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E.G.G. v. Pennsylvania State Police

Superior Court of Pennsylvania

September 16, 2019

E.G.G., JR., Appellant
v.
PENNSYLVANIA STATE POLICE, Appellee

          Appeal from the Order Entered December 28, 2018 in the Court of Common Pleas of York County Civil Division at No(s): 2017-SU-001189

          BEFORE: LAZARUS, J., MURRAY, J. and STRASSBURGER, J. [*]

          OPINION

          STRASSBURGER, J.

         E.G.G., Jr. (Appellant) appeals from the December 28, 2018 order that denied his petition for restoration of firearm rights, wherein Appellant sought to have his firearm rights restored under 18 Pa.C.S. § 6105(f)(1).[1] We affirm.

         Appellant has twice been committed involuntarily for treatment pursuant to 50 P.S. § 7302 (section 302) of the Mental Health Procedures Act (MHPA). First, in 2003, Appellant presented at the hospital via emergency medical services (EMS) as having overdosed. See Pennsylvania State Police (PSP) Exhibit 1, at 7. The treating physician noted that Appellant was "tired of the pain - has referred to suicidal ideation[, section] 302 petition reviewed. [Appellant] clearly aching to harm himself and possibly others (wife has concerns)[, plus] gun in house." Id. "Under 'treatment needed' the doctor noted '[] admit/ tx [sic] possible medication.' Finally, the doctor concluded that '[t]he patient is severely mentally disabled and in need of treatment[, ]' and directed [Appellant's] admission for a period not to exceed 120 hours." Order Denying Motion for Relief, 12/28/2018, at 2, citing PSP Exhibit 1, at 7.

         In May 2005, Appellant once again presented at the emergency room and was subsequently involuntarily committed for a second time. See PSP Exhibit 2. The physician set forth the following findings, as summarized by the trial court:

[T]he doctor not[ed] that "[Appellant] has a history of violence. [Appellant] was disoriented, agitated[, ] and having visual hallucinations at time of admission." The doctor suspected [a] possible [b]enzodiazepine withdrawal. The doctor recommended "inpatient psychiatric therapy to gain insight about depression/anxiety/painkiller addiction. Needs to work on anger management, as well as impulse control." Finally, this doctor also concluded that [Appellant] was severely mentally disabled and in need of treatment.

Order Denying Motion for Relief, 12/28/2018, at 3, citing PSP Exhibit 2, at 7 (unnecessary capitalization omitted).

         On May 2, 2017, Appellant filed a petition in which he sought expungement of his mental health records pursuant to 18 Pa.C.S. § 6111.1 or alternatively, restoration of his firearm rights pursuant to 18 Pa.C.S. § 6105(f)(1), based upon the claim that his involuntary commitments were improper. A hearing was set before the Honorable John S. Kennedy on July 24, 2017. On that day, Appellant withdrew his request for expungement, seeking instead to "focus" solely on the restoration of his firearm rights. N.T., 7/24/2017, at 4.

         In addition to testifying on his own behalf, Appellant presented the testimony of his wife, S.G. Both parties testified that Appellant's prior troubles and commitments were due to a host of medications Appellant was prescribed after a work injury, which he subsequently began to misuse. Id. at 6-9, 17-18. Both Appellant and S.G. testified that Appellant stopped taking pain medications in 2005 and Appellant has not had any issues since. Id. at 8-9, 11, 18-19. Appellant was in therapy for a few years after the 2005 commitment, but S.G. testified Appellant had not "seen anybody since 2008[.]" Id. at 14. In addition to the foregoing, Appellant also testified about two separate incidents where there were confrontations between store clerks and Appellant, in which the police were called.[2] Id. at 30-31. At the conclusion of the hearing, the trial court stated that it would defer its decision, and the record in this matter would remain open, pending the inclusion of a report from a psychologist or psychiatrist, which the trial court directed Appellant to submit. Id. at 33-34.

         On September 20, 2018, Appellant submitted a psychological report from a privately-retained practice. The evaluator opined that "[c]urrently, [Appellant] is not experiencing significant psychological distress that would cause him to be a harm to himself or to others" and that at the time of the evaluation, Appellant did not "have suicidal or homicidal ideation and [was] not a risk to others." Psychological Evaluation, 9/20/2018, at 5 (unnumbered). The evaluator further concluded that the "reinstatement of his gun permit does not increase this risk." Id. The evaluator did, however, state that Appellant would, inter alia, "benefit from psychotherapy sessions" with the hopes of "learning coping and relaxation strategies to alleviate [Appellant's] anxiety symptoms." Id.

         A second hearing was held on December 20, 2018.[3] Again, Appellant and S.G. testified. Appellant reiterated that his "problems" stemmed from his prior addiction to pain medication. N.T., 12/20/2018, at 15. In addition to testifying about his previous commitments, Appellant also testified that he is currently taking, inter alia, two anti-anxiety medications, an antidepressant, and a sleep aid. Id. at 22. No other witnesses were called. After the hearing, and upon review of the record and applicable filings, the trial court entered an order denying the motion.[4] Appellant timely filed a notice of appeal.[5]

         On appeal, Appellant claims that the trial court erred in concluding that Appellant failed to present sufficient evidence to sustain his burden that Appellant was "fit to possess firearms pursuant to 18 Pa.C.S. § 6105(f)(1)." Appellant's Brief at 4 (unnecessary capitalization omitted).

Our well-settled standard of review in cases involving a motion for expunction is whether the trial court abused its discretion. However, [q]uestions of evidentiary sufficiency present questions of law; thus, our standard of review is de novo and our scope of review is plenary. In conducting sufficiency review, we must consider the evidence ...

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