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Zedonis v. Lynch

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

February 8, 2017

ERIC ZEDONIS, Plaintiff
v.
LORETTA LYNCH, et al., Defendants

          MEMORANDUM

          William W. Caldwell United States District Judge

         I. Introduction

         Before this court is Defendants' motion to dismiss (Doc. 8) Plaintiff Eric Zedonis's complaint (Doc. 1), which asserts an as-applied challenge to the constitutionality of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1) under the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution. Plaintiff alleges that, due to a prior conviction in Pennsylvania for driving under the influence (DUI), § 922(g)(1) prohibits him from possessing a firearm, and he seeks a declaration that § 922(g)(1), as applied to him, violates the Second Amendment. (Doc. 1 at 3, 6). Defendants assert that Plaintiff's complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. (Doc. 9 at 12). Defendants argue that the complaint does not implicate conduct protected by the Second Amendment because Plaintiff's DUI conviction, being punishable by more than two years' incarceration, presumptively disqualifies him from exercising his right to bear arms. (Id.) Plaintiff maintains that he has alleged sufficient facts under the Third Circuit's recent decision in Binderup v. U.S. Att'y Gen., 836 F.3d 336 (3d Cir. 2016) (en banc), petition for cert. filed, 83 U.S.L.W. 947 (U.S. Jan. 5, 2017) (No. 16-847), to rebut the presumption that he is disqualified from possessing a firearm. (Doc.16 at 9-12). No court in this district has yet applied Binderup or its standards for maintaining an as-applied Second Amendment challenge to § 922(g)(1). For the reasons that follow, we will deny Defendants' motion to dismiss.

         II. Background

         Federal law generally prohibits persons from possessing a firearm if they have been convicted in any court of “a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year.” 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1). Individuals are excluded from this ban if they have been convicted of “any State offense classified by the laws of the State as a misdemeanor and punishable by a term of imprisonment of two years or less.” Id. § 921(a)(20)(B). Together, these statutes prohibit individuals from possessing firearms if they are convicted of State misdemeanors punishable by more than two years' imprisonment. See Binderup, 836 F.3d at 342.

         On September 28, 2015, Plaintiff filed a complaint in this court against Defendants, the Attorney General of the United States and the Acting Director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. (Doc. 1 at 1-2). The complaint alleges that Plaintiff was convicted in Dauphin County, Pennsylvania on January 12, 2005, of one count of DUI-highest rate of alcohol content, second offense (“DUI conviction”). (Doc. 1 at 3); see 75 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 3802(c) (classifying individuals with 0.16% or greater alcohol concentration within two hours of driving as “highest rate”). The criminal complaint forming the basis for the DUI conviction alleges that on August 21, 2004, at about 2:30 a.m., Plaintiff failed to stop a vehicle at a stop line while approaching a red light. (Doc. 9-2 at 3). After being stopped by police, Plaintiff allegedly admitted to drinking and submitted to a blood test that revealed a blood alcohol content (BAC) of .302%. (Id.) Plaintiff pleaded guilty to the 2005 DUI charge, and was sentenced to three to six months' confinement, sixty months' Intermediate Punishment, and 500 hours of community service. (Doc. 1 at 3); (Doc. 9-1 at 6).

         Plaintiff asserts that his 2005 DUI conviction was his second DUI offense, and was labeled a first degree misdemeanor under Pennsylvania law. (Doc. 1 at 3); see 75 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 3803(b)(4). Such an offense is punishable by an imprisonment term of up to five years. (Doc. 1 at 3); 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 1104(1). Because his 2005 DUI conviction was allegedly punishable by more than two years' imprisonment, Plaintiff asserts that he is prohibited under § 922(g)(1) from possessing a firearm. (Doc. 1 at 3). Plaintiff maintains that he has not been arrested or convicted for a misdemeanor or felony since his 2005 DUI conviction, and he desires to purchase and possess a firearm for self-defense, but is allegedly unable to do so out of fear of Defendants' enforcement of § 922(g)(1). (Id. at 5). He contends that he is a responsible, law-abiding citizen, and does not have a history of violent behavior or conduct that would suggest that he would pose any more danger possessing firearms than the average, law-abiding citizen. (Id.) Given the nature of, and passage of time since, his 2005 DUI conviction, Plaintiff seeks a declaration that § 922(g)(1) is unconstitutional, as applied to him, under the Second Amendment. (Id. at 5-6).

