103 F.3d 994 (D.C. Cir. 1997), 96-5088, Navegar, Inc. v. United States

Docket Nº:96-5088.
Citation:103 F.3d 994
Party Name:NAVEGAR, INCORPORATED and Penn Arms, Incorporated, Appellants v. UNITED STATES of America, Appellee.
Case Date:January 03, 1997
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit

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103 F.3d 994 (D.C. Cir. 1997)

NAVEGAR, INCORPORATED and Penn Arms, Incorporated, Appellants


UNITED STATES of America, Appellee.

No. 96-5088.

United States Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit

January 3, 1997

Argued Nov. 8, 1996.

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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[322 U.S.App.D.C. 290] Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Columbia (No. 95cv00550).

Richard E. Gardiner, argued the cause and filed the briefs, Fairfax VA, for appellants.

Mark B. Stern, Attorney, United States Department of Justice, Washington, DC, argued the cause for appellee, with whom Frank W. Hunger, Assistant Attorney General, Eric H. Holder, Jr., United States Attorney, and Michael S. Raab, Attorney, United States Department of Justice, were on the brief.

Before: WALD, GINSBURG and TATEL, Circuit Judges.

Opinion for the Court filed by Circuit Judge WALD.

WALD, Circuit Judge:

Federally-licensed firearms manufacturers Navegar, Inc. (doing business as "Intratec") ("Intratec") and Penn Arms, Inc. ("Penn Arms") filed a complaint in federal district court on March 3, 1995, seeking a declaratory judgment that certain provisions of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, Pub.L. No. 103-322, 108 Stat. 1796 ("the Act"), were outside of Congress' enumerated powers, unconstitutional Bills of Attainder, and vague in violation of the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution. The government filed a motion for summary judgment on the ground that the complaint did not set forth a justiciable controversy as required by Article III of the United States Constitution, because the plaintiffs had failed to demonstrate that they faced a genuine "threat of

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[322 U.S.App.D.C. 291] prosecution." Following discovery, the filing of a Joint Stipulation of Fact, additional briefing, and oral argument, the district court on February 1, 1996 issued a Memorandum and Order granting the government's motion and dismissing the case. Navegar, Inc. v. United States, 914 F.Supp. 632 (D.D.C.1996). We affirm the dismissal of three of appellants' challenges, but reverse in regard to their other claims, and remand the case for further proceedings on the merits of these latter claims.


The Act, which became effective on September 13, 1994, made it unlawful for a person to "manufacture, transfer, or possess a semiautomatic assault weapon," 18 U.S.C. § 922(v)(1) (1994), and defined "semiautomatic assault weapon" to include "any of the firearms, or copies or duplicates of the firearms in any caliber, known as ... INTRATECTEC-9, TEC-DC9 and TEC-22; and ... revolving cylinder shotguns, such as (or similar to) the Street Sweeper and Striker 12." 18 U.S.C. § 921(a)(30)(A) (1994). The definition of "semiautomatic assault weapon" also includes semiautomatic pistols that have "an ability to accept a detachable magazine" and at least two of five other specified characteristics. 18 U.S.C. § 921(a)(30)(C) (1994).

Section 922(w)(1) of the Act outlawed the transfer or possession of any "large capacity ammunition feeding device," which section 921(a)(31) defined to include ammunition magazines manufactured after the date of enactment of the Act which can hold more than ten rounds of ammunition. See 18 U.S.C. §§ 922(w)(1), 921(a)(31) (1994).

The Act provides exemptions for transfer of these weapons to government agencies and law enforcement officers, 18 U.S.C. § 922(v)(4) and (w)(3), and for export of the weapons under certain conditions. Units lawfully possessed on the effective date of the Act are "grandfathered," meaning they may lawfully be transferred and possessed after the Act's passage. 18 U.S.C. § 922(v)(2), (w)(2) (1994). Persons convicted of knowingly violating these provisions of the Act are subject to fines and prison sentences of up to five years. 18 U.S.C. § 924(a)(1) (1994).

On the day the Act became law, inspection agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms ("ATF") visited the facilities of Intratec and Penn Arms, informed officers of these companies of the prohibitions cited above, and gave notice that they planned to conduct inventories of the weapons that would be "grandfathered" under the Act. Over the next two days, ATF inspection agents conducted these inventories. Appellants ceased the manufacture and transfer of the outlawed weapons from the date of the Act's enactment, and have expressed no intention to violate the Act in the future. On September 26, 1994, the ATF sent a letter to appellants and other firearms manufacturers which summarized the above-described prohibitions.


  1. Justiciability Requirements

    The district court's grant of summary judgment on the ground of lack of standing is subject to de novo review by this court. See, e.g., Tao v. Freeh, 27 F.3d 635, 638 (D.C.Cir.1994).

    Article III of the United States Constitution limits the role of the federal courts to the decision of "cases" and "controversies." U.S. CONST. art III, § 2. Before undertaking to decide any dispute brought before it, a federal court must first assure itself that the dispute presented by the parties represents a justiciable "case" or "controversy"; that is, that the plaintiff suffers an actual injury fairly traceable to some challenged action of the defendant and likely to be redressed by the judicial relief requested, and that the factual claims underlying the plaintiff's challenge are concrete enough and the legal issues submitted for decision sharply focused enough to ensure that a genuine clash between the parties exists. See Valley Forge Christian College v. Americans United for Separation of Church and State, 454 U.S. 464, 471, 102 S.Ct. 752, 757-58, 70 L.Ed.2d 700 (1982). This principle of justiciability derived from Article III serves several important functions, not the least of which

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    [322 U.S.App.D.C. 292] are maintaining the limits on judicial power appropriate in a democratic society, see Warth v. Seldin, 422 U.S. 490, 498, 95 S.Ct. 2197, 2204-05, 45 L.Ed.2d 343 (1975), and ensuring that the federal courts act only when the disputes brought before them involve sharply-defined issues pressed by truly adversary parties with a genuine stake in the outcome. See Abbott Laboratories v. Gardner, 387 U.S. 136, 149, 87 S.Ct. 1507, 1515-16, 18 L.Ed.2d 681 (1967), overruled on other grounds by Califano v. Sanders, 430 U.S. 99, 105, 97 S.Ct. 980, 984, 51...

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