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Keyes v. Lynch

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

October 4, 2016

MICHAEL L. KEYES and JONATHAN K. YOX, Plaintiffs,
v.
LORETTA E. LYNCH, Attorney General of the United States, et al., Defendants,

          MEMORANDUM & ORDER

          John E. Jones III United States District Judge

         Presently pending before the Court is Plaintiffs' motion to alter/amend judgment (“the Motion”) as to our November 9, 2015 Order granting Defendants' motion to dismiss. (Doc. 21). The Motion has been fully briefed (Docs. 53, 54, 57) and is therefore ripe for our review. For the reasons that follow, the Motion shall be granted.

         I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND[1]

         The Motion asks the Court to amend or alter our Order of November 9, 2015, where we granted Defendants' motion to dismiss and found that Plaintiff Keyes was barred from raising his Second Amendment as-applied challenge by issue preclusion. In accordance with the standard of review applicable to a motion to dismiss, the following facts are derived from the Plaintiffs' Complaint and are viewed in the light most favorable to the Plaintiffs.

         Plaintiff Michael Keyes is a Master Trooper with the Pennsylvania State Police (“PSP”). (Doc. 1, ¶ 7). Plaintiff Jonathan Yox is a State Correctional Officer at the State Correctional Institution at Graterford. (Id., ¶ 8).

         Both Keyes and Yox were each once involuntarily committed for mental health concerns. Keyes was involuntarily committed as an adult at Holy Spirit Hospital in Cumberland County, Pennsylvania, on August 25, 2006, as a result of “imbibing in alcoholic beverages and making suicidal statements” as he was struggling through an “emotionally devastating” divorce. (Id., ¶¶ 7, 21). He was initially involuntarily committed pursuant to 50 Pa. Stat. Ann. § 7302, allegedly in the absence of any due process, and then later, pursuant to 50 Pa. Stat. Ann. § 7303. (Id.). He was released by September 8, 2006. (Id.). Keyes never threatened to use a firearm against himself or others. (Id., ¶ 22).

         Yox was involuntarily committed as a juvenile at York Hospital, in Lebanon County, Pennsylvania, on March 30, 2006. (Id., ¶ 50). He had been emotionally devastated by his parents' divorce and had begun cutting himself under the influence of an older girl. They also had made a suicide pact together. (Id., ¶¶ 48-50). He was also initially involuntarily committed pursuant to 50 Pa. Stat. Ann. § 7302, allegedly in the absence of due process, and then later, pursuant to 50 Pa. Stat. Ann. § 7303. (Id., ¶ 50). Yox was released by April 6, 2006. (Id.). In 2008, when he was 17, Yox enlisted in the U.S. Army. He honorably served until 2012, when he received an honorable discharge. (Id., ¶¶ 52-53). During his time in the military, Yox spent six and a half months in a combat zone in Afghanistan. (Id., ¶ 54). During his military service, Yox was trained to use, and did use, various kinds of firearms, including fully automatic rifles, machine guns, explosives, and grenade launchers. (Id., ¶ 55). Upon his return from Afghanistan, Yox was not recommended for further psychological evaluation after his deployment briefing. (Id., ¶ 56).

         As a result of their involuntary commitments, Plaintiffs lost their “private capacity firearm rights” by operation of 18 Pa.C.S.A. § 6105(c)(4) and 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(4). (Id., ¶ 23). The Pennsylvania statute prohibits a “person who has been adjudicated as an incompetent or who has been involuntarily committed to a mental institution for inpatient care and treatment . . .” from possessing or using a firearm. 18 Pa.C.S.A. § 6105(c)(4). The federal statute, 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(4), prohibits any person “who has been adjudicated as a mental defective or who has been committed to a mental institution” from possessing firearms or ammunition.

         Notwithstanding their inability to possess guns in their private capacities, both Plaintiffs carry and use firearms in their current jobs. In his official capacity as a Master Trooper, Keyes carries a handgun on a daily basis, and when on patrol, he carries a fully automatic rifle and a shotgun. (Id., ¶ 32). Yox actively possesses and uses a firearm in his official capacity as a State Correctional Officer. (Id., ¶ 68). They are permitted to possess firearms in their official capacities as law enforcement officers by operation of 18 U.S.C. § 925(a)(1), which provides an exception to the firearms disability created by § 922(g)(4) for individuals benefitting in their official capacities the federal or state government. (Id., ¶ 74).