         On December 4, 2015, Defendants filed the instant motion to dismiss Plaintiff's complaint, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. (Doc. 8). On September 26, 2016, this court ordered further briefing from the parties on the application of the Third Circuit's recent decision in Binderup. (Doc. 15). The motion is now ripe for disposition.

         III. Discussion

         A. Motion to Dismiss Standard

         As a preliminary matter, we note the standard governing Defendants' motion and evaluate which exhibits we may consider in deciding it. “In considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, courts must ‘accept all factual allegations as true, construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, and determine whether, under any reasonable reading of the complaint, the plaintiff may be entitled to relief.'” Bruni v. City of Pittsburgh, 824 F.3d 353, 360 (3d Cir. 2016) (quoting Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210 (3d Cir. 2009)). “While ‘accept[ing] all of the complaint's well-pleaded facts as true, ' the district court ‘may disregard any legal conclusions.'” Id. (quoting Fowler, 578 F.3d at 210-11). “[D]istrict courts are bound not to ‘go beyond the facts alleged in the Complaint and the documents on which the claims made therein [are] based.'” Id. (quoting In re Burlington Coat Factory Sec. Litig., 114 F.3d 1410, 1425 (3d Cir. 1997)). Courts may, however, “consider matters of public record, exhibits attached to the complaint, and undisputedly authentic documents attached to a motion to dismiss.” Delaware Nation v. Pennsylvania, 446 F.3d 410, 413 (3d Cir. 2006); In re Rockefeller Center Properties, Inc. Sec. Litig., 184 F.3d 280, 287 (3d Cir. 1999). If “matters outside the pleadings are presented to and not excluded by the court, the motion must be treated as one for summary judgment under [Federal Rule of Civil Procedure] 56.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(d).

         Defendants ask this court to consider several exhibits attached to their motion, including a police criminal complaint, affidavit of probable cause, and four docket sheets relating to Plaintiff's 2005 DUI conviction and several subsequent magisterial court proceedings against Plaintiff. (Docs. 9-1 to 9-5). The exhibits establish the underlying allegations of Plaintiff's 2005 DUI conviction, i.e., he was alleged to have a BAC of .302% when charged, and show that Plaintiff pleaded guilty to several summary offenses since his 2005 DUI conviction, including failure to file a local income tax return in November 2009, and public drunkenness in August 2013. (Docs 9-2 at 2-4, 9-3 at 2; 9-4 at 2). Plaintiff objects to our consideration of the exhibits. (Doc. 10 at 5 n.1). Defendants counter that the exhibits are matters of public record upon which this court may rely, and request that we consider the exhibits at this stage; alternatively, if our consideration were to result in converting their motion to one for summary judgment, Defendants ask that we decline to consider the exhibits. (Doc. 9 at 9, 11 n.7).

         We find that we may rely on these documents for a limited purpose without construing Defendants' motion to dismiss as one for summary judgment. First, judicial opinions and docket sheets are public records, of which this court may take judicial notice in deciding a motion to dismiss. See Pension Benefit Guar. Corp. v. White Consol. Indus., Inc., 998 F.2d 1192, 1197 (3d Cir. 1993) (defining public record to include, inter alia, criminal case dispositions, such as convictions or mistrials); Dean v. Copozza, No. CIV.A. 13-41, 2013 WL 1787804, at *1 (W.D. Pa. Apr. 10, 2013) (“Pennsylvania's Unified Judicial System provides online access to the docket sheet for criminal cases, and this court may take judicial notice of those dockets.”). Relying on the docket sheets appended to Defendants' motion, we accept, for purposes of this motion, both the complaint's allegations that Plaintiff has not been convicted of any misdemeanors or felonies since his 2005 DUI conviction, and the exhibits showing that he has pleaded guilty to more recent summary offenses. (Docs. 1 at 3, 9-3, 9-4).

