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Declaratory Judgments

Model State Administrative Procedure Act (1981 ed) § 5-117(b) provides that a court may grant any appropriate relief, including declaratory relief, and may render a declaratory judgment.  Moreover, Model State Administrative Procedure Act (1961 ed) § 7 provides that the validity or applicability of a rule may be determined in an action for declaratory judgment if it is alleged that the rule interferes with or impairs, or threatens to interfere with or impair, the legal rights or privileges of the plaintiff.

Generally, courts decline to reach the merits of a case when an aggrieved party does not utilize the administrative procedures available.  While the declaratory judgment statute is meant to create a procedure for the resolution of controversies, a proceeding for declaratory relief in itself does not operate to suspend the ordinary requirement that a plaintiff exhaust the administrative remedies before seeking judicial relief.  Declaratory relief is appropriate where plaintiffs are essentially challenging the authority of a commissioner under the enabling statute and the resolution of the issue is in the public interest.  However, when the controversy centers on the authority and power of an agency, exhaustion of administrative remedies is not required.[i]

28 USCS § 2201 provides that in a case of actual controversy within its jurisdiction, except with respect to Federal taxes other than actions brought under section 7428 of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 [26 USCS § 7428], a proceeding under section 505 or 1146 of title 11, or in any civil action involving an antidumping or countervailing duty proceeding regarding a class or kind of merchandise of a free trade area country, as determined by the administering authority, any court of the United States, upon the filing of an appropriate pleading, may declare the rights and other legal relations of any interested party seeking such declaration, whether or not further relief is or could be sought.  Any such declaration shall have the force and effect of a final judgment or decree.  28 USCS § 2202 provides that after reasonable notice and hearing, further necessary or proper relief based on a declaratory judgment or decree may be granted, against any adverse party whose rights have been determined by such judgment.

[i] Construction Industries of Massachusetts v. Commissioner of Labor & Industries, 406 Mass. 162 (Mass. 1989)

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