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Doe v. Wolf

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

August 23, 2017

JOHN DOE I, et al. Plaintiffs,
v.
THOMAS W. WOLF, et al., Defendants.

          OPINION

          SLOMSKY, J.

         TABLE OF CONTENTS

         I. INTRODUCTION .................................................................................................................. 1

         II. BACKGROUND .................................................................................................................... 2

         A. Section 302 Authorizes Temporary Emergency Commitment and Treatment .............. 3

         B. Pennsylvania Uniform Firearms Act (“PUFA”) ........................................................... 5

         C. Mental Health Procedures Act (“MHPA”) Reporting Requirements to Pennsylvania State Police ......................................................................................... 6

         D. State Statutory Remedies .............................................................................................. 8

         E. Plaintiffs' Section 302 Commitments .......................................................................... 11

         i. John Doe I ........................................................................................................... 11

         ii. John Doe II ......................................................................................................... 12

         III. STANDARD OF REVIEW .................................................................................................. 12

         A. Subject Matter Jurisdiction ......................................................................................... 12

         B. Failure to State a Claim for Which Relief Can Be Granted ........................................ 13

         IV. ANALYSIS ........................................................................................................................... 15

         A. Sovereign Immunity Under the Eleventh Amendment ............................................... 15

         i. Claims Against the Pennsylvania State Police ................................................... 17

         ii. Claims Against Governor Wolf, Attorney General Shapiro, and Colonel Blocker ................................................................................................. 18

         B. Procedural Due Process Under the Fourteenth Amendment ....................................... 21

         i. Protected Interest ............................................................................................... 22

         ii. Mental Illness Exception to the Second Amendment ........................................ 23

         iii. Plaintiffs Have Plausibly Alleged that a Person Committed Under Section 302 May Not Fall within the Mental Illness Exception ........................ 24

         iv. Adequacy of Post-Deprivation State Remedies ................................................. 27

         V. CONCLUSION ..................................................................................................................... 33

         I. INTRODUCTION

         This case pits the longstanding prohibition on the possession of firearms by the mentally ill against an individual's limited right to keep and carry firearms under the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution. In this action seeking a declaratory judgment and injunctive relief, Plaintiffs bring a facial challenge to the constitutionality of Section 6105 of the Pennsylvania Uniform Firearms Act (“PUFA”), which prohibits a person temporarily committed under Section 302 of the Mental Health Procedures Act (“MHPA”) from possessing firearms.

         On November 17, 2016, Plaintiffs filed suit against Defendants Governor Thomas W. Wolf, Attorney General Josh Shapiro, Colonel Tyree V. Blocker, and the Pennsylvania State Police (“PSP”).[1] (Doc. No. 1.) On January 30, 2017, Defendants filed a Motion to Dismiss pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure Rule 12(b)(1) (lack of subject-matter jurisdiction) and 12(b)(6) (failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted). (Doc. No. 13.) On February 13, 2017, Plaintiffs filed a Response in Opposition (Doc. No. 14), to which Defendants filed a Reply (Doc. No. 15). Plaintiffs filed a Sur-Reply in opposition to the Motion (Doc. No. 18), and oral argument was held on May 17, 2017 (Doc. No. 30). The Motion to Dismiss is now ripe for a decision.[2] For the following reasons, the Motion will be granted in part and denied in part.

         II. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiffs bring a facial challenge to the constitutionality of the Pennsylvania Uniform Firearms Act (“PUFA”), 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 6105 (“Section 6105”), alleging that it deprives them of their Second Amendment right without due process of law. (Doc. No. 1 at 2.) The alleged deprivation involves the intersection of PUFA and the Mental Health Procedures Act (“MHPA”), 50 Pa. Stat. §§ 7101-7503. The challenged statutory scheme provides for the involuntary commitment for emergency treatment of an individual for up to 120 hours if a physician determines that the individual is a danger to himself or others, and is in need of immediate mental health treatment. 50 Pa. Stat. § 7302 (“Section 302”). See also 50 Pa. Stat. § 7301. Plaintiffs were determined to be committable under Section 302 by a physician. (Doc. No. 1 at ¶ 2.) In particular, Plaintiffs are challenging Defendants' Section 6105 deprivation of their fundamental right to keep and bear arms as a result of their Section 302 commitments.[3](Doc. No. 16 at 3.) The Court will address the relevant statutory scheme, and then discuss Plaintiffs' respective Section 302 commitments.

