National Shooting Sports Foundation, Inc. v. State, 062818 CASC, S239397

Docket Nº:S239397
Opinion Judge:LIU, J.
Party Name:NATIONAL SHOOTING SPORTS FOUNDATION, INC., et al., Plaintiffs and Appellants, v. STATE OF CALIFORNIA, Defendant and Respondent.
Attorney:Lawrence G. Keane; Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith, Daniel C. DeCarlo and Lance A. Selfridge for Plaintiffs and Appellants. Kamala D. Harris and Xavier Becerra, Attorneys General, Edward C. DuMont, State Solicitor General, Janill L. Richards, Principal Deputy State Solicitor General, Samuel P. Si...
Judge Panel:WE CONCUR: CANTIL-SAKAUYE, C. J., CORRIGAN, J., CUÉLLAR, J., KRUGER, J., EPSTEIN, J. CHIN, J.
Case Date:June 28, 2018
Court:Supreme Court of California
 
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NATIONAL SHOOTING SPORTS FOUNDATION, INC., et al., Plaintiffs and Appellants,

v.

STATE OF CALIFORNIA, Defendant and Respondent.

S239397

Supreme Court of California

June 28, 2018

          Superior Court Fresno County Super. Ct. App. Nos. 5 F072310, 14CECG00068 Donald S. Black Judge.

          Lawrence G. Keane; Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith, Daniel C. DeCarlo and Lance A. Selfridge for Plaintiffs and Appellants.

          Kamala D. Harris and Xavier Becerra, Attorneys General, Edward C. DuMont, State Solicitor General, Janill L. Richards, Principal Deputy State Solicitor General, Samuel P. Siegel, Associate Deputy State Solicitor General, Douglas J. Woods and Thomas S. Patterson, Assistant Attorneys General, Tamar Pachter, Emmanuelle S. Soichet, Mark R. Beckington and Nelson R. Richards, Deputy Attorneys General, for Defendant and Respondent.

          J. Adam Skaggs, Hannah Shearer; Munger, Tolles & Olson, David H. Fry and Craig A. Lavoie for Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence as Amicus Curiae on behalf of Defendant and Respondent.

          Caldwell Leslie & Proctor, Boies Schiller Flexner, Michael R. Leslie, Andrew Esbenshade and Amy E. Pomerantz for Office of the Los Angeles City Attorney as Amicus Curiae on behalf of Defendant and Respondent.

          UCLA School of Law, Sean B. Hecht and Meredith J. Hankins for California Environmental Law Professors Ann Carlson, Holly Doremus, Richard Frank, Meredith Hankins, Sean Hecht, Helen Kang, John Leshy, Albert Lin, Dave Owen, Claudia Polsky, James Salzman, Daniel Selmy and Deborah Sivas as Amici Curiae on behalf of Defendant and Respondent.

          LIU, J.

         Civil Code section 3531 provides that “[t]he law never requires impossibilities.” In this case, plaintiff National Shooting Sports Foundation, Inc. (NSSF) argues that this provision authorizes a court to declare another statute, Penal Code section 31910, subdivision (b)(7)(A), unenforceable when a complainant alleges, and the court finds, that complying with the statute is impossible. The Court of Appeal agreed. Because such an interpretation of section 3531 is contrary to established principles of statutory interpretation, we reverse.

         I.

         In 1999, the Legislature enacted the Unsafe Handgun Act (the Act) to establish safety standards for all handguns manufactured, imported, and sold in the state. (Pen. Code, former §§ 12125-12133, repealed by Stats. 2010, ch. 711, § 4, eff. Jan. 1, 2012; reenacted as Pen. Code, §§ 31900-32110 without substantive change by Stats. 2010, ch. 711, § 6, eff. Jan. 1, 2012.) Under the Act, the California Department of Justice is charged with testing new handguns for their compliance with the safety standards; it is also charged with maintaining a roster of all handguns that may be manufactured, imported, or sold. (Pen. Code, § 32015.) A violation of the Act is punishable by imprisonment in a county jail for up to one year. (Pen. Code, § 32000, subd. (a).)

