Corcoran v. Sessions, Civil No. PJM 16–1813

Decision Date03 August 2017
Docket NumberCivil No. PJM 16–1813
Citation261 F.Supp.3d 579
Parties Thomas CORCORAN, Plaintiff v. Jefferson B. SESSIONS, as Attorney General of the United States, Thomas E. Brandon, as Acting Director of Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, William M. Pallozzi, as Secretary of Maryland State Police, and Brian Frosh, as Attorney General for the State of Maryland, Defendants
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Maryland

Marc D. Schifanelli, Schifanelli Law, LLP, Annapolis, MD, for Plaintiff.

Neil R. White, Office of the United States Attorney, Greenbelt, MD, Mark Holdsworth Bowen, Office of the Attorney General Maryland State Police, Pikesville, MD, for Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

PETER J. MESSITTE, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

Thomas Corcoran sues Jefferson B. Sessions, Attorney General of the United States;1 Thomas E. Brandon, Acting Director of the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives; William M. Pallozzi, Secretary of the Maryland State Police; and Brian Frosh, Attorney General for the State of Maryland.2

In 2016, Corcoran was denied a Handgun Qualification License by the Maryland State Police pursuant to § 5–133 of the Maryland Public Safety Article.

He brings four claims against the State Defendants, challenging §§ 5–133(b)(1), 5–144, and 5–205(b)(1) of the Maryland Public Safety Article (the "Maryland Firearms Prohibitions"). In Count I, Corcoran argues, pursuant to the Second Amendment, that the Maryland Firearms Prohibitions are unconstitutional as-applied to him. In Count II, he makes a facial Second Amendment challenge to the Maryland Firearms Prohibitions. Corcoran further alleges that the Maryland Firearms Prohibitions violate the Ex Post Facto Clause of the U.S. Constitution (Count IV) and have an impermissible retroactive effect (Count V).3

The State Defendants have filed a Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim, ECF No. 6, and Corcoran has filed a Response in Opposition and Cross Motion for Summary Judgment. ECF No. 7.

In the fall of last year following a hearing on the cross-motions, ECF No. 16, the Court stayed all proceedings until the case of Hamilton v. Pallozzi , Case No. 16–1222 in the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, could be decided. When the Fourth Circuit issued its opinion in Hamilton , this Court lifted the stay as to the claims against the State Defendants.4 Thereafter, the Court requested Corcoran and the State Defendants to file supplemental briefs, as will be explained infra.

For the reasons that follow, the Court will GRANT IN PART and DENY IN PART the State Defendants' Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 6) and will DENY Corcoran's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 7).

I. FACTUAL HISTORY
A. Corcoran's 1976 Virginia Conviction

By his own report, in 1975, while a student at American University in Washington, D.C., Corcoran was arrested in Virginia after using his then-girlfriend's car without her permission. Compl. ¶ 9, ECF No. 1.5 In 1976, he pled guilty to "Unauthorized Use of a Vehicle" under § 18.2–102 of the Virginia Criminal Code.6 Id. Depending upon the value of the property involved, violation of § 18.2–102 was established as either a Class 1 misdemeanor or a Class 6 Felony. See Va. Code Ann. § 18.2–102. Corcoran avers that, at the time of his conviction in 1976, under Virginia Criminal Code § 18.2–102, if the value of the taken property was under $100, the defendant was subject to a Class 1 misdemeanor, carrying a maximum sentence of one year in jail. Compl. ¶ 11. If the value of the taken property was over $100, the crime was considered a Class 6 felony punishable by no less than one year and no more than five years in jail. Id. Corcoran maintains that he pled guilty to the misdemeanor and received a 90–day suspended sentence, no fine, and no probation. Id. at ¶ 9.7 There were no other charges issued, no aggravating circumstances, and Corcoran was never incarcerated. Id.

B. Maryland's Firearms Prohibitions

Section 5–133(b)(1) of the Maryland Public Safety Article prohibits Maryland residents from possessing a regulated firearm if the person "has been convicted of a disqualifying crime."8 See Md. Code Ann. Pub. Safety § 5–133(b)(1).9 A "disqualifying crime" is defined as "(1) a crime of violence; (2) a violation classified as a felony in the State; or (3) a violation classified as a misdemeanor in the State that carries a statutory penalty of more than 2 years ." Md. Code Ann. Pub. Safety § 5–101(g)(3) (emphasis supplied). The Maryland Court of Appeals has held that the definition of "disqualifying crime" in § 5–101(g) includes out-of-state convictions and, that in determining whether a foreign crime is a "disqualifying crime," a Maryland agency must look to the maximum sentence of the crime within its own Criminal Article that it considers the closest equivalent to the foreign crime.10 See McCloud v. Dept. of State Police , 426 Md. 473, 476, 44 A.3d 993 (2012). See also Hamilton v. Pallozzi , 848 F.3d 614, 618–19, n.2 (4th Cir. 2017).

