837 F.3d 678 (6th Cir. 2016), 13-1876, Tyler v. Hillsdale County Sheriff's Department

Docket Nº:13-1876
Citation:837 F.3d 678
Opinion Judge:JULIA SMITH GIBBONS, Circuit Judge.
Party Name:CLIFFORD CHARLES TYLER, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. HILLSDALE COUNTY SHERIFF'S DEPARTMENT, et al., Defendants-Appellees
Attorney:ARGUED: Lucas J. McCarthy, Wyoming, Michigan, for Appellant. Abby C. Wright, UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE, Washington, D.C., for Federal Appellees. ON BRIEF: Lucas J. McCarthy, Wyoming, Michigan, for Appellant. Abby C. Wright, Michael S. Raab, UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE, Washingto...
Judge Panel:Before: COLE, Chief Judge; BOGGS, SILER, BATCHELDER, MOORE, CLAY, GIBBONS, ROGERS, SUTTON, COOK, McKEAGUE, GRIFFIN, KETHLEDGE, WHITE, STRANCH, and DONALD, Circuit Judges. GIBBONS, J., delivered the lead opinion in which SILER, COOK, McKEAGUE, WHITE, and DONALD, JJ., joined, and ROGERS, J., joined...
Case Date:September 15, 2016
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
 
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837 F.3d 678 (6th Cir. 2016)

CLIFFORD CHARLES TYLER, Plaintiff-Appellant,

v.

HILLSDALE COUNTY SHERIFF'S DEPARTMENT, et al., Defendants-Appellees

No. 13-1876

United States Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit

September 15, 2016

Argued October 14, 2015

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of Michigan at Grand Rapids. No. 1:12-cv-00523--Gordon J. Quist, District Judge.

ARGUED: Lucas J. McCarthy, Wyoming, Michigan, for Appellant.

Abby C. Wright, UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE, Washington, D.C., for Federal Appellees.

ON BRIEF: Lucas J. McCarthy, Wyoming, Michigan, for Appellant.

Abby C. Wright, Michael S. Raab, UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE, Washington, D.C., for Federal Appellees.

Paul D. Clement, Erin E. Murphy, Stephen V. Potenza, BANCROFT PLLC, Washington, D.C., Harry Frischer, PROSKAUER ROSE LLP, New York, New York, Simon J. Frankel, Rebecca Jacobs, COVINGTON & BURLING LLP, San Francisco, California, Daniel B. Asimow, ARNOLD & PORTER LLP, San Francisco, California, Ronda Cress, Michael Kirkman, Kristen Henry, OHIO DISABILITY RIGHTS LAW & POLICY CENTER, INC., Columbus, Ohio, for Amici Curiae.

Before: COLE, Chief Judge; BOGGS, SILER, BATCHELDER, MOORE, CLAY, GIBBONS, ROGERS, SUTTON, COOK, McKEAGUE, GRIFFIN, KETHLEDGE, WHITE, STRANCH, and DONALD, Circuit Judges. GIBBONS, J., delivered the lead opinion in which SILER, COOK, McKEAGUE, WHITE, and DONALD, JJ., joined, and ROGERS, J., joined in part. McKEAGUE (pg. 28), and WHITE (pp. 29-31), JJ., delivered separate concurring opinions. BOGGS, J. (pg. 32), BATCHELDER, J. (pp. 33-40), in which BOGGS, J., joined, and SUTTON, J. (pp. 41-50), in which BOGGS, McKEAGUE, and KETHLEDGE, JJ., joined, delivered separate opinions concurring in most of the judgment. ROGERS, J. (pg. 51), delivered a separate opinion concurring in the lead opinion in part, dissenting from the result, and joining Part II.B. of the dissenting opinion of MOORE, J. MOORE, J. (pp. 52-62), delivered a separate dissent in which COLE, C.J., CLAY, GRIFFIN, and STRANCH, JJ., joined, and ROGERS, J., joined in part.

OPINION

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JULIA SMITH GIBBONS, Circuit Judge.

Plaintiff-Appellant Clifford Charles Tyler, a prospective gun purchaser, was involuntarily committed thirty years ago following an emotional divorce. Despite being three decades removed from this brief depressive episode, and despite a currently clean bill of mental health, Tyler is ineligible to possess a firearm because of his prior involuntary commitment, pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(4). After the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) declined to review his petition for restoration of his right to own a firearm, Tyler filed suit in federal court seeking a declaratory judgment that § 922(g)(4) is unconstitutional as applied to him. The district court dismissed Tyler's suit for failure to state a claim.

