Crawford v. Commonwealth, 562 M.D. 2020

CourtCommonwealth Court of Pennsylvania
Writing for the CourtBY JUDGE McCULLOUGH
Citation277 A.3d 649
Parties Stanley CRAWFORD, Tracey Anderson, Delia Chatterfield, Aishah George, Rita Gonsalves, Maria Gonsalves-Perkins, Wynona Harper, Tamika Morales, Cheryl Pedro, Rosalind Pichardo, CeaseFire Pennsylvania Education Fund, and The City of Philadelphia, Petitioners v. The COMMONWEALTH of Pennsylvania, The Pennsylvania General Assembly, Bryan Cutler, in his official capacity as Speaker of The Pennsylvania House of Representatives, and Jake Corman, in his official capacity as President Pro Tempore of the Pennsylvania Senate, Respondents
Docket Number562 M.D. 2020
Decision Date26 May 2022

Alexander B. Bowman, Philadelphia, for individual Petitioners and Ceasefire Pennsylvania Education Fund.

Stephen Moniak, Senior Deputy Attorney General, Harrisburg, for Respondent Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

Thomas G. Collins, Harrisburg, for Respondent The Pennsylvania General Assembly.

Mark D. Bradshaw, Harrisburg, for Respondent Bryan Cutler, in his official capacity as Speaker of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives.

Anthony R. Holtzman, Harrisburg, for Respondent Jake Corman, in his official capacity as President Pro Tempore of the Pennsylvania Senate.




In our original jurisdiction, certain residents of the City of Philadelphia, the City of Pittsburgh, and/or their adjacent communities (Petitioner Citizens),3 CeaseFire Pennsylvania Education Fund (Petitioner CeaseFire), and the City of Philadelphia (Petitioner City) (collectively, Petitioners) filed a petition for review (PFR) on October 7, 2020, in the nature of a complaint seeking declaratory and injunctive relief. In the PFR, Petitioners named as respondents the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania (Respondent Commonwealth), the Pennsylvania General Assembly (Respondent General Assembly), Bryan Cutler, in his official capacity as Speaker of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives (Respondent Speaker), and Jake Corman, in his official capacity as President Pro Tempore of the Pennsylvania State Senate (Respondent President Pro Tempore) (collectively, Respondents).

In the PFR, Petitioners lodge novel legal challenges to the validity of Section 6120(a) of the Pennsylvania Uniform Firearms Act of 1995 (UFA), 18 Pa.C.S. § 6120(a),4 and, to a much lesser extent, Section 2962(g) of the Home Rule Charter and Optional Plans Law (Home Rule Law), 53 Pa.C.S. § 2962(g)5 (together, Firearm Preemption Statutes). As a general matter, these statutes vest the General Assembly with the sole power to legislate in the field of firearm regulation and preempt and/or prohibit all political subdivisions from enacting local laws that encroach into that area.6 More specifically, Petitioners assert that Respondents, in enacting the Firearm Preemption Statutes and failing to revise those statutes to permit municipal regulation of firearms at the local level, engaged in unlawful conduct. On this basis, Petitioners enumerate three causes of action: the first is based on the state-created danger doctrine, the second asserts a violation of substantive due process, and the third is dubbed interference with statutory delegation of powers.

Respondents have filed various preliminary objections to the PFR. Respondent Commonwealth asserts that Petitioners lack standing and failed to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. Respondent General Assembly argues that Petitioners failed to state a claim upon which relief may be granted and that their claims are not ripe for review. Similarly, Respondent Speaker contends that Petitioners lack standing, and that their claims are not ripe, are barred by collateral estoppel, and are legally insufficient. For his part, Respondent President Pro Tempore maintains that Petitioners lack standing to pursue their claims, and that their claims are not ripe for review, are barred by res judicata, are non-justiciable, and are not otherwise legally cognizable. Respondent President Pro Tempore further objects to the PFR on the ground that certain allegations contain scandalous or impertinent matter and should be stricken as such.

In turn, Petitioners filed separate answers to each of Respondents’ preliminary objections. Thereafter, the individual Respondents filed their own briefs in support of their preliminary objections, and Petitioners filed a global brief in opposition to all of Respondents’ preliminary objections. Petitioners and Respondents then filed reply briefs. Meanwhile, numerous entities and/or individuals filed amicus curiae briefs in support of both Petitioners and Respondents.7 On May 7, 2020, we entered a per curiam order scheduling oral argument before the Court, sitting en banc , on June 9, 2021. This Court held argument on that date, and Respondents’ preliminary objections are now ripe for disposition.

