Taylor v. Hughes

Decision Date20 September 2012
Docket NumberCivil No. 1:12-CV-138
PartiesSCOTT W. TAYLOR, d/b/a TAYLOR'S TRADING POST Petitioner v. ALPHONSO HUGHES, Director of Industry Operations, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Respondent
CourtU.S. District Court — Middle District of Pennsylvania

(Judge Jones)

(Magistrate Judge Carlson)


Scott Taylor, who does business as Taylor's Trading Post in Adams County, Pennsylvania, brought this action to challenge the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives' ("ATF") revocation of his license to sell firearms pursuant to the Gun Control Act, 18 U.S.C. §§ 921-931, after finding that Taylor had willfully committed over 10,000 violations of the Act over several years. ATF has moved for summary judgment on Plaintiff's claims, and seeks entry of an order upholding the revocation decision.

In response, the Petitioner has moved pursuant to Rule 56(d) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure for an extension of time to conduct discovery that he haspropounded upon the Respondent, apparently in an effort principally to learn about ATF's internal policies, procedures, and documents in the agency's possession regarding this and other unrelated investigations and revocation decisions. Respondent has opposed the motion, arguing that it is overly burdensome and irrelevant to the legal issues before the Court. Specifically, Respondent argues that Petitioner's proposed discovery is an improper effort to discover information that has no bearing on the actual issue before the Court in this action, namely, whether Petitioner violated the GCA, and whether he did so willfully.

Upon consideration, although we agree with Petitioner that in some cases discovery may be warranted in actions challenging firearms license revocations, we do not agree that the discovery Petitioner seeks in this case is necessary or appropriate given the issues presented. We also do not find that Petitioner has accurately defined the scope of the Court's inquiry in these proceedings, and has based his discovery request in part upon legally inaccurate assertions regarding the legal standards governing our review of ATF's decision. Accordingly, for the reasons that follow, the motion will be denied and the parties will be directed to complete briefing on Respondent's pending summary judgment motion, which has been held in abeyance pending resolution of Petitioner's Rule 56(d) motion.


On September 14, 2011, following inspections of Petitioner's business premises and records over a period of approximately 10 months, ATF investigators found that Petitioner had committed more than 10,000 violations of the Gun Control Act of 1968 (GCA), 18 U.S.C. §§ 921-931, and its regulations, 27 C.F.R. §§ 478.121 - 478.134, largely through repeated and longstanding failures to keep required records regarding acquisitions and dispositions of firearms over multiple years. This investigation also revealed that Taylor was in possession of a firearm with an obliterated serial number, which is unlawful. (R. 42-47.)

As a result of these findings of violations of the GCA, ATF issued a Notice of Revocation of License to Taylor on February 9, 2011. (R. 172-74.) The Notice alleged that Taylor willfully violated the GCA and related regulations, and as a result Taylor's license to sell firearms was to be revoked on a date to be determined. (Id.) Taylor requested a hearing on the Notice, and the revocation was stayed. On August 31, 2011, ATF held a hearing to consider the revocation. At that hearing, Taylor was represented by counsel, and provided the opportunity to present evidence and cross-examine government witnesses. (R. 28-171) (hearing transcript.)

Following these proceedings, on November 21, 2011, Respondent issued a Final Notice of Revocation to Taylor. (R. 15-27.) In that Final Notice, Respondentconcluded that the ATF inspection established that Taylor had willfully violated the GCA, and his FFL was revoked accordingly. (Id.) Taylor requested that the effective date of the FFL revocation be stayed pending review by a federal district court. Respondent granted this request, and on January 24, 2012, Taylor commenced the instant action, seeking de novo judicial review of ATF's revocation of his federal firearms license pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 923(f)(3). (Doc. 1.)

Respondent answered the petition for review on March 23, 2012, (Doc. 9.), and thereafter on March 30, 2012, moved for summary judgment. (Doc. 14.) Rather than respond substantively to the motion for summary judgment, on April 13, 2012, Petitioner filed the motion that is presently before the Court, through which Petitioner seeks an enlargement of time to complete discovery pursuant to Rule 56(d) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, on the grounds that such discovery is necessary for Petitioner to fully and fairly challenge ATF's revocation decision in these proceedings. (Docs. 33, 34.)