         In 2007, the Legislature amended the definition of unsafe handguns to include “all semiautomatic pistols that are not already listed on the roster pursuant to Section 32015 [if] not designed and equipped with a microscopic array of characters that identify the make, model, and serial number of the pistol, etched or otherwise imprinted in two or more places on the interior surface or internal working parts of the pistol, and that are transferred by imprinting on each cartridge case when the firearm is fired....” (Pen. Code, § 31910, subd. (b)(7)(A) (hereafter Penal Code section 31910(b)(7)(A)).) According to the statute, this safety standard, known as dual placement microstamping, was to take effect on “January 1, 2010... provided that the Department of Justice certifies that the technology used to create the imprint is available to more than one manufacturer unencumbered by any patent restrictions.” (Ibid.) The Department of Justice issued the certification on May 17, 2013. (Cal. Dept. of Justice, Div. of Law Enforcement, Information Bull. No. 2013-BOF-03 (May 17, 2013) ‹https://www.oag.ca.gov/sites/all/files/agweb/pdfs/firearms/infobuls/2013-BOF-03.pdf› [as of June 22, 2018]. All internet citations in this opinion are archived by year, docket number, and case name at http://www.courts.ca.gov/38324.htm.) At oral argument, the Attorney General noted that this certification confirms the lack of any patent restrictions on the imprinting technology, not the availability of the technology itself.

         Following the certification, NSSF filed a complaint with a single cause of action for declaratory and injunctive relief. Alleging that dual placement microstamping technology is impossible to implement, the complaint challenged Penal Code section 31910(b)(7)(A) as unenforceable under Civil Code section 3531. The Attorney General moved for judgment on the pleadings, and the trial court, concluding that separation of powers precluded NSSF's action, granted the motion without leave to amend.

         On appeal, the Court of Appeal observed that “the courts must defer to the Legislature's factual determination unless it is palpably arbitrary and must uphold the challenged legislation so long as the Legislature could rationally have determined a set of facts that support it.” (National Shooting Sports Foundation v. State (2016) 6 Cal.App.5th 298, 306 (National Shooting).) But the court continued by observing that “[n]evertheless, the judiciary can invalidate legislation if there is some overriding constitutional, statutory or charter proscription.” (Ibid.) The court assumed as true the allegation that it is impossible to manufacture a semiautomatic pistol with dual placement microstamping and concluded that this impossibility placed Penal Code section 31910(b)(7)(A) in tension with Civil Code section 3531 as an overriding statutory proscription. The court held that NSSF may present evidence of impossibility and that the judiciary may invalidate Penal Code section 31910(b)(7)(A) if compliance is shown to be impossible. (National Shooting, supra, 6 Cal.App.5th at p. 306.)

         We granted review. The sole dispute before us is whether a court can invalidate Penal Code section 31910(b)(7)(A) on the basis of Civil Code section 3531's declaration that “[t]he law never requires impossibilities.” We are not asked to consider a constitutional challenge to Penal Code section 31910(b)(7)(A) or an administrative challenge to the Department of Justice's 2013 certification (see Code Civ. Proc., §§ 1085, 1094.5).

         II.

         In reviewing an order granting or denying a motion for judgment on the pleadings, we accept as true all material allegations in the complaint. (Kimmel v. Goland (1990) 51 Cal.3d 202, 205.) Here we assume that complying with the requirements of Penal Code section 31910(b)(7)(A) is impossible, and we consider whether Civil Code section 3531's declaration that “[t]he law never requires impossibilities” renders the dual placement microstamping requirement invalid.

         Civil Code section 3531 was enacted in 1872 under a part of the Civil Code titled “Maxims of Jurisprudence, ” which are “intended not to qualify any of the foregoing provisions of th[e]...

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