         Further, because the police criminal complaint and affidavit of probable cause (Doc. 9-2) outlining Plaintiff's 2005 DUI conviction are indisputably authentic documents upon which Plaintiff's complaint is based, we may consider these exhibits for a limited purpose. See Boyden v. Twp. of Upper Darby, 5 F.Supp.3d 731, 734 (E.D. Pa. 2014) (relying on police criminal complaint and affidavit of probable cause in deciding motion to dismiss); Stasko v. Lebanon Cty. Drug Task Force, No. 1:12-CV-1156, 2012 WL 6561726, at *1 (M.D. Pa. Dec. 17, 2012) (same); Scheller v. Point Twp., No. 4:CV-13-0890, 2013 WL 8374681, at *4 (M.D. Pa. Nov. 4, 2013), report and recommendation adopted as modified, No. 4:13-CV-890, 2014 WL 1846648, at *2 n.2 (M.D. Pa. May 6, 2014) (same); Rogan v. Giant Eagle, Inc., 113 F.Supp.2d 777, 780-81 (W.D. Pa. 2000), aff'd, 276 F.3d 579 (3d Cir. 2001) (“[A] plaintiff's failure to attach or cite documents explicitly relied on or integral to the complaint does not preclude the court, when considering a motion to dismiss, from reviewing the text of these extrinsic documents.”).[1]However, we rely on these exhibits only to establish the allegations of Plaintiff's 2005 DUI conviction, i.e., he was alleged to have had a BAC of .302%; we do not accept the allegations as true.

         B. § 922(g)(1) Bars Plaintiff From Possessing A Firearm

         Having resolved which documents we may rely on in deciding Defendants' motion to dismiss, we turn to the motion's merits, and whether the factual allegations in Plaintiff's complaint are sufficient to assert an as-applied challenge to the constitutionality of § 922(g)(1). We first evaluate the complaint's allegation that Plaintiff is prohibited from possessing a firearm under § 922(g)(1) due to his prior DUI conviction (Doc. 1 at 3), for if the statute does not plausibly apply to Plaintiff, his constitutional arguments would fail to state a claim. See Dutton v. Pennsylvania, No. CIV.A. 11-7285, 2012 WL 3020651, at *2 (E.D. Pa. July 23, 2012), aff'd, 503 F.App'x 125 (3d Cir. 2012) (noting, in deciding motion to dismiss, “the Court must determine whether [plaintiff's] previous convictions preclude him from obtaining a firearms permit under 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1)[.]”).

         Here, the parties do not dispute the complaint's assertion that Plaintiff is prohibited from possessing a firearm under § 922(g)(1) due to his 2005 DUI conviction. (Docs. 10 at 3-4; 16 at 8). The complaint alleges that Plaintiff's second-time DUI conviction with the highest rate of BAC is punishable by a term of imprisonment of up to five years in Pennsylvania. (Doc. 1 at 3 (citing 75 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 3803(b)(4); 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 1104(1))). We agree that this allegation, taken as true for purposes of this motion, adequately alleges that Plaintiff is prohibited from possessing a firearm under § 922(g)(1) because his DUI conviction was “punishable by more than two years' imprisonment” and he “cannot seek refuge in § 921(a)(20)(B) and [is] subject to the bar of § 922(g)(1).” Binderup, 836 F.3d at 342. Because the complaint sufficiently alleges that § 922(g)(1) bars Plaintiff from possessing a firearm, and noting that there does not appear to be any issue with Plaintiff's standing, [2] we turn to whether the complaint sufficiently asserts an as-applied Second Amendment challenge to § 922(g)(1) under the Third Circuit's decision in Binderup. Since no district court has yet to fully apply the Binderup court's divided opinion, or the standards that a plurality of the court announced, we first endeavor to explain and interpret the court's fractured decision.[3] We then determine whether Plaintiff's complaint survives Defendants' motion to dismiss.

         C. As-Applied Second Amendment Challenge

         The Second Amendment protects “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms[.]” U.S. Const. amend II. “The Supreme Court has not yet heard an as-applied Second Amendment challenge to a presumptively lawful ban on firearms possession.” Binderup, 836 F.3d at 359 (Hardiman, J., concurring).

         In Binderup, the Third Circuit, applying the Supreme Court's opinion in District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570 (2008), recognized that the Second Amendment, as incorporated against the States in McDonald v. City of Chicago, 561 U.S. 742 (2010), guarantees an individual's right to possess a firearm “unconnected with militia service.” Binderup, 836 F.3d at 343 (quoting Heller, 554 U.S. 582). The court reiterated both of Heller's holdings that the Second Amendment protects the right of “law-abiding, responsible citizens to use arms in defense of hearth and home, ” and that such a right was “not unlimited.” Id. (quoting Heller, 554 U.S. at 634-35, 626). The court restated Heller's assurance that “longstanding prohibitions on the ...


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