Tyler v. Hillsdale Cnty. Sheriff's Dep't, No. 13–1876.

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (6th Circuit)
Writing for the CourtBOGGS
Citation775 F.3d 308
PartiesClifford Charles TYLER, Plaintiff–Appellant, v. HILLSDALE COUNTY SHERIFF'S DEPARTMENT, et al., Defendants–Appellees.
Docket NumberNo. 13–1876.
Decision Date21 April 2015

775 F.3d 308

Clifford Charles TYLER, Plaintiff–Appellant,

No. 13–1876.

United States Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit.

Argued: March 21, 2014
Decided and Filed: Dec. 18, 2014
Rehearing En Banc Granted, Opinion Vacated April 21, 2015

Reversed and remanded.

Julia Smith Gibbons, Circuit Judge, delivered separate concurring opinion.

[775 F.3d 311]

ARGUED: Lucas J. McCarthy, Hartwell, Failey & McCarthy, PLC, Grand Rapids, Michigan, for Appellant. Anisha S. Dasgupta, United Stated Department of Justice, Washington, D.C., for Federal Appellees. ON BRIEF:

Lucas J. McCarthy, Hartwell, Failey & McCarthy, PLC, Grand Rapids, Michigan, for Appellant. Anisha S. Dasgupta, Michael S. Raab, United Stated Department of Justice, Washington, D.C., for Federal Appellees. James L. Dyer, Johnson, Rosati, Schultz & Joppich, P.C., Lansing, Michigan, for County Appellees.

Before: BOGGS, SILER, and GIBBONS, Circuit Judges. BOGGS, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which SILER and GIBBONS, JJ., joined. GIBBONS, J. (pp. 344-45), delivered a separate concurring opinion.

BOGGS, Circuit Judge.

This case presents an important issue of first impression in the federal courts: whether a prohibition on the possession of firearms by a person “who has been committed to a mental institution,” 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(4), violates the Second Amendment. Twenty-eight years ago, Clifford Charles Tyler was involuntarily committed for less than one month after allegedly undergoing an emotionally devastating divorce. Consequently, he can never possess a firearm. Tyler filed suit in federal court, seeking a declaratory judgment that § 922(g)(4) is unconstitutional as applied to him. The district court dismissed Tyler's suit for failure to state a claim. Because Tyler's complaint validly states a violation of the Second Amendment, we reverse and remand.

I. Background
A. Statutory and Regulatory Background

Under federal law, an individual “who has been committed to a mental institution” may not possess a firearm. 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(4). Specifically, the statute provides:

It shall be unlawful for any person ... who has been adjudicated as a mental defective or who has been committed to a mental institution ... to ship or transport in interstate or foreign commerce, or possess in or affecting commerce, any

[775 F.3d 312]

firearm or ammunition; or to receive any firearm or ammunition which has been shipped or transported in interstate or foreign commerce.

Ibid. Section 922(g) imposes the same firearm restrictions on numerous other groups of individuals, including convicted felons, § 922(g)(1); fugitives, § 922(g)(2); and domestic-violence misdemeanants, § 922(g)(9).1

Federal law also provides a relief-from-disabilities program whereby individuals prohibited from possessing firearms may “appl[y] to the Attorney General for relief from the disabilities imposed by Federal laws.” § 925(c). The Attorney General may grant this relief if, after reviewing the circumstances regarding the disability and the applicant's record and reputation, “it is established to his satisfaction ... that the applicant will not be likely to act in a manner dangerous to public safety and that the granting of the relief would not be contrary to the public interest.” Ibid. Judicial review is available to “[a]ny person whose application for relief from disabilities is denied by the Attorney General.” Ibid. A United States district court “may in its discretion admit additional evidence where failure to do so would result in a miscarriage of justice.” Ibid.

The Attorney General has delegated his authority to “[i]nvestigate, administer, and enforce the laws related to ... firearms,” including the relief-from-disabilities program of 18 U.S.C. § 925(c), to the director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). 28 C.F.R. § 0.130(a)(1).

ATF regulations prescribe the form and contents of an application for relief from disabilities. See 27 C.F.R. § 478.144. All applications from individuals, for instance, must contain written statements from three references and written authorization for ATF to obtain pertinent background records. § 478.144(c)(1)-(2). Applications from individuals prohibited from firearm possession because of prior commitment to a mental institution must provide: the court order mandating commitment; medical records reflecting diagnosis; and records from any authority showing the applicant's discharge from commitment, restoration of medical competency, and restoration of rights. See § 478.144(c)(5). The ATF director may not grant relief to an applicant previously committed to a mental institution unless the applicant meets the requirements of 18 U.S.C. § 925(c) and unless “a court, board, commission, or other lawful authority” has subsequently determined the applicant “to have been restored to mental competency, to be no longer suffering from a mental disorder, and to have had all rights restored.” 27 C.F.R. § 478.144(e).

