Calderon v. Ashmus

In Calderon v. Ashmus (1998) 523 U.S. 740, state death-row inmates sought a declaration as to whether California met certain conditions to qualify for statutory procedural advantages in federal habeas corpus proceedings. The high court held that the inmates could not seek a declaratory judgment as to the validity of a potential defense the state might raise if a habeas proceeding were filed. ( Id. at p. 747.) The court explained: "Such a suit does not merely allow the resolution of a 'case or controversy' . . . but rather attempts to gain a litigation advantage by obtaining an advance ruling on an affirmative defense . The 'case or controversy' actually at stake is the class members' claims in their individual habeas proceedings." (Ibid.) The court stated that a declaratory judgment on the availability of a defense would not resolve an actual controversy, but would decide a collateral legal issue in a pending or future action.