quotation omitted). In performing...

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