Hamilton v. Pallozzi

Decision Date18 February 2016
Docket NumberCIVIL NO. JKB-15-2142
Citation165 F.Supp.3d 315
Parties James Hamilton, Plaintiff v. William L. Pallozzi, et al., Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Maryland

Cary Johnson Hansel, III, Hansel Law, P.C., Baltimore, MD, Alan Gura, Gura and Possessky PLLC, Alexandria, VA, for Plaintiff.

Mark Holdsworth Bowen, Office of the Attorney General, Pikesville, MD, for Defendants.


James K. Bredar, United States District Judge

James Hamilton (Plaintiff) brought an action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against William L. Pallozzi in his official capacity as Superintendent of the Maryland State Police (“MSP”), and against Brian E. Frosh in his official capacity as Attorney General of Maryland (collectively, Defendants). Plaintiff challenges the constitutionality of certain Maryland statutes that Defendants are charged with enforcing; Plaintiff alleges that these statutes, as applied to him, violate his Second Amendment rights.

Now pending before the Court is Defendants' Motion to Dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. (ECF No. 7.) Also pending is Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment pursuant to Rule 56. (ECF No. 11.) The issues have been briefed, and no hearing is required, see Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md. 2014). For the reasons explained below, Plaintiff's Motion will be DENIED, and Defendants' Motion will be GRANTED.

I. Background1

Plaintiff, a Maryland resident, was convicted in November 2006 in Rockbridge County, Virginia, of three felony offenses: credit-card theft in violation of Va. Code Ann. § 18.2–192 ; credit-card forgery in violation of Va. Code Ann. § 18.2–193 ; and credit-card fraud in violation of Va. Code Ann. § 18.2–195. (ECF No. 1 ¶¶ 1, 9.) Plaintiff received a four-year suspended sentence, and he paid restitution and court costs totaling $2337.90. (Id. ¶ 9.) Although Plaintiff's felony convictions triggered forfeiture of certain of his political rights in Virginia, those rights were restored in 2013 and 2014. (Id. ¶¶ 9-11.)2

According to Plaintiff, in the years following his convictions he has become a “responsible, law-abiding American citizen.” (Id. ¶ 15.)3 A married father of three children, he serves as head coach of a junior-league wrestling team; he is also an armed security officer registered with the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services. (Id. ¶¶ 13-14.) In spite of his past crimes, Plaintiff alleges that he has “no history of violent behavior.” (Id. ¶ 15.) He wishes to obtain a handgun and a long gun, ostensibly for self-defense purposes within his Maryland home. Unfortunately for Plaintiff, he is barred from possessing such weapons due to the operation of certain Maryland statutes (collectively, “Firearms Prohibitions”). Specifically, Md. Code Ann., Pub. Safety § 5-133(b)(1) prohibits any person who has been convicted of a “disqualifying crime” from possessing a “regulated firearm,”4 while § 5-205(b)(1) forbids any person who has been convicted of such a crime from possessing a rifle or shotgun. The glossary accompanying these statutes defines “disqualifying crime” to include any offense that is classified as a felony in Maryland. § 5-101(g)(2). Two of Plaintiff's Virginia convictions fit within this rubric.5 Possession of a restricted weapon in violation of the Firearms Prohibitions is a misdemeanor, punishable by a fine and/or incarceration. See §§ 5-144(b), –205(d).

At some unspecified point, Plaintiff contacted the MSP Licensing Division to request a Handgun Wear and Carry Permit. (ECF No. 1 ¶ 20.) Plaintiff was advised that, due to his disqualifying convictions, he cannot possess a firearm in Maryland unless he first obtains a full pardon from the Governor of Virginia. (Id. ) Subsequently, on July 22, 2015, Plaintiff filed the present action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, claiming that enforcement of the Firearms Prohibitions violates his Second and Fourteenth Amendment rights on an as-applied basis.6 Plaintiff seeks declaratory and injunctive relief, as well as costs and attorneys' fees.

On October 6, 2015, Defendants moved to dismiss. (ECF No. 7.) Plaintiff filed a response in opposition (ECF No. 10); thereafter, Defendants did not reply within the period prescribed by Local Rule 105.2(a) (D. Md. 2014). Then, on October 26, 2015, Plaintiff moved for summary judgment. (ECF No. 11.) Plaintiff's summary-judgment motion is fully briefed (ECF Nos. 11–1, 14 & 18), and both motions are ripe for decision.