         A. Section 302 Authorizes Temporary Emergency Commitment and Treatment

         In Pennsylvania, an individual may be subjected to a temporary emergency commitment for up to 120 hours under Section 302 of MHPA, if “the person is severely mentally disabled within the meaning of section 301 and in need of immediate treatment.” 50 Pa. Stat. § 7302 (referencing 50 Pa. Stat. § 7301 (“Section 301”)). Section 301(a)-defining persons subject to involuntary emergency examination and treatment-provides as follows:

Whenever a person is severely mentally disabled and in need of immediate treatment, he may be made subject to involuntary emergency examination and treatment. A person is severely mentally disabled when, as a result of mental illness, his capacity to exercise self-control, judgment and discretion in the conduct of his affairs and social relations or to care for his own personal needs is so lessened that he poses a clear and present danger of harm to others or to himself.

50 Pa. Stat. § 7301(a). Section 301(b) sets forth the standard for determining if a person presents a “clear and present danger” to himself or others.[4]

         A temporary emergency commitment under Section 302 is initiated in one of two ways. First, a “physician or responsible party”[5] may make a written application to the county administrator “setting forth facts constituting reasonable grounds to believe a person is severely mentally disabled and in need of immediate treatment.” 50 Pa. Stat. § 7302(a)(1). This application is submitted in support of a request for a warrant requiring a person authorized by the administrator “to take such person to the facility specified in the warrant.” Id. Second, “a physician or peace officer, or anyone authorized by the county administrator may take such person to an approved facility for an emergency examination” upon “personal observation of the conduct constituting reasonable grounds to believe that he is severely mentally disabled and in need of immediate treatment.” 50 Pa. Stat. § 7302(a)(2). Under Section 302(a)(2), if the individual is taken to an approved facility for treatment without a warrant, the person transporting the individual must “make a written statement setting forth the grounds for believing the person to be in need of such examination” upon arrival. Id.

         Section 302 requires that a physician must examine a person taken to a facility within two hours of arrival in order to determine if the person poses a clear and present danger of harm to himself or others and is in need of immediate treatment. 50 Pa. Stat. § 7302(b). The physician is required to make a record of the examination and his or her findings. Id. “If it is determined that the person is severely mentally disabled and in need of emergency treatment, treatment shall [begin] immediately.” Id. However, if the physician determines there is no need for a temporary emergency commitment or “if at any time it appears there is no longer a need for immediate treatment, ” the person must be discharged. Id.

         The person temporarily committed under Section 302 has certain notification rights, which are as follows:

Upon arrival at the facility, the person shall be informed of the reasons for emergency examination and of his right to communicate immediately with others. He shall be given reasonable use of the telephone. He shall be requested to furnish the names of parties whom he may want notified of his custody and kept informed of his status. The county administrator or the director of the facility shall:
(1) give notice to such parties of the whereabouts and status of the person, how and when he may be contacted and visited, and how they may obtain information concerning him while he is in inpatient treatment; and
(2) take reasonable steps to assure that while the person is detained, the health and safety needs of any of his dependents are met, and that his personal property and the premises he occupies are secure.

50 Pa. Stat. § 7302(c)(1)-(2).

         B. Pennsylvania Uniform Firearms Act (“PUFA”)

         The PUFA regulates firearm possession in Pennsylvania. Relevant here is Section 6105, which identifies persons who are prohibited from possessing firearms. 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 6105. Section 6105(a)(1) provides in relevant part:

A person who has been convicted of an offense enumerated in subsection (b), within or without this Commonwealth, regardless of the length of sentence or whose conduct meets the criteria in subsection (c) shall not possess, use, control, sell, transfer or manufacture or obtain a license to possess, use, control, sell, transfer or manufacture a firearm in this Commonwealth. . . .

18 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 6105(a)(1). Additionally, under subsection (c), the following persons “shall be subject to the prohibition of subsection (a)”:

A person who has been adjudicated as an incompetent or who has been involuntarily committed to a mental institution for inpatient care and treatment under section 302, 303 or 304 of the provisions of the act of July 9, 1976 (P.L. 817, No. 143), known as the Mental Health Procedures Act. This paragraph shall not apply to any proceeding under section 302 of the Mental Health Procedures Act unless the examining physician has issued a certification that inpatient care was necessary or that the person was committable.