         On December 3, 2008, Keyes filed for Restoration of his State Firearm Rights with the Perry County Court of Common Pleas, pursuant to 18 Pa.C.S.A. § 6105(f).[1] (Id., ¶ 24). The state court judge issued an order relieving Keyes only of his state firearm disability, finding that “Petitioner has in fact met his burden of showing that he may possess a firearm without risk to himself or any other person under the applicable provisions of law.” (Id., ¶¶ 25-26). On May 9, 2012, Keyes filed a request for expungement of his involuntary commitment; this request was denied by the state court. (Id., ¶ 26). Keyes appealed this decision to the Superior Court. The Superior Court held that the language “the court may grant such relief as it deems appropriate” found in 18 Pa.C.S.A. § 6105(f)(1) does not provide the trial court with the power to expunge mental health commitment records and then affirmed the trial court's decision. In re Keyes, 83 A.3d 1016, 1024 (Pa. Super. Ct. 2013), appeal denied, 101 A.3d. 104 (Pa. 2014). (Id., ¶ 27).[2]

         On or about September or October of 2012, Yox was denied the ability to purchase a firearm after a Pennsylvania Instant Background Check System search. (Id., ¶ 57). He appealed this denial to the PSP, which then informed him that he was prohibited pursuant to 18 Pa.C.S.A. § 6105 and 18 U.S.C. § 922(g) from owning a firearm based on his involuntary commitment in 2006. (Id., ¶ 58). After having been evaluated by a psychologist who determined within a reasonable degree of psychological certainty that Yox did not pose a threat to himself or others, Yox filed a Petition to Vacate and Expunge his involuntary commitment with the Lancaster County Court of Common Pleas. (Id., ¶¶ 59-60). However, the court found it was bound by In re Keyes and therefore prohibited from granting the relief of expungement. The court did grant Yox state relief from any disability imposed pursuant to 18 Pa.C.S.A. § 6105, based on a finding that Yox no longer suffers from the mental health condition that was the basis for his commitment and is able to safely possess a firearm with risk to himself or others. (Id., ¶¶ 62-63).

         Upon receipt and review of this state court order, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms and Explosives', (“ATF”), Philadelphia Division Counsel Kevin White confirmed that it was ATF's position and policy that Yox remains prohibited under federal law from purchasing, possessing, or utilizing firearms in his private capacity, but that he could continue to possess and utilize firearms in his official capacity as a State Correctional Officer. (Id., ¶ 64).

         Both Keyes and Yox presently intend to purchase and possess firearms in their private capacities for self-defense within their respective homes. (Id., ¶¶ 44, 69). However, they are prevented from doing so only by Defendants' active enforcement of the laws and policies complained of in the matter sub judice. Keyes and Yox are unwilling to purchase, possess, or utilize a firearm in their private capacities because they fear arrest, prosecution, fine, and/or incarceration for violating 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(4). (Id., ¶¶ 46, 70).

         II. PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         On March 5, 2015, Plaintiffs Michael L. Keyes, (“Mr. Keyes”), and Jonathan K. Yox, (“Mr. Yox”), filed a Complaint, alleging violations of their asserted Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms and Fifth Amendment equal protection and due process rights. (Doc. 1). Count I of the Complaint contends that, as applied to Plaintiffs, 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(4) violates the Second Amendment. Count II alleges that, as applied to Mr. Yox, § 922(g)(4) violates the Second Amendment because Mr. Yox was under the age of 18 when he was involuntarily committed. Count III alleges that § 922(g)(4) violates the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment as applied to Plaintiffs. Lastly, Count IV alleges that § 922(g)(4) violates Plaintiffs' equal protection rights secured under the Fifth Amendment. Plaintiffs seek various forms of declaratory and injunctive relief.

         Defendants filed a partial motion to dismiss on May 11, 2015. (Doc. 10). On November 9, 2015, the Court granted Defendants' motion. (Doc. 21). Counts I and IV were dismissed with prejudice with respect to Plaintiff Michael Keyes on the basis of issue preclusion, because we held that Mr. Keyes had previously litigated these same issues in a previous state court action. Mr. Keyes's claims alleged in Count III were dismissed without prejudice, and leave to amend was granted to the extent that there were facts, if true, which supported his due process claims. Additionally, Mr. Yox's equal protection claim alleged in Count IV was dismissed without prejudice, and leave to amend was granted to the extent he possessed facts supporting this claim.[2]

         On November 17, 2015, Plaintiffs filed an Amended Complaint. (Doc. 24). The Amended Complaint includes a new cause of action, contained in Count V, in which both Plaintiffs allege claims under the NICS Improvement Amendments Act of 2007, Pub. L. No. 110-180, 122 Stat. ...


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