Upon review, and for the foregoing reasons, we conclude that Petitioners have failed to set forth a claim upon which relief may be granted. Accordingly, we sustain Respondents’ preliminary objections that challenge the legal sufficiency of the counts in the PFR and dismiss the PFR with prejudice.

I. The PFR

In the PFR, Petitioners aver where the individual Petitioner Citizens have lived, i.e. , most reside in the City of Philadelphia, a few in the City of Pittsburgh, and one in a township adjacent to the City of Pittsburgh, and describe the events of gun violence that has affected them. Petitioner Citizens generally allege that, as a result of these events, they have suffered emotional distress, anxiety, grief, and/or have lived in a state of fear of gun violence in their communities. Petitioner Citizens represent that nearly all of them are Black, Hispanic, or a combination of both, and allege that the incidents of gun violence that have impacted their lives took place in poverty-stricken areas that have a high crime rate. (PFR ¶¶9-18.)

Petitioner CeaseFire "is a Pennsylvania nonprofit organization headquartered in [Petitioner City]," and its "mission is to end the epidemic of gun violence across the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania through education, coalition building, and advocacy in support of sensible gun laws and public policies." (PFR ¶¶19-20.)

Petitioner City "is a municipal corporation and political subdivision of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania." (PFR ¶21.) Petitioner City "is a Home Rule Municipality organized and existing under the [Home Rule Law]," "is a city of the first class by statutory designation," and "is coextensive with the County of Philadelphia, a county of the first class." (PFR ¶22.) According to the PFR, Petitioner City

is home to almost 1.6 million residents. [The City of] Philadelphia's residents include many communities of color and low-income communities, groups that are especially vulnerable to the harms caused by gun violence. [The City of] Philadelphia has a poverty rate of 24.3%[,] 43.6% of Philadelphians identify as Black or African American[,] and 15.2% of Philadelphians identify as Hispanic or Latino.

(PFR ¶23.)

In the PFR, Petitioners aver that they "have been directly affected by gun violence and continue to be threatened and harmed by gun violence every day." (PFR Sec. II.) Petitioner Citizens "have lost loved ones to gun violence," "grapple daily with the trauma of those injuries," and "live in fear of the next episode of gun violence that will be visited on them and their families." (PFR ¶40.) Petitioner CeaseFire alleges that the Firearm Preemption Statutes "have impaired and continue to impair [its] ability to ... advance a broad range of effective, evidence-based local gun regulations"; Petitioner CeaseFire "has been forced to divert time, funding, and resources to mitigate the harmful consequences of the Firearm Preemption [Statutes]"; and the Firearm Preemption Statutes "have frustrated [its] mission to obtain passage of sensible gun laws by disrupting its efforts to work with the communities most affected by gun violence and to advance local regulations that would prevent gun violence and save lives." (PFR ¶¶40, 45, 47-48.) Otherwise, Petitioner City alleges that it "bears a significant economic burden associated with gun violence." (PFR ¶51.) However, Petitioner City then lists costs that apparently would be incurred by individuals and not the City of Philadelphia itself, contending that "[a] firearm homicide is associated with an estimated average cost of $1.42 million due to medical expenses, lost earnings/productivity, property damage, and criminal justice costs," and maintaining that, "[o]n average, a non-fatal firearm-related injury costs $46,632 in medical expenses and lost productivity." (PFR ¶51.) Petitioner City further avers that the Firearm Preemption Statutes "infringe upon [the City of] Philadelphia's interests and functions as a governing entity, including its responsibility to protect the health, safety, and quality of life of its citizens." (PFR ¶53.)

The PFR then delves into a general exposition on gun violence, particularly in the Cities of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, and alleges that gun violence has a disparate impact on African-American and Hispanic ethnicities who live in low-income areas and/or areas with a high crime rate. The PFR contains the following averments:

28. Gun violence in Pennsylvania is a public health crisis in which Respondents have actively played a key role....
.... 39. The gun violence epidemic in Pittsburgh, like Philadelphia, disproportionately affects Pittsburgh's Black residents. ...

(PFR ¶¶28, 39) (footnotes and citations omitted).

Next, the PFR highlights and emphasizes floor debate and discussion among representatives of the General Assembly with regard to the Firearm Preemption Statutes, averring, overall, that "[i]n passing, amending, expanding, and enforcing the Firearm...

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