The recent Delaware Court of Chancery decision in Doe v. Coupe, C.A. No. 10983-VCP (Del. Ch. July 14, 2015), clarifies the basis for equitable jurisdiction needed in order for the Court of Chancery to hear a claim that the state should be enjoined from enforcing an unconstitutional statute, in connection with a declaratory judgment action. Thus, the court denied a motion to dismiss, even if arguably the Delaware Superior Court might have jurisdiction over some part of the claim.
This ruling is useful for two reasons: (i) it delineates those types of declaratory judgment actions that seek an equitable remedy such that they do not need to be filed in Delaware’s separate court of law, the Superior Court, which is the state’s trial court of general jurisdiction; and (ii) it recognizes that the Court of Chancery can be a forum to address the constitutionality, based on the state constitution, of state statutes, which the state can be enjoined from enforcing if such statutes are found unconstitutional. This decision did not, however, address the merits of the constitutionality issue.
Nonetheless, I view this decision as an invitation for litigants to consider the Court of Chancery, more frequently known for corporate litigation, as an option for certain types of civil rights litigation. See, e.g., Doe v. Wilmington Housing Authority, a recent Delaware Supreme Court decision interpreting Section 20 of Article I of the Delaware Constitution.
See generally, recent Chancery opinion highlighted on these pages that also addressed the types of declaratory judgment actions that may be heard in Chancery, instead of Superior Court, but which reached a different conclusion than the instant case. See 10 Del. C. Section 6501, et seq. (The Declaratory Judgment Act)