C. Corcoran's Handgun Qualification License Application

Corcoran is now a sixty-five year old resident of Bethesda, Maryland. Compl. ¶ 8, 14. Other than the Virginia conviction forty years ago, he has no other criminal history and has had no run-ins with the criminal justice system. Id. at ¶ 10.

On December 14, 2015, he applied to the Maryland State Police for a Handgun Qualification License, seeking to purchase and possess a handgun to defend himself and his family within his own home. Id. ¶¶ 1, 14.

On January 8, 2016, the Maryland State Police denied Corcoran's Handgun Qualification License application, citing his 1976 misdemeanor conviction in Virginia. Id. ¶ 15. The Police concluded that Corcoran's 1976 Virginia conviction was equivalent in nature to § 7–203 of the Maryland Criminal Law Article, "Unauthorized Removal of Property," denominated a misdemeanor but one that carries a maximum sentence of incarceration of four years.11 Id. In consequence, since Corcoran's 1976 conviction was deemed to qualify as a "disqualifying crime" under the Maryland Firearms Prohibitions, the Police concluded that he could not legally possess a firearm pursuant to § 5–133(b)(1). Id. Corcoran appealed to the Maryland Office of Administrative Hearings which, on April 27, 2016, upheld the denial. Id.

II. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

On June 2, 2016, Corcoran filed the present suit. Counts I, II, IV, and V assert Corcoran's claims against the State Defendants. Id. As indicated, in Count I, he makes an as-applied Second Amendment challenge to the Maryland Firearms Prohibitions pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Id. at ¶ 19–22.12 He asserts that given his unique personal circumstances and the lack of any evidence that his possession of a firearm would pose any danger to the public, it is unconstitutional for Maryland to apply its firearms prohibitions to him. Id . Count II of Corcoran's Complaint is a facial Second Amendment challenge to the Maryland Firearms Prohibitions. Id. at ¶ 23–26.13 Counts IV and V respectively assert that the Maryland Firearms Prohibitions constitute an Ex Post Facto penalty under the U.S. Constitution and have an Impermissible Retroactive Effect as applied to Corcoran and similarly situated Maryland residents. Id. at ¶ 29–35.14

On February 17, 2017, the Fourth Circuit issued its opinion in Hamilton v. Pallozzi.15 Following that, this Court lifted the stay on Corcoran's claims against the State Defendants, ECF No. 18, and the parties briefed the effect of the Fourth Circuit's opinion in Hamilton on their positions, ECF Nos. 19, 20, 21, as well as the application of the second-prong of the framework developed in U.S. v. Chester , 628 F.3d 673 (4th Cir. 2010) (i.e., the means-end scrutiny prong) to Corcoran's as-applied Second Amendment challenge. ECF Nos. 23, 24.

III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) governs dismissal of a complaint for "failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted." Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). "[T]he purpose of Rule 12(b)(6) is to test the sufficiency of a complaint and not to resolve contests surrounding the facts, the merits of a claim, or the applicability of defenses." Presley v. City of Charlottesville , 464 F.3d 480, 483 (4th Cir. 2006) (citation and quotation marks omitted). "[I]n evaluating a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, a court accepts all well-pled facts as true and construes these facts in the light most favorable to the plaintiff in weighing the legal sufficiency of the complaint." Nemet Chevrolet, Ltd. v. Consumeraffairs.com, Inc. , 591 F.3d 250, 255 (4th Cir. 2009). The court will also "draw[ ] all reasonable factual inferences from those facts in the plaintiff's favor...." Edwards v. City of Goldsboro , 178 F.3d 231, 244 (4th Cir. 1999). But "legal conclusions, elements of a cause of action, and bare assertions devoid of further factual enhancement fail to constitute well-pled facts...." Nemet Chevrolet , 591 F.3d at 255. "[A] complaint must contain ‘sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.’ " Id. (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal , 556 U.S. 662, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009) ) (quotation marks omitted). "Facial plausibility is established once the factual content of a complaint ‘allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.’ " Id. at 256 (quoting Iqbal , 129 S.Ct. at 1949 ). "[T]he complaint's factual allegations must produce an inference of liability strong enough to nudge the plaintiff's claims ‘across the line from conceivable to plausible.’ " Id. (quoting Iqbal , 129 S.Ct. at 1952 ).

Under Rule 56(a), "[t]he court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). This does not mean, however, that "some alleged factual dispute between the parties" defeats the motion...

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