Legal Memorandum: "Ripeness" of a Claim for Adjudication

Issue: Under federal law, as applied in Hawaii, how does a court determine whether a claim is ‘ripe’ for adjudication?

Area of Law: Litigation & Procedure
Keywords: Ripeness; Claim for adjudication
Jurisdiction: Federal, Hawaii
Cited Cases: 82 F.3d 1431; 468 U.S. 641; 966 F.2d 1541; 473 U.S. 568; 694 F.2d 1185
Cited Statutes: None
Date: 02/01/2001

"Ripeness is a question of timing and prevents the court from deciding abstract or theoretical questions which have no concrete impact on the parties."  California v. F.E.R.C., 966 F.2d 1541, 1562 (9th Cir. 1992).  Where there is nothing merely abstract or theoretical about the question presented, an issue is ripe. 

Generally, ripeness is held to be satisfied when the plaintiff shows that there have been credible threats, express or implied, of criminal enforcement.  See Babbitt v. United Farm Workers Nat’l Union, 442 U.S. 289, 297-98 (1979); Barona Group of Capitan Grande Band of Mission Indians v. Duffy, 694 F.2d 1185, 1187 (9th Cir. 1982); Time, Inc. v. Regan, 539 F. Supp. 1371, 1380-82 (S.D.N.Y. 1982), aff’d in part, rev’d in part on other grounds, 468 U.S. 641 (1984).  An actual prosecution is unnecessary.  Babbitt, 442 U.S. at 298.  Plaintiff is not required to await and undergo criminal prosecution as the sole means of seeking relief.  Time, 539 F. Supp. at 1381.  Thus, in Time, a magazine publisher that had been warned several times that its illustrations of currency violated federal counterfeiting law, did not have to wait until there was an actual prosecution or even an express threat of prosecution to bring a declaratory action.  In words also applicable here, the court noted:

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