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National Rifle Association v. City of Pittsburgh

June 25, 2010

NATIONAL RIFLE ASSOCIATION, SHAWN LUPKA, CURTIS REESE, RICHARD HAID AND JEFFREY ARMSTRONG, APPELLANTS
v.
CITY OF PITTSBURGH, PITTSBURGH CITY COUNCIL, AND MAYOR LUKE RAVENSTAHL, IN HIS CAPACITY AS MAYOR OF THE CITY OF PITTSBURGH



The opinion of the court was delivered by: President Judge Leadbetter

Argued: April 20, 2010

BEFORE: HONORABLE BONNIE BRIGANCE LEADBETTER, President Judge, HONORABLE P. KEVIN BROBSON, Judge, HONORABLE ROCHELLE S. FRIEDMAN, Senior Judge.

OPINION

This case is an appeal by the National Rifle Association (NRA) and four Pittsburgh gun owners (Individual Appellants) from the decision of the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County, which sustained the preliminary objections of the City of Pittsburgh, its City Council, and its Mayor (collectively, City) and dismissed a declaratory judgment action seeking to invalidate a City ordinance which requires gun owners to report missing or stolen guns. The court determined that the NRA and the Individual Appellants (collectively, Appellants) lacked standing.

The ordinance in question mandates that "[n]o person who is the owner of a firearm that is lost or stolen shall fail to report the loss or theft to an appropriate local law enforcement official within twenty-four (24) hours after the discovery of the loss or theft." Pittsburgh City Code § 624.01. First-time violations are punishable by a fine of up to $500, and subsequent violations are punishable by a fine of up to $1000 and/or imprisonment of up to 90 days.

Shortly after the ordinance was adopted, Appellants filed suit seeking a declaratory judgment that the ordinance was invalid and an injunction barring its enforcement. They alleged that the ordinance was invalid on its face and an ultra vires act because it was preempted by the Uniform Firearms Act (UFA), 18 Pa. C.S. §§ 6101-6126. The UFA provides that: "No county, municipality or township may in any manner regulate the lawful ownership, possession, transfer or transportation of firearms, ammunition or ammunition components when carried or transported for purposes not prohibited by the laws of this Commonwealth." 18 Pa. C.S. § 6120(a).

The complaint alleged that the Individual Appellants lived in Pittsburgh, owned guns and had valid permits to carry concealed weapons. In addition, three of the Individual Appellants alleged that they lived in areas where residential burglaries are common, and the fourth alleged that a gun belonging to him had been stolen, without specifying if the theft occurred before or after the ordinance was enacted. The City filed preliminary objections to standing and ripeness; common pleas sustained the objection to standing and dismissed the complaint. An appeal to this court followed.

In general, to have standing in a declaratory judgment action, a plaintiff must show that he or she is aggrieved. A litigant successfully makes a showing that he or she is aggrieved if:

[H]e can establish that he has a substantial, direct, and immediate interest in the outcome of the litigation. . . .

An interest is "substantial" if it is an interest in the resolution of the challenge which surpasses the common interest of all citizens in procuring obedience to the law. Likewise, a "direct" interest mandates a showing that the matter complained of caused harm to the party's interest, i.e., a causal connection between the harm and the violation of law. Finally, an interest is "immediate" if the causal connection is not remote or speculative.

Pittsburgh Palisades Park, LLC v. Com., 585 Pa. 196, 204, 888 A.2d 655, 660 (2005) (internal citations and quotations omitted).

This court considered the standing of the NRA and resident gun owners to challenge a similar ordinance in National Rifle Association v. City of Philadelphia (Philadelphia), 977 A.2d 78 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2009) (en banc). In that case, the NRA and several Philadelphia gun owners challenged a number of Philadelphia's gun-related ordinances, including a theft reporting ordinance that appears to be identical to the one at issue in this case. The individual plaintiffs in that case alleged that they owned guns and lived in the jurisdiction, but did not allege that their guns had ever been stolen. With respect to the theft reporting ordinance, this court affirmed and adopted the decision below, written by then-Judge Greenspan.*fn1 Philadelphia at 81-82.

Justice Greenspan's opinion in Philadelphia concluded that the plaintiffs lacked standing to challenge the reporting ordinance because they had not demonstrated direct and immediate harm. National Rifle Association v. City of Philadelphia, CCP Philadelphia County, April Term, 2008, No. 1472, filed June 30, 2008, slip opinion at 7-9, 2008 WL 5210185 (henceforth Greenspan Opinion).

She reasoned that the possibility that one of the plaintiffs might lose a gun in the future, fail to report it, and then be ...


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