II. Standard of Review Under Rule 12(b)(6)7

A complaint must contain “sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.’ Ashcroft v. Iqbal , 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly , 550 U.S. 544, 570, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007) ). In analyzing a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the Court views all well-pleaded allegations in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Ibarra v. United States , 120 F.3d 472, 474 (4th Cir.1997). Nevertheless, [f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Twombly , 550 U.S. at 555, 127 S.Ct. 1955. In conducting its analysis, the Court “need not accept legal conclusions couched as facts or ‘unwarranted inferences, unreasonable conclusions, or arguments.’ Wag More Dogs, LLC v. Cozart , 680 F.3d 359, 365 (4th Cir.2012) (quoting Giarratano v. Johnson , 521 F.3d 298, 302 (4th Cir.2008) ).

III. Analysis
A. Constitutional Standing and Ripeness

Before turning to the merits of Plaintiff's § 1983 claim, the Court must address a justiciability concern that Defendants first raised in their response to Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment.8 Defendants contend that Plaintiff's claim is not ripe for adjudication because [he] has not even applied to obtain a handgun carry permit or handgun qualification license and ... Defendants have taken no action ... against Plaintiff.” (ECF No. 14 at 5.)

Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction, the contours of which are circumscribed by the case-or-controversy requirement of Article III. The doctrines of constitutional standing and ripeness are integral components of that requirement. To establish standing, (1) the plaintiff must allege that he or she suffered an actual or threatened injury that is not conjectural or hypothetical[;] (2) the injury must be fairly traceable to the challenged conduct; and (3) a favorable decision must be likely to redress the injury.” Miller v. Brown , 462 F.3d 312, 316 (4th Cir.2006). In the context of a preenforcement challenge to a penal statute, a litigant may satisfy constitutional standing where (1) the litigant alleges “an intention to engage in a course of conduct arguably affected with a constitutional interest” but (2) there exists a “credible threat of prosecution under the challenged law. W. Va. Citizens Def. League, Inc. v. City of Martinsburg , 483 Fed.Appx. 838, 839 (4th Cir.2012) (per curiam) (quoting Babbitt v. United Farm Workers Nat'l Union , 442 U.S. 289, 298, 99 S.Ct. 2301, 60 L.Ed.2d 895 (1979) ).9

Ripeness overlaps with standing: the ripeness doctrine “prevents judicial consideration of issues until a controversy is presented in ‘clean-cut and concrete form.’ Miller , 462 F.3d at 318–19 (quoting Rescue Army v. Mun. Court , 331 U.S. 549, 584, 67 S.Ct. 1409, 91 L.Ed. 1666 (1947) ). In evaluating ripeness, courts must ‘balance the fitness of the issues for judicial decision [with] the hardship to the parties of withholding court consideration.’ A case is fit for judicial decision when the issues are purely legal and when the action in controversy is final and not dependent on future uncertainties.” Id. at 319 (quoting Franks v. Ross , 313 F.3d 184, 194 (4th Cir.2002) ).

The thrust of Defendants' justiciability argument is that the MSP never had an opportunity to formally determine whether Plaintiff qualifies for a handgun license or carry permit. Had Plaintiff submitted an application, Defendants reason, he would have been subject to a background check—and he might have been denied a license for a reason unrelated to his felony record, mooting his argument in these proceedings. (ECF No. 14 at 7-8.)

Plaintiff counters that he “refrained from filling out a useless application” because agents at the MSP Licensing Division told him that his application would be futile; the Maryland Office of the Attorney General subsequently confirmed the MSP's position. (ECF No. 18 at 6.)10

The Court finds Plaintiff's position here more persuasive. While Defendants speculate that Plaintiff might have been denied a license for some unknown reason, they provide no evidence whatsoever in support of their conjecture. Plaintiff, conversely, denies having any disqualifying characteristics other than his felony convictions; in fact, he included pleadings in his Complaint that specifically negate most of the disabling factors under Md. Code Ann., Pub. Safety §§ 5-133, –205. And Defendants never refute Plaintiff's basic assertion—i.e. , that because of the Firearms Prohibitions, he is barred from lawfully possessing a handgun or long gun in the State of Maryland. Had Plaintiff gone through the motions of formally applying for a license or carry permit, it is uncontroverted that the MSP would have denied his request. The law does not require Plaintiff to avail himself of a hopeless administrative process before looking to the courts for relief. See Thetford Props. IV Ltd. P'ship v. U.S. Dep't of Housing & Urban Dev. , 907 F.2d 445, 449 (4th Cir.1990) (“To be sure, no litigant is obliged to exhaust inadequate administrative procedures.”); see also Sammon v. N.J. Bd. of Med. Exam'rs , 66 F.3d 639, 643 (3d Cir.1995) (“Litigants are not required to make ... futile gestures to establish ripeness.”).

Furthermore, Plaintiff's lawsuit does not challenge Maryland's firearms licensing scheme per se ; rather, he asks the Court to enjoin enforcement of the Firearms Prohibitions as against him—and...

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