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BRADY CAMPAIGN TO PREVENT GUN VIOLENCE v. ASHCROFT

BRADY CAMPAIGN TO PREVENT GUN VIOLENCE UNITED WITH THE MILLION MOM MARCH, Plaintiff,
v.
JOHN ASHCROFT, Attorney General of the United States, et al., Defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: ROYCE LAMBERTH, District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

This matter comes before the Court on the government's motion to dismiss and for summary judgment on the question of subject-matter jurisdiction. In its motion, the government argues that the plaintiff's challenge, under §§ 921-23 of the Gun Control Act, to certain procedures of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (the "ATF") fails to constitute a justiciable controversy under Article III because the plaintiff fails to show that it has the requisite standing to bring this action. Additionally, the government contends that the plaintiff's claims are both unripe and barred by the six-year statute of limitations on civil suits brought against the United States.*fn1 Upon consideration of the filings and arguments by counsel, the Court concludes that the plaintiff has failed to sufficiently demonstrate standing to bring this action. Because the plaintiff lacks standing, a jurisdictional prerequisite, the Court shall grant the government's motion for summary judgment on jurisdictional grounds, and the plaintiff's complaint shall be dismissed. The Court's reasoning is set out below.

I. Background

  On September 13, 1994, Congress enacted the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act (the "1994 Act") which, among other things, amended the Gun Control Act of 1968 to restrict the manufacture, transfer, or possession of certain semiautomatic assault weapons ("SAWs") and large capacity ammunition feeding devices. See Pub.L. No. 103-332, 108 Stat. 1796 §§ 110101-110106, codified at 18 U.S.C. §§ 921-24 (1994), § 922(v)(1). "Semiautomatic assault weapon" is defined by the statute to include a list of named "firearms," copies and duplicates of those on that list, and "firearms" possessing certain features. See 18 U.S.C. § 921(a)(30). The statute defines "firearm," in turn, as:
(A) any weapon (including a starter gun) which will or is designed to or may readily be converted to expel a projectile by the action of the explosive; (B) the frame or receiver of any such weapon; (C) any firearm muffler or firearm silencer; or (D) any destructive device. Such term does not include an antique firearm.
18 U.S.C. § 921(a)(3).

  A "grandfather clause" in the 1994 Act exempted from regulation the possession or transfer of SAWs legally possessed before the effective date of the amendments. 18 U.S.C. § 922(v)(2). The amendments are set to expire on September 13 of this year. Pub.L. No. 103-332, 108 Stat. 1796 § 110105.

  The plaintiff, the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence United with the Million Mom March (the "Brady Campaign") is a non-profit organization dedicated to the reduction of gun violence. Members of the Brady Campaign include Joan Shirley and Mary Hunt, whose sons were killed with AK-47 semiautomatic assault weapons, the manufacture, transfer, and possession of which are restricted by the 1994 Act. See Decl. of Joan Shirley, ¶ 2; Decl. of Mary Hunt, ¶ 2; 18 U.S.C. § 921(a)(30)(A)(I) (defining "semiautomatic assault weapon", for the purposes of the statutory restrictions, to include "Poly Technologies Avtomat Kalashnikovs (all models)," which category includes the AK-47). Shirley and Hunt allege that they now live in constant fear of being subjected to further incidents of SAW-related violent crime. See Decl. of Shirley, ¶ 5; Decl. of Hunt, ¶ 6. Additionally, Brady Campaign members Shikha Hamilton and Joseph Lapp submitted statements attesting to their heightened fear of SAW-related violence, due in part to the fact that they each live in neighborhoods where SAW-related violence occurs regularly. See Decl. of Shikha Hamilton, ¶ 2-4; Decl. of Joseph Lapp, ¶ 2-3.

  On January 28, 2003, the Brady Campaign requested documents from the ATF related to interactions between the ATF and Bushmaster Firearms, Inc. ("Bushmaster") through the Freedom of Information Act. The ATF subsequently released documents to the plaintiff showing that Bushmaster wrote to the ATF on December 17, 1996, to explain that owners of SAWs exempted from the 1994 Act's restrictions under the grandfather clause were submitting weapons for repairs, including replacement of lower receivers, and to ask "what legal procedure" Bushmaster needed to follow in order to lawfully replace those receivers. Pl. Ex. 2, Letter from Daniel R. Vice, Staff Attorney at Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, to Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives of Jan. 28, 2003.

