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Dillon v. City of Erie

Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania

January 7, 2014

Justin Dillon, Appellant
City of Erie

Submitted: December 11, 2013



DAN PELLEGRINI, President Judge

Justin Dillon (Dillon) appeals the order of the Court of Common Pleas of Erie County (trial court) denying his request for a preliminary injunction.[1] We affirm in part and reverse and remand in part.

In April 2013, Dillon, the legal owner of a number of firearms, applied for a permit to hold a pro-firearms rally in West Perry Square, City of Erie (City). Dillon had previously held rallies on July 1, 2012, January 23, 2013, and February 23, 2013, at West Perry Square and he possessed firearms at those rallies. While he obtained a permit for the rally to be held on June 22, 2013, the City's Solicitor, Gregory Karle, told Dillon that neither he nor any other person would be allowed to carry firearms during the rally, and that if they did, they would be cited under Section 955.06(b) of the City's Ordinances prohibiting hunting and the use or possession of firearms in City parks which states:

(b) Hunting and Firearms. No person in a park shall hunt, trap or pursue wild life at any time. No person shall use, carry or possess firearms of any descriptions, or air-rifles, spring guns, bow and arrows, slings, paint ball weapons or any other forms of weapons potentially inimical to wild life and dangerous to human safety, or any instrument that can be loaded with and fire blank cartridges, or any kind of trapping device. Shooting into park areas from beyond park boundaries is forbidden.[2]

The permit also stated that "PLEASE NOTE: BY CITY ORDINANCE, NO WEAPONS (GUNS) ARE PERMITTED IN ANY CITY PARK." (Reproduced Record (R.R.) at 64a). In May 2013, while being interviewed by the media, the City's Solicitor stated that those procuring a permit may protest, but "[t]hey can't be armed. If one is armed, they're subject to a summary offense. The fine is one hundred to three hundred dollars and the police are able to enforce the ordinance." (Id. at 118a).

In May 2013, Dillon filed a complaint for declaratory judgment and injunctive relief seeking a preliminary and a permanent injunction in the trial court to prevent the City's enforcement of Section 739.01 of the City's Ordinances, which deals with the reporting of stolen firearms, [3] as well as Section 955.06(b), which prohibits hunting and firearms in the City's parks. Dillon alleged that the City's Ordinances and proposed actions are preempted by Section 6120(a) of the Uniform Firearms Act (Act), [4] 18 Pa. C.S. §6120(a), which states:

(a) General rule.—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.

At the same time he filed his complaint, Dillon filed a motion for preliminary injunction. The City filed an answer and new matter to Dillon's complaint and a response to his motion.

The trial court held a hearing on Dillon's motion and the parties stipulated to the foregoing underlying facts. The trial court denied the preliminary injunction based on its determination that Dillon had not met the grounds for a preliminary injunction because, among other reasons, he did not establish[5] the likelihood of his prevailing on the merits because Section 6120(a) did not clearly preempt Section 955.06 of the City's Ordinances because "the ordinance does not (as §6120 seems to) regulate gun ownership, registration, sales, purchases, licensing, transfer or transport of firearms." (Trial Court Opinion at 7). The trial court determined that "it is not clear that §6120, nor any other state statute, was intended to prohibit a municipality from regulating possession of firearms in a public park as a reasonable exercise of its police powers…." (Id.). The trial court also determined that "[a]s to Ordinance 739.01, dealing with the reporting of stolen guns was not ripe and [Dillon] lacks standing as he does not allege that a gun was lost or stolen. Therefore, it has no application to [Dillon] now, or in the immediate future."[6] (Trial Court Opinion at 3). Dillon then filed the instant appeal of the trial court's order.[7]



Regarding the denial of his request for a preliminary injunction to be allowed to possess firearms in City parks, central to Dillon's argument is that municipal firearms regulations, such as Section 955.06(b), is preempted by Section 6120(a) of the Act, and the enactment of such a law is a per se irreparable injury. He argues that Section 6120(a) clearly states, in pertinent part, that "[n]o … municipality may in any manner regulate the lawful … possession of firearms ...

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