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Duberry v. District of Columbia

United States District Court, District of Columbia

May 28, 2015

RONALD E. DUBERRY, et al., Plaintiffs,
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, et al., Defendants.




In this action, four retired correctional officers seek injunctive and declaratory relief that will require the District of Columbia Department of Corrections, their former employing agency, to classify them as retired "law enforcement officers" within the meaning of the federal Law Enforcement Officers Safety Act. They seek this classification so that, pursuant to local administrative procedures, they may obtain a current firearm certification, which, in turn, is required by the Act before retired law enforcement officers may carry concealed firearms across state lines. The defendants have moved to dismiss the action for lack of Article III and subject-matter jurisdiction or, alternatively, for failure to state a claim. Also before the Court is the plaintiffs' unopposed motion for oral argument.

The Court dismisses the plaintiffs' claims insofar as they seek relief on behalf of "future" retired correctional officers not presently before the Court, given that the plaintiffs lack third-party standing to seek such relief. The Court also dismisses all claims against the individual defendants in their official capacities, given that such claims are duplicative of those against the District of Columbia. In all other respects, the Court grants the motion to dismiss as to the claims against the District: Although the Court has Article III and subject-matter jurisdiction, the plaintiffs have failed to state a claim that the Department of Corrections, in refusing to classify them as retired "law enforcement officers, " violated a right enforceable under § 1983. Because the Court resolves all issues presented in the motion to dismiss, it denies as moot the plaintiffs' motion for oral argument.


A. Statutory Framework

In 2004, Congress enacted the Law Enforcement Officers Safety Act ("LEOSA" or "the Act"). See LEOSA, Pub. L. 108-277, 118 Stat. 865 (2004), codified at 18 U.S.C. §§ 926B et seq. Prior to LEOSA, the states took diverging positions on whether out-of-state law enforcement officers could carry concealed weapons within the state. H.R. Rep. No. 108-560, at 3 (2004). Against this backdrop, LEOSA mandated that all active and retired law enforcement officers would be able to carry a concealed weapon anywhere in the United States subject to certain conditions, thereby overriding contrary state laws. See S. Rep. No. 108-29, at 4 (2003). The Act's purpose was two-fold-to protect active and retired officers and their families from "vindictive criminals, " and to enable such officers to "respond immediately" to crimes spanning multiple jurisdictions. Id.; see also H.R. Rep. No. 108-560, at 4 (2004).

Section 3 of LEOSA governs retired law enforcement officers, setting forth the conditions that they must satisfy in order to carry concealed firearms lawfully in any state. See LEOSA, Pub. L. 108-277, § 3, 118 Stat. 865, 866-67 (2004), codified at 18 U.S.C. § 926C. Subsection (a) identifies two overarching requirements-status as a "qualified retired law enforcement officer" and possession of certain identification documents:

Notwithstanding any other provision of the law of any State or any political subdivision thereof, an individual who is a qualified retired law enforcement officer and who is carrying the identification required by subsection (d) may carry a concealed firearm that has been shipped or transported in interstate or foreign commerce....

18 U.S.C. § 926C(a). The term "qualified retired law enforcement officer, " in turn, is defined in subsection (c). 18 U.S.C. § 926C(c). Included in this definition are requirements that the individual "separated from service in good standing... with a public agency as a law enforcement officer, " id. § 926C(c)(1), [1] and that "before such separation, " he had legal authority to prevent, investigate, prosecute, or incarcerate persons for violations of law, "and had statutory powers of arrest, " id. § 926C(c)(2). Subsection (d) provides individuals with two options for satisfying its identification requirements. Relevant here is the second option, set forth at subsection (d)(2), which requires possession of two documents-a photographic identification and a firearm certification:

(A) a photographic identification issued by the agency from which the individual separated from service as a law enforcement officer that identifies the person as having been employed as a police officer or law enforcement officer; and
(B) a certification issued by the State in which the individual resides or by a certified firearms instructor that is qualified to conduct a firearms qualification test for active duty officers within that State that indicates that the individual has, not less than 1 year before the date the individual is carrying the concealed firearm, been tested or otherwise found by the State or a certified firearms instructor that is qualified to conduct a firearms qualification test for active duty officers within that State to have met-
(I) the active duty standards for qualification in firearms training, as established by the State, to carry a firearm of the same type as the concealed firearm; or
(II) if the State has not established such standards, standards set by any law enforcement agency within that State to carry a firearm of the same type as the concealed firearm.

Id. § 926C(d)(2)(A), (B).[2]

In short, if an individual is a "qualified retired law enforcement officer" within the meaning of subsection (c) and also satisfies the identification requirements of subsection (d), then he may carry a concealed firearm in any state, notwithstanding any state law providing otherwise. See 18 U.S.C. § 926C(a), (c), (d).