In response to this motion, the Court stayed briefing on Respondent's summary judgment motion pending the resolution of Taylor's discovery motion. (Doc. 32.) Respondent filed a brief opposing the discovery motion on April 30, 2012, (Doc. 35.), and Taylor filed a reply brief in further support of his motion on May 14, 2012. (Doc. 37.) Petitioner's motion for an enlargement of time to conduct additional discoveryin aid of his efforts to overturn ATF's revocation of his FFL is now fully briefed and is ripe for disposition.

A. Summary Judgment and Motions for Discovery Pursuant to Rule 56(d)

Rule 56(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides as follows:

A party may move for summary judgment, identifying each claim or defense - or the part of each claim or defense - on which summary judgment is sought. The 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. The court should state on the record the reasons for granting or denying the motion.

Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). For purposes of Rule 56, a fact is material if proof of its existence of nonexistence might affect the outcome of the suit under the applicable substantive law. Haybarger v. Laurence Cnty. Adult Prob. & Parole, 667 F.3d 408, 412 (3d Cir. 2012) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986)). For an issue to be genuine, "all that is required is that sufficient evidence supporting the claimed factual dispute be shown to require a jury or judge to resolve the parties' differing versions of the truth at trial." Id. (quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248-49).

In appropriate instances, in response to a motion for summary judgment, the nonmoving party may file a motion pursuant to Rule 56(d), which provides as follows:

(d) When Facts Are Unavailable to the Nonmovant.
If a nonmovant shows by affidavit or declaration that, for specified reasons, it cannot present facts essential to justify its opposition, the court may:
(1) defer considering the motion or deny it;
(2) allow time to obtain affidavits or declarations or to take discovery; or
(3) issue any other appropriate order.

Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(d). In the declaration accompanying a motion filed pursuant to Rule 56(d), the moving party must specify: "(1) what particular information is sought; (2) how, if uncovered, it would preclude summary judgment; and (3) why it has not previously been obtained." Speth v. Goode, No. 95-0264, 2012 WL 3277105, at *7 (D.N.J. Aug. 9, 2012) (citing Pa. Dept. of Pub. Welfare v. Sebelius, 674 F.3d 139, 157 (3d Cir. 2012) (further citations omitted); see also St. Surin v. Virgin Islands Daily News, 21 F.3d 1309, 1313 (3d Cir. 1994).

If the party opposing summary judgment files an affidavit addressing these requirements, the Third Circuit has held that a continuance for purposes of allowing discovery should be liberally granted. See Doe v. Abington Friends Sch., 480 F.3d 252, 257 (3d Cir. 2007) ("If discovery is incomplete in any way material to a pendingsummary judgment motion, a district court is justified in not granting [summary judgment]."). However, a court may decline to delay ruling on a motion for summary judgment, or may otherwise deny a Rule 56(d) motion, where the additional discovery being sought by the nonmoving party would not preclude summary judgment. Dowling v. City of Philadelphia, 855 F.2d 136, 140 (3d Cir. 1988). This is because in order for a motion under Rule 56(d) to prevail, the movant must show as a threshold matter (1) what particular information is being sought and (2) how, if uncovered, the information would preclude summary judgment. Pa. Dept. of Pub. Welfare v. Sebelius, 674 F.3d 139, 157 (3d Cir. 2012). It necessarily follows that where the information sought would not preclude summary judgment, or would not be relevant to the Court's inquiry, the motion for discovery under Rule 56(d) may be denied. Dowling, 855 F.2d at 140.

B. Firearms License Revocations Under the GCA

With these procedural standards in mind, we turn to the relevant legal guidelines governing actions brought to challenge revocations of federal firearms licenses.

Under 18 U.S.C. § 923(d)(1), a federal firearms license is required for anyone "engage[d] in the business of importing, manufacturing, or dealing in firearms." A licensed firearms dealer must maintain accurate and detailed "records of importation,production, shipment, receipt, sale, or other disposition of firearms at his place of business for such period, and in such form, as the Attorney General may by regulations prescribe." 18 U.S.C. § 923(g)(1)(A).

Under § 923(e) of the GCA, "the Attorney General may, after notice and opportunity for hearing, revoke any license issued under this section if the holder of such license has willfully violated any provision of this chapter or any rule or regulation prescribed by the Attorney General under this chapter." 18 U.S.C. § 923(e). Courts have held that because the statute empowers...

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