In 1992, however, Congress defunded the relief-from-disabilities program. See Treasury, Postal Service, and General Government Appropriations Act, 1993, Pub.L. No. 102–393, 106 Stat. 1729, 1732. Since that time, Congress has affirmatively retained the bar on funding the relief-from-disabilities program. See Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2014, Pub.L. No. 113–76, 128 Stat. 5, 57; United States v. Bean, 537 U.S. 71, 75 n. 3, 123 S.Ct. 584, 154 L.Ed.2d 483 (2002) (collecting appropriation riders from 1994–2002).

[775 F.3d 313]

In 2008, Congress authorized federal grants to states to assist them in determining which individuals are eligible to purchase and possess firearms and to aid them in supplying accurate information to federal databases. See NICS Improvement Amendments Act of 2007, Pub.L. No. 110–180, § 103, 122 Stat. 2559, 2567. To be eligible for such grants, a state must certify to the Attorney General that it has implemented a relief-from-disabilities program under which an individual who “pursuant to state law” has been adjudicated mentally defective or has been “committed to a mental institution” may apply “for relief from the disabilities imposed” by 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(4). §§ 103 & 105, 122 Stat. at 2568–69.

Similar to the federal relief-from-disabilities program, states “shall grant the relief” if “the circumstances regarding the disabilities ... and the person's record and reputation, are such that the person will not be likely to act in a manner dangerous to public safety and that the granting of the relief would not be contrary to the public interest.” Ibid. Such state relief satisfies the requirements of § 925(c) for restoration of gun rights. These state programs must permit an individual “whose application for the relief is denied to file a petition with the State court of appropriate jurisdiction for a de novo judicial review of the denial.” 2 § 105(a)(3), 122 Stat. at 2570. Roughly half the states have created grant-eligible relief-from-disabilities programs.3 Michigan, Tyler's state of residence, has not implemented a relief-from-disabilities program.

B. Factual Background
1. Tyler's Involuntary Commitment

Tyler is a seventy-three-year-old resident of Hillsdale County, Michigan. On January 2, 1986, a state probate court committed Tyler to a mental institution. Tyler alleges that he underwent an emotionally devastating divorce in 1985 and that he was involuntarily committed because of a risk that he might be suicidal.

Tyler submitted a 2012 substance-abuse evaluation containing additional information about his 1985 depression. In 1985, when Tyler was forty-five years old, Tyler's wife of twenty-three years served him divorce papers. Prior to filing for divorce, Tyler's ex-wife allegedly ran away with

[775 F.3d 314]

another man and depleted Tyler's finances. Tyler felt “overwhelmed” and “sat in the middle of the floor at home pounding his head.” According to a mental-health evaluation submitted by Tyler, Tyler was crying non-stop, not sleeping, depressed, and suicidal at this time. Tyler's daughters became scared and contacted the police.

The police transported Tyler to the sheriff's department, where they contacted Tyler's eighteen-year-old daughter to assist them with the necessary steps to have Tyler receive a psychological evaluation. Probate-court documents indicate that a Dr. Tamara Marie Tyler filed a petition asserting that Tyler required treatment.4 Tyler was represented by counsel at his probate-court commitment hearing. The probate court found by “clear and convincing evidence” that Tyler was “a person requiring treatment because [he was] mentally ill.” 5 The court further found that Tyler, as a result of his “mental illness,” could be “reasonably expected within the near future to intentionally or unintentionally seriously physically injure [himself] or others, and has engaged in an act or acts or made significant threats that are substantially supportive of the expectation.” Additionally, the probate court found no “treatment program other than hospitalization adequate to meet [Tyler's] treatment needs.” The probate court ordered that Tyler undergo a treatment program “for a period not to exceed 90 days” and committed Tyler to Ypsilanti Regional Center “for a period not to exceed 30 days.”

Tyler's 2012 substance-abuse evaluation indicates that Tyler was transported to Ypsilanti Regional Center for a psychological evaluation. He purportedly had bruises on his head and face. He also purportedly had suicidal thoughts, was depressed, sobbing, shaking, and had not been sleeping. Tyler reported that he remained at the Center for two to four weeks. He declined prescribed medications for fear they would alter his “thinking.”

Tyler subsequently returned home and remained in the workforce for another eighteen to nineteen years. Tyler's 2012 substance-abuse evaluation determined that Tyler has no substance-abuse problem. It...

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