B. Factual Background and Procedural History

Before their retirement, Ronald E. Duberry, Harold Bennette, Maurice Curtis, and Robert L. Smith (collectively "Plaintiffs") worked as correctional officers in the District of Columbia Department of Corrections ("DOC"). See Corr. Am. Compl. ¶ 1, ECF No. 15. In this capacity, Plaintiffs interacted daily with inmates and had authority to carry firearms, serve warrants, and make arrests on prison grounds. See id. ¶¶ 26-27, 30-32. While employed by DOC, Plaintiffs were issued identification cards indicating their status as law enforcement officers and stating that D.C. Code § 24-205 authorized them "to make arrest." See Duberry Identification Card, Pls.' Ex. A, ECF No. 23-1; see also Corr. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 61, 66, 71, 76.

Beginning in November 2012, Plaintiffs individually sought to enjoy the concealed carry right that they believed LEOSA afforded them. See Corr. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 48-59. Duberry, Bennette, and Curtis reside in Prince George's County, Maryland, [3] while Smith resides in the District of Columbia. See id. ¶¶ 8-11. Both Prince George's County and the District of Columbia issue permits allowing resident retired law enforcement officers to carry concealed firearms subject to the various conditions provided in LEOSA. See id. ¶ 47. Because Plaintiffs already possessed photographic identification identifying them as retired DOC correctional officers, they satisfied the requirements of subsection (d)(2)(A). See id. ¶ 56; Duberry Identification Card, Pls.' Ex. A. Accordingly, Plaintiffs sought to comply with subsection (d)(2)(B)'s firearm certification requirement. See 18 U.S.C. § 926C(d)(2)(B).

Before a Prince George's County or District of Columbia resident can seek the firearm certification required by subsection (d)(2)(B), however, he must first submit a prior employment certification form completed by the law enforcement agency for which he previously worked. See Corr. Am. Compl. ¶ 47. On this certification form, the agency must answer a series of questions by checking boxes for "yes" or "no." One question asks whether the applicant, while employed, possessed various authorities enumerated in subsection (c)(2) of LEOSA, including "statutory powers of arrest." Certification of Prior Law Enforcement Employment, Pls.' Ex. B, ECF No. 23-2.[4] Relatedly, another question asks whether the applicant was "regularly employed as a law enforcement officer" for the indicated duration of time. Id.

In response to both of these questions on Duberry's prior employment certification form, a DOC human resources officer checked the boxes for "no" and wrote that Duberry was "not a law enforcement officer." See Certification of Prior Law Enforcement Employment, Pls.' Ex. B; see also Corr. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 49-51, 55, 57.[5] DOC took the same position with respect to the other Plaintiffs. See Corr. Am. Compl. ¶ 55. In response to inquiries, a DOC official explained that DOC correctional officers have no "statutory powers of arrest" within the meaning of subsection (c)(2). See Corr. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 51, 55; see also 18 U.S.C. § 926C(c)(2). Plaintiffs' counsel sought reconsideration of this determination, to no avail. See Oliveria-Phelan emails of May 2014, Pls.' Ex. C, ECF No. 23-3; Bates-Phelan emails of June 2013, Pls.' Ex. D, ECF No. 23-4.

In July 2014, Plaintiffs initiated this action against the District of Columbia, Mayor Vincent Gray in his official capacity, and Director of DOC Thomas N. Faust in his official capacity (collectively "Defendants"). See generally Compl., ECF No. 1. The corrected amended complaint invokes 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleges that Defendants violated Plaintiffs' rights under LEOSA, and seeks injunctive and declaratory relief in Counts I and II, respectively. See Corr. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 80-96. By way of relief, Plaintiffs request an order directing Defendants to "certify and/or acknowledge Plaintiffs as retired law enforcement officers" under LEOSA, and they additionally request that the Court make the order "applicable to all future former D.C. Department of Correction[s] Officers who otherwise meet the qualifications of LEOSA." Id. at 17. Plaintiffs also request a declaratory judgment stating that they are "retired law enforcement officers" under LEOSA. Id. The corrected amended complaint alleges that this Court has jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331, 28 U.S.C. § 1343(a)(3), 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and, as to the declaratory judgment, 28 U.S.C. § 2201(a) and § 2202. Id. ¶¶ 4-6.

Defendants moved to dismiss the corrected amended complaint, contending that Plaintiffs lack Article III standing, that this Court lacks subject-matter jurisdiction, that the individual defendants sued in their official capacities should be dismissed, and that the corrected amended complaint fails to state a claim. See Defs.' Mot. Dismiss, ECF No. 19.[6] After the motion was fully briefed, Plaintiffs filed an unopposed motion for oral argument. See Mot. Oral Argument, ECF No. 26.


A. Rule 12(b)(1)

Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction, and the law presumes that "a cause lies outside this limited jurisdiction[.]" Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 511 U.S. 375, 377 (1994). Thus, to survive a Rule 12(b)(1) motion to dismiss, a plaintiff bears the burden of establishing that a court has jurisdiction over his claim. See Steel Co. v. Citizens for a Better Env't, 523 U.S. 83, 103-04 (1998) (standing and Article III jurisdiction); Moms Against Mercury v. FDA, 483 F.3d 824, 828 (D.C. Cir. 2007) (subject-matter jurisdiction). In determining whether jurisdiction exists, a court may "consider the complaint supplemented by undisputed facts evidenced in the record, or the complaint ...

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