United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
RODNEY W. SIPPEL, District Judge.
Plaintiff Grand Juror Doe (Juror) seeks a declaratory judgment that Missouri laws criminalizing Juror's disclosure of information about her experience on a State of Missouri grand jury are unconstitutional as applied. Juror alleges that these Missouri statutes violate her free speech rights under the First Amendment to United States Constitution. Defendant St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch has moved to dismiss the complaint on numerous grounds. One of the grounds for dismissal is based on the doctrine of abstention. Because the issue of whether the State of Missouri can require a duly sworn grand juror to preserve the secrecy of grand jury proceedings concerns a fundamental element of how Missouri chooses to maintain, as a sovereign state, the integrity of its criminal court proceedings, and a decision by the Missouri state courts could avoid a need for a decision on federal constitutional grounds, I find that this case should be dismissed to allow Missouri courts to address this important Missouri state issue.
Plaintiff Juror began serving as a grand juror for the Circuit Court of St. Louis County on May 7, 2014. That grand jury's term of service was originally set to expire on September 10, 2014. On August 9, 2014, while on duty as a police officer for the City of Ferguson, Officer Darren Wilson shot and killed Michael Brown. Defendant Robert McCulloch, the Prosecuting Attorney for St. Louis County, presented the matter to the grand jury to decide whether there was probable cause to believe Officer Wilson violated any Missouri state criminal laws in the death of Mr. Brown. The St. Louis County Circuit Court extended the term of the grand jury from September 10, 2014 to January 7, 2015 to allow the grand jury to consider the Wilson matter.
The prosecuting attorney's staff presented evidence regarding the case to the grand jury over a several week period. On November 24, 2014, upon completion of their investigation of the Wilson matter, the grand jury returned a "no true bill" declining to indict Officer Wilson. During his announcement of the grand jury's decision, McCulloch made public statements at a press conference about the jury's investigation and its decision not to issue an indictment. McCulloch also released evidence presented to the grand jury, including transcripts, reports, interviews, and forensic evidence. However, the transcripts and documents were redacted in a manner to keep secret the identities of the grand jurors, witnesses, and other persons connected to the investigation. In addition, McCulloch did not release the votes or deliberations of the grand jury.
Plaintiff Juror's complaint alleges that, from her perspective, the St. Louis County prosecuting attorney's presentation of the evidence in the Wilson matter to the grand jury was markedly different from other cases presented to the grand jury. Juror alleges that the "State's counsel" to the grand jury was different in significant ways from previous cases; the investigation had a stronger emphasis on the victim than in other cases; and, the "presentation of the law to which the grand jurors were to apply the facts was made in a muddled and untimely manner."
Juror alleges that McCulloch's statements at the press conference "characterizes the views of the grand jury collectively toward the evidence, witnesses, and the law, in a manner that does not comport with [Juror's] own opinions."
Grand jurors take an oath as members of the grand jury to keep grand jury proceedings secret
All grand jury members take an oath of secrecy regarding their service on a grand jury. That oath is found in section 540.080 R.S.Mo. which states:
Grand jurors may be sworn in the following form: "Do you solemnly swear you will diligently inquire and true presentment make, according to your charge, of all offenses against the laws of the state committed or triable in this county of which you have or can obtain legal evidence; the counsel of your state, your fellows and your own, you shall truly keep secret? You further swear that you will present no one for any hatred, malice or ill will; neither will you leave unpresented any one for love, fear, favor or affection, or for any reward or the hope or promise thereof, but that you will present things truly as they come to your knowledge, to the best of your understanding, according to the laws of this state, so help you God."
A St. Louis County Circuit judge required the grand jurors in this case to take the oath twice - both at the beginning of their service and again when the grand jury's term was extended.
Juror now wants to speak out about her experience as a grand juror and to express opinions about the evidence and the investigation in the Wilson matter in particular, and about other grand jury cases generally for the purpose of comparison. Juror wants to comment on whether McCulloch's release of records and statements at the press conference accurately reflected the grand jurors' views of the evidence and witnesses in the Wilson matter. Juror also wants to express the view that the evidence and law were presented differently in the Wilson matter than Juror had experienced in other cases presented to the grand jury. Juror asserts that her motivation behind these proposed disclosures is to "aid in educating the public about how grand juries function" and to use Juror's "own experiences to advocate for legislative change to the way grand juries are conducted in Missouri."
Juror alleges that four State of Missouri statutes have a "chilling effect" which limit her speech. The statutes cited by Juror are Missouri Revised Statutes sections 540.080, 540.120, 540.310, and 540.320. Juror seeks a declaratory judgment that "Missouri laws criminalizing speech by [Juror], about [Juror's] experiences as a state grand juror for the investigation of the [Wilson matter], are unconstitutional as applied." Juror asserts that her free speech rights under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution override the oath of secrecy she took as a grand juror, and, as a result, void any Missouri state statute which would criminalize Juror's proposed speech regarding the grand jury's proceedings.
Defendant McCulloch has moved to dismiss the complaint on several grounds, including that the doctrine of abstention should be followed in this case. Juror opposes the motion.
When ruling on a motion to dismiss, I must accept as true all factual allegations in the complaint and view them in light most favorable to the Plaintiff. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6); Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007). The purpose of a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) is to test the legal sufficiency of the complaint. An action fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted if it does not plead "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). To ...