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Jefferson Wayne Schrader, et al. v. Eric Holder

December 23, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Rosemary M. Collyer United States District Judge


Back in 1968 when Jefferson Schrader was 20 years old and in the Navy, he was in a fistfight with a member of a gang that had previously attacked him on the street in Annapolis, Maryland. He was arrested and convicted in a Maryland State court of common law misdemeanor assault and battery. He received a $100 fine and no jail time. Because it was an uncodified common law violation, no State statute specified a maximum term of incarceration. Forty years later, as Mr. Schrader attempted to purchase firearms, his attempts were rebuffed when he was identified in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System ("NICS") as ineligible since his 1968 conviction could have resulted in a sentence of two years or more and federal law prohibited his purchase. See 18 U.S.C. § 922(g).

Mr. Schrader challenges the government's application of § 922(g) to his facts and asserts that he has a constitutional right under the Second Amendment to purchase firearms. All parties recognize that federal law bars anyone convicted of certain crimes from purchasing guns, including those convicted of a State-law misdemeanor that is punishable by more than two years in prison. See 18 U.S.C. § 921(a)(20)(B). The questions presented are whether an uncodified misdemeanor of a garden-variety sort comes within the federal definition and whether, if so, such treatment violates Mr. Schrader's rights under the Second Amendment. The government moves to dismiss and Mr. Schrader cross moves for summary judgment.


The relevant facts are simple and, unless otherwise stated, uncontested. In July of 1968, Mr. Schrader was enlisted in the Navy and stationed in Annapolis, Maryland. While walking on the streets of Annapolis, Mr. Schrader was assaulted by a street gang for allegedly entering their territory. Sometime later, on or about July 23, 1968, Mr. Schrader was again walking in Annapolis and encountered one of the gang members who had previously assaulted him.*fn1 A fight broke out, and Mr. Schrader punched the gang member. A nearby police officer arrested Mr. Schrader for assault and battery and disorderly conduct. Eight days later, Mr. Schrader was found guilty of assualt and battery and ordered to pay a $100 fine and $9 in court costs. Mr. Schrader paid the fine and costs and was released. Aside from this incident, Mr. Schrader has no other convictions and has had no other meaningful encounters with law enforcement.

Forty years later, Mr. Schrader attempted to acquire a shotgun and a handgun for self-defense purposes. As required by the Brady Handgun Violence and Prevention Act, Pub. L. 103-159, 107 Stat. 1536, Mr. Schrader's name and information was checked against the National Instant Criminal Background System ("NICS") to see if he was eligible to purchase a firearm. The background check revealed Mr. Schrader's prior conviction, and he was deemed ineligible.

Mr. Schrader wrote to the FBI and asked why his firearms transactions had been cancelled. On June 3, 2009, the FBI advised that it had made a "denial decision" under 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1) on the basis of the 1968 Maryland misdemeanor common law assault and battery conviction. The FBI further advised him to dispose of or surrender any firearms he might possess or he could face criminal prosecution. Because the common law misdemeanor for which Mr. Schrader was convicted had no legislatively-capped punishment range, the government treats him as it would a convicted felon for the purpose of federal law, banning him for life from possessing any firearm for any purpose and listing his name in the NICS database as disqualified from owning firearms.

Mr. Schrader complains that the government's expansive reading of § 922(g)(1) is mistaken. Even assuming that the federal scheme could be read to encompass common law misdemeanants, he complains that the government's attempt to limit his right to purchase guns under § 922(g)(1) fails constitutional scrutiny under the Second Amendment. Mr. Schrader and the Second Amendment Foundation*fn2 filed this lawsuit seeking an order requiring Defendants to remove Mr. Schrader's firearms disability from NICS pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 925(a) and permanently enjoining Defendants from enforcing 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1) with respect to his uncodified common law misdemeanor offense on the ground that it has no statutory punishment criteria.


A. Jurisdiction and Venue

The Court has jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331 (federal question) and 2201 (Declaratory Judgment Act). Venue is proper under 28 U.S.C. § 1391.

B. Motion to Dismiss

A motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) challenges the adequacy of a complaint on its face. Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). A complaint must be sufficient "to give a defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (2007) (internal citations omitted). Although a complaint does not need detailed factual allegations, a plaintiff's obligation to provide the grounds of his entitlement to relief "requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Id. To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim for relief that is "plausible on its face." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570.

A court must treat the complaint's factual allegations as true, "even if doubtful in fact." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. But a court need not accept as true legal conclusions set forth in a complaint. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009). In deciding a motion under Rule 12(b)(6), a court may consider the facts alleged in the complaint, documents attached to the complaint as exhibits or incorporated by reference, and matters ...

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