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Simpson v. Sessions

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

May 9, 2017

BARRY L. SIMPSON, Plaintiff,


          Jeffrey L. Schmehl, J.


         Before the Court is the motion to dismiss of Defendants, Jefferson B. Sessions, III, Attorney General of the United States[1], and Thomas E. Brandon, Director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (hereinafter “Defendants”) (Docket No. 6). Plaintiff, Barry L. Simpson (hereinafter “Plaintiff”) has filed an opposition to the motion, and Defendants have filed a reply.

         Plaintiff's Complaint asserts an as-applied challenge to the constitutionality of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(4) under the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution. Having read the parties' briefing, and after oral argument, for the reasons that follow, I find that Plaintiff cannot rebut the presumption that he is disqualified from possessing a firearm. Therefore, I will grant the motion to dismiss.


         Federal law includes “longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill.” District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570, 635 (2008). Particularly, restrictions provide that any person who “has been committed to a mental institution” may not possess firearms or ammunition. 18 U.S.C. § 922 (g)(4).

         On May 4, 2002, Plaintiff in this case was involuntarily committed to a mental health institution pursuant to Section 302 of Pennsylvania's Mental Health Procedures Act (“MHPA”), 50 Pa. C.S.A. § 7102, which allows for involuntary emergency examinations and treatment not to exceed 120 hours. According to Plaintiff's Complaint, on May 4, 2002, he and his wife were at their Delaware beach house, where Plaintiff had been drinking and they began to argue. (Compl., ¶ 9.) Plaintiff directed his wife to take him home to Lancaster, when they both thought they were to meet with Plaintiff's doctor, Dr. Russo, at Lancaster General Hospital, to mediate the argument. (Id., ¶¶ 10-11.) Upon arrival at the hospital, Plaintiff's wife executed a Section 302 petition and, after medical examination, it was determined that Plaintiff should be admitted to a facility for a period of treatment not exceeding one hundred and twenty (120) hours. (Id. ¶ 12.) Plaintiff was then transferred to Ephrata Community Hospital and was discharged on May 6, 2002. (Id., ¶ 13.)

         On January 7, 2014, Plaintiff petitioned the Court of Common Pleas of Lancaster County in an effort to expunge the record of his involuntary commitment and to obtain relief from state prohibitions on possessing a firearm arising out of his involuntary commitment. (Docket No. 6, Ex. 1 at 1.) On September 11, 2015, the Court of Common Pleas issued a Memorandum Opinion, denying Plaintiff's request to expunge his records and granting Plaintiff's request to relieve him of the Pennsylvania firearm disability. (Id. at 11, 14.) Lastly, the Court denied Plaintiff's request to “strike the federal law” and “discharge the federal ban as well, ” because it was not within the state court's jurisdiction to grant such relief. (Id. at 13-14.) In denying Plaintiff's request to expunge the record of his involuntary commitment, the Court stated that the record supported a finding that he was reasonably found to be “severely mentally disabled” at the time of his commitment. (Id. at 11.)

         On March 18, 2016, Plaintiff filed the instant action, alleging that he has “refrain[ed] from obtaining a firearm because he reasonably fears” enforcement of 18 U.S.C. §922(g)(4) “should he follow through with his plan to obtain a firearm.” (Compl. at ¶ 20.) Plaintiff's Complaint sets forth a cause of action for declaratory and injunctive relief for an “Individualized, as Applied Claim for Relief Right to Keep and Bear Arms” under the Second Amendment. (Id. at ¶¶ 21-22.) Plaintiff alleges that because he is a “responsible, law-abiding American citizen” and “because of [his] unique personal circumstances, including the passage of time since his hospitalization, his law-abiding record over the years, his trustworthiness with firearms, and the lack of danger that his possession of firearms would pose, it is unconstitutional to apply against [him] personally the firearms probation of 18 U.S.C. §922(g)(1).”[2] (Id. at ¶¶ 1-2.)

         Defendants filed a motion to dismiss Plaintiff's complaint on June 27, 2016, and after multiple extensions allowing for a response and a reply brief, oral argument was held on this issue on October 28, 2016.


         “To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). A claim satisfies the plausibility standard when the facts alleged “allow[] the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Burtch v. Millberg Factors, Inc., 662 F.3d 212, 220-21 (3d Cir. 2011) (citing Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678).

         The Court of Appeals requires us to apply a three-step analysis under a 12(b)(6) motion: (1) “it must ‘tak[e] note of the elements [the] plaintiff must plead to state a claim;'” (2) “it should identify allegations that, ‘because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth;'” and, (3) “[w]hen there are well-pleaded factual allegations, [the] court should assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement for relief.” Connelly v. Lane Construction Corp., 809 F.3d 780, 787 (3d Cir. 2016) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 675, 679); see also Burtch, 662 F.3d at 221; Malleus v. George, 641 F.3d 560, 563 (3d. Cir. 2011); Santiago v. Warminster Township, 629 F.3d 121, 130 (3d. Cir. 2010).

         I also must address the opinion of the Court of Common Pleas of Lancaster County that Plaintiff briefly referenced in his Complaint that was attached by Defendants as an exhibit to their Motion. “[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.'” 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)). I 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). Further, “judicial opinions and docket sheets are public records, of which this court may take judicial notice in deciding a motion to dismiss.” Zedonis v. Lynch, 2017 WL 511234, * 3 (M.D. Pa., Feb. 8, 2017)(referencing Pension Benefit Guar. Corp. v. White Consol. Indus., Inc., 998 F.2d 1192, 1197 (3d Cir. 1993)). Accordingly, I will take judicial notice of the opinion of the Honorable Jay J. Hoberg of the Court of Common Pleas of Lancaster County that was issued on Plaintiff's state court challenge to the firearms disability, which is attached as an exhibit to Defendants' motion.


         Defendants move to dismiss the complaint in its entirety. For the reasons that follow, I will grant Defendants' motion in its ...

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