Since 2008, the lower courts have struggled to delineate the boundaries of the right recognized by the Supreme Court in District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570, 128 S.Ct. 2783, 171 L.Ed.2d 637 (2008). Tyler's case presents an important question in light of the Supreme Court's decision. On the one hand, the Heller Court recognized, for the first time, that the Second Amendment protected the fundamental right of " law-abiding, responsible citizens" to own firearms. Id. at 635. On the other, it recognized that this right was not " unlimited" and observed that longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill are " presumptively lawful." Id. at 595, 626-27 n.26. We must decide whether, in consideration of Heller, Tyler, " who has been committed to a mental institution," § 922(g)(4), has a cognizable claim under the Second Amendment and, if so, how to properly scrutinize his claim.

The district court dismissed Tyler's suit for failure to state a claim, reasoning that Heller 's statement regarding " presumptively lawful" prohibitions on the mentally ill foreclosed such claims. The court also observed that § 922(g)(4) would survive intermediate scrutiny. Unlike the district court, we do not understand Heller 's pronouncement about presumptively lawful prohibitions to insulate § 922(g)(4) from constitutional scrutiny nor do we believe that on the record as it currently stands the government has carried its burden to show that § 922(g)(4)'s permanent ban is substantially related to the government's important interests in reducing crime and preventing suicide. Because Tyler's complaint states a valid claim under the Second Amendment, we reverse and remand.

I. Background

A. Statutory and Regulatory Background

18 U.S.C. § 922(g) of the Gun Control Act prohibits numerous categories of people from gun ownership, including convicted felons, § 922(g)(1), habitual drug users, § 922(g)(3), and domestic-violence misdemeanants, § 922(g)(9). The act also prohibits anyone " who has been adjudicated as a mental defective or who has been committed to a mental institution" from possessing a firearm. § 922(g)(4). Federal regulations make clear that " committed to a

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mental institution" applies only to persons who are involuntarily committed by an appropriate judicial authority following due process safeguards. See 27 C.F.R. § 478.11 (defining " committed to a mental institution" ).

Besides categorical bans, the Act also includes a relief-from-disabilities program under which barred individuals may apply " to the Attorney General for relief from the disabilities imposed by Federal laws." 18 U.S.C. § 925(c). Authority to administer the relief-from-disabilities program has been delegated to the director of the ATF. 28 C.F.R. § 0.130(a)(1); 27 C.F.R. § 478.144(b) (providing that " [a]n application for such relief shall be filed . . . with the Director [of ATF]" ). Under § 925(c), the ATF director is empowered to grant relief if he or she is satisfied " that the applicant will not be likely to act in a manner dangerous to public safety and that the granting of the relief would not be contrary to the public interest." Judicial review is available in the federal district court of appropriate jurisdiction to " [a]ny person whose application for relief . . . is denied by the [ATF]." Id. The reviewing court is empowered to " admit additional evidence where failure to do so would result in a miscarriage of justice." Id. The ATF's decision is reviewed under an arbitrary and capricious standard. United States v. Bean, 537 U.S. 71, 77-78, 123 S.Ct. 584, 154 L.Ed.2d 483 (2002).

Section 925(c), however, is currently a nullity. Congress defunded the relief-from-disabilities program in 1992, noting that reviewing applications was a " very difficult and subjective task which could have devastating consequences for innocent citizens if the wrong decision is made." S. Rep. No. 102-353, at 19 (1992). Congress has reaffirmed its appropriations restrictions numerous times since then. See Bean, 537 U.S. at 75 n.3 (listing subsequent appropriations decisions); Mullis v. United States, 230 F.3d 215, 219 (6th Cir. 2000). Moreover, the Supreme Court has held that Congress's decision to defund the program stripped the federal courts of jurisdiction to review claims arising under § 925(c). Bean, 537 U.S. at 78 (" [T]he absence of an actual denial of [a] respondent's petition by ATF precludes judicial review under § 925(c)" ).

Still, in early 2008, Congress renewed the possibility that certain prohibited individuals could have their right to possess a gun restored. Seeking to remedy weaknesses in the national instant criminal background check system (NICS), Congress authorized federal grants to encourage the states to supply accurate and up-to-date information to federal firearm databases. See NICS Improvement Amendments Act of 2007, Pub. L. No. 110-180, § 103, 121 Stat. 2559, 2567 (2008). Eligibility for the grants is based, in part, on the creation of a relief-from-disabilities program that allows individuals barred by § 922(g)(4) to apply to have their rights restored. Id. at § § 103, 105, 121 Stat. at 2568-69.1 Under qualifying programs, " a State court, board, commission, or other lawful authority shall grant the relief . . . if the circumstances regarding the disabilities . . . and the person's record and reputation, are such that the person will not be likely to act in a manner dangerous to public safety and that the granting of the relief would not be contrary to the public interest." Id. § 105(a)(2), 121 Stat. at 2569-70.

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The state program must also " permit[] a person whose application . . . is denied to file a petition with the State court of appropriate jurisdiction for a de novo judicial review of the denial." Id. §...

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