Id. § 6105(c)(4). Therefore, a person temporarily committed and certified under Section 302 of MHPA, discussed above, is prohibited from possessing firearms in Pennsylvania. Id.

         And most notably, a person subject to the prohibition of Section 6105(a) has a “reasonable period of time, not to exceed 60 days from the date of the imposition of the disability under this subsection, in which to sell or transfer that person's firearms to another eligible person who is not a member of the prohibited person's household.” Id. § 6105(a)(2)(i).

         C. Mental Health Procedures Act (“MHPA”) Reporting Requirements to Pennsylvania State Police

         The MHPA requires that the Pennsylvania State Police be notified of any person who has been temporarily committed under Section 302. Section 109 provides as follows:

Notwithstanding any statute to the contrary, judges of the courts of common pleas, mental health review officers and county mental health and mental retardation administrators shall notify the Pennsylvania State Police on a form developed by the Pennsylvania State Police of the identity of any individual who has been adjudicated incompetent or who has been involuntarily committed to a mental institution for inpatient care and treatment under this act or who has been involuntarily treated as described under 18 Pa. Con. Stat. Ann. § 6105(c)(4) (relating to persons not to possess, use, manufacture, control, sell or transfer firearms). The notification shall be transmitted by the judge, mental health review officer or county mental health and mental retardation administrator within seven days of the adjudication, commitment or treatment. Notwithstanding any statute to the contrary, county mental health and mental retardation administrators shall notify the Pennsylvania State Police on a form developed by the Pennsylvania State Police of the identity of any individual who before the effective date of this act had been adjudicated incompetent or had been involuntarily committed to a mental institution for inpatient care treatment under this act or had been involuntarily treated as described in 18 Pa. Con. Stat. Ann. § 6105(c)(4).

50 Pa. Stat. § 7109(d) (emphasis added). In sum, when an individual is temporarily committed under Section 302, the physician is required to report the identity of the individual to PSP within seven days of the commitment described in Section 302. Id.

         PSP is “responsible for supplying information to the [Pennsylvania Instant Check System (“PICS”)] and/or [National Instant Criminal Background Check System (“NICS”)] databases that are used to disqualify persons from possessing firearms. . . .” (Doc. No 1 at ¶ 72.) While the reporting practices of PSP are not clear from the record in this case to date, once an individual is temporarily committed under Section 302 and the physician reports the individual to PSP, information about the reported individual is placed in the PICS and NICS databases according to Plaintiffs. (Id. at ¶ 4.) Once in the PICS and NICS databases, the individual is prohibited from possessing, using, controlling, selling, or transferring firearms in Pennsylvania and nationwide. 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 6105; 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(4).[6]

         Plaintiffs allege that as soon as an individual is prohibited from possessing firearms under the statutory scheme, that person is deprived of his or her Second Amendment right without due process of law. (Doc. No. 1 at ¶¶ 70-75, 77.) Specifically, the “prohibition applies automatically to a [t]emporary [e]mergency [c]ommitment under Section 302 once an examining physician has certified that ‘inpatient care was necessary, or that the person was committable.'” (Id. at ¶ 3 (citing 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 6105(a)(1), (c)(4)).) Therefore, Plaintiffs claim that pre- deprivation procedures are necessary before the PSP enters an individual who has been committed under Section 302 into the PICS and NICS systems.[7]

         D. State Statutory Remedies

         An individual has three post-deprivation procedures available to attempt to lift the firearm restrictions that result from a Section 302 commitment. First, under 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 6105(f)(1), an individual can file a petition in the Court of Common Pleas seeking restoration of his or her right to possess a firearm. Section 6105(f)(1) provides as follows:

Upon application to the court of common pleas under this subsection by an applicant subject to the prohibitions under subsection (c)(4), the court may grant such relief as it deems appropriate if the court determines that the applicant may possess a firearm without risk to the applicant or any other person.

18 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 6105(f)(1).

         Second, Section 6111.1(g)(2) provides another avenue for relief to lift the firearm ...


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