  In a response letter to Bushmaster that was also released to the Brady Campaign, the ATF directed Bushmaster to the ATF's Federal Firearms Regulations Reference Guide, which states that "defective" SAW frames or receivers must be replaced by the original manufacturer who must mark the replacement receiver with the same serial number that was on the original and destroy the defective original. However, if that procedure is impossible for some reason, the ATF policy allows the manufacturer to apply for a variance. If that variance is approved, the manufacturer may replace the receiver of a grandfathered SAW with a new receiver bearing a new serial number. On July 9, 2003, the Brady Campaign wrote to the ATF, argued that the policy violates the 1994 act, and asked that the policy be discontinued. The ATF replied that its actions were not in violation of the 1994 Act. The Brady Campaign subsequently requested but did not receive other ATF documents related to ATF correspondence with additional SAW manufacturers.

  The Brady Campaign then filed this action, requesting declaratory and injunctive relief and, pursuant to Sections 701-06 of the Administrative Procedure Act*fn2 and Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 65, a motion for a preliminary injunction to force the ATF to discontinue this policy immediately. The plaintiff's complaint and motion allege that the ATF policy, under which manufacturers of SAWs are permitted to provide new frames or receivers to owners of grandfathered SAWs, constitutes an authorization of the manufacture and transfer of new SAWs within the meaning of the 1994 Act's definition of "firearm." Because the statutory definition of "firearm" includes both completed SAWs and frames or receivers alone, the Brady Campaign contends, the ATF policy in fact permits the manufacture and transfer of new firearms in violation of the 1994 Act. The government then filed the present motion to dismiss and for summary judgment. II. Standard

  Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) provides that a complaint may be dismissed for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. Fed.R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1). On a motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, the plaintiff bears the burden of establishing that the Court has jurisdiction. Grand Lodge of Fraternal Order of Police v. Ashcroft, 185 F. Supp. 2d 9, 13 (D.D.C. 2001); Pitney Bowes, Inc. v. United States Postal Serv., 27 F. Supp. 2d 15, 18 (D.D.C. 1998). A Court must accept all the non-movant's factual allegations as true when reviewing a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(1), see Leatherman v. Tarrant County Narcotics Intelligence & Coordination Unit, 507 U.S. 163, 164 (1993), but such allegations "`will bear closer scrutiny in resolving a 12(b)(1) motion' than in resolving a [Rule] 12(b)(6) motion for failure to state a claim." Grand Lodge, 185 F. Supp. 2d at 13-14 (quoting 5A CHARLES ALAN WRIGHT & ARTHURR. MILLER, FEDERALPRACTICE AND PROCEDURE § 1350 (2d ed. 1990)). A Court may also consider material beyond the allegations in the plaintiff's complaint when determining whether it has subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1). See, e.g., EEOC v. St. Francis Xavier Parochial Sch., 117 F.3d 621, 624-25, 625 n. 3 (D.C. Cir. 1997); Herbert v. Nat'l Academy of Sciences, 974 F.2d 192, 197 (D.C. Cir. 1992).

  III. Discussion

  Before deciding any other substantive issue that comes before it in a given case, a federal district court must determine whether the parties have presented a justiciable "case" or "controversy" within the meaning of Article III. The requirement that federal courts hear only justiciable disputes principally serves to limit the expansion of the judicial power in a manner consistent with constitutional structure. See Warth v. Seldin, 422 U.S. 490, 498 (1975). "The constitutional power of federal courts cannot be defined, and indeed has no substance, without reference to the necessity `to adjudge the legal rights of litigants in actual controversies.'" Valley Forge Christian College v. Americans United for Separation of Church and State, 454 U.S. 464, 471 (1982) (quoting Liverpool S.S. Co. V. Comm'n of Emigration, 113 U.S. 33, 39 (1885)).

  One component of the general justiciability requirement is the doctrine of standing. Where the plaintiff is an organization suing on behalf of its members, such as the Brady Campaign here, an injury that would be sufficient to establish standing for an individual member similarly suffices to grant standing to the organization so long as: (1) the interests the organization is suing to protect are "germane to [the organization]'s purpose;" and (2) neither the cause of action nor the requested relief require the presence of individual members as parties to the suit. See Hunt v. Washington State Apple Advertising Comm'n, 432 U.S. 333, 342-43 (1977) (quoting Warth, 422 U.S. at 511).

  To satisfy the Hunt test for organizational standing, then, the Brady Campaign must show that one or more of its members would have standing to sue individually. Generally, standing doctrine can be separated into two conceptually distinct sets of requirements. To establish constitutional standing — that is, to satisfy the "constitutional minimum" required by Article III in order to have a justiciable "case or controversy," plaintiffs in federal court must demonstrate that they have suffered an actual injury, or "injury in fact," from which their claims arise; and that the injury is both "fairly traceable" to some allegedly wrongful conduct by the defendant and likely to be redressed by a favorable judicial ruling. Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 560-61 (1992).; Valley Forge, 454 U.S. at 472; Gladstone, Realtors v. Village ...


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