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Wrenn v. District of Columbia

United States District Court, District of Columbia

April 15, 2016

BRIAN WRENN, et al., Plaintiffs,
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, et al., Defendants.



In this case, Plaintiffs Brian Wrenn, Joshua Akery, Tyler Whidby, and the Second Amendment Foundation, Inc., challenge several provisions of the District of Columbia's licensing scheme for carrying handguns in public, including the permissive nature of the scheme and the "good reason/other proper reason" requirement for obtaining a concealed carry handgun license. On March 7, 2016, the Court denied Plaintiffs' [6] Motion for Preliminary Injunction, and the Court has set an Initial Scheduling Conference for May 9, 2016. Meanwhile, Plaintiffs have filed an interlocutory appeal of the Court's order denying the motion for preliminary injunction and have moved this Court to stay this case pending the resolution of the interlocutory appeal. Upon consideration of the pleadings, [1] the relevant legal authorities, and the record for purposes of this motion, the Court DENIES Plaintiffs' [59] Motion to Stay Proceedings.


The Court reviewed the background of this case in its Memorandum Opinion regarding the denial of Plaintiffs' motion for preliminary injunction. See Wrenn v. D.C., No. CV 15-162 (CKK), 2016 WL 912174, at *2 (D.D.C. Mar. 7, 2016). The Court reserves further discussion of the relevant background for its discussion of the motion now before the Court.


" [T]he power to stay proceedings is incidental to the power inherent in every court to control the disposition of the causes on its docket with economy of time and effort for itself, for counsel, and for litigants. How this can best be done calls for the exercise of judgment, which must weigh competing interests and maintain an even balance.'" Air Line Pilots Ass'n v. Miller, 523 U.S. 866, 880 (1998) (quoting Landis v. North American Co., 299 U.S. 248, 254-255 (1936)); see also Clinton v. Jones, 520 U.S. 681, 706 (1997). Moreover, a party requesting a stay of proceedings "must make out a clear case of hardship or inequity in being required to go forward, if there is even a fair possibility that the stay for which he prays will work damage to some one else." Landis, 299 U.S. at 255.


At the outset, it is important to emphasize, as Plaintiffs do, that Plaintiffs are requesting a stay of further proceedings in this case, not a stay of this Court's prior Order. Specifically, Plaintiffs seek to stay these proceedings pending the resolution of Plaintiffs' interlocutory appeal by the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ("D.C. Circuit"), with respect to this Court's denial of their request for a preliminary injunction. Both sides refer the Court to various other cases in which a court has stayed its proceedings pending the outcome of other proceedings-whether on appeal or otherwise. However, the question of whether to stay a particular case is inextricably intertwined with the nature of the specific case. Accordingly, a lengthy discussion of other cases where courts have granted or refused stays would not facilitate the resolution of the essential question before this Court: have Plaintiffs shown that a stay is proper in this case, at the present time, given the interlocutory appeal now before the D.C. Circuit? With that in mind, the Court proceeds to consider the circumstances in this case, "weigh[ing] competing interests and maintain[ing] an even balance, " as the Court must. Air Line Pilots Ass'n, 523 U.S. at 880.

Plaintiffs argue that the D.C. Circuit's resolution of the appeal will, at a minimum, provide substantial guidance to this Court going forward and, moreover, will "all but certainly resolve" the merits of this case. Pls.' Reply at 5. Therefore, they argue, a pause of proceedings before this Court is in the interest of judicial economy. Plaintiffs also argue-consistent with their general position-that discovery is unnecessary for a determination on the merits in this case. Defendants argue, in response, that the D.C. Circuit's decision on the interlocutory appeal is unlikely to be dispositive with respect to the merits of this case; that continuing with these proceedings is in the interest of judicial economy; and that additional delay will prejudice the District. Therefore, Defendants seek to proceed to a period of discovery, followed by the briefing of dispositive motions. See Parties' Local 16.3 Report, ECF No. 61.

The Court turns first to Plaintiffs' arguments regarding the place of discovery in this case. While the motion to stay does not directly ask the Court to resolve questions regarding discovery, it is necessary to address the question of discovery at a basic level because the Court's evaluation of the motion to stay depends, in part, on the nature of the proceedings that would take place absent a stay. In other words, it is possible-although not certain-that the equities regarding a stay would differ regarding cases proceeding directly to discovery and cases proceeding to dispositive motions. Moreover, the Court has the benefit of the parties' Local 16.3 Rule Report, prepared in advance of the Initial Scheduling Conference, in which the parties set out their positions regarding discovery and other future proceedings. See ECF No. 61. Therefore, the Court considers the place of discovery in this case before turning to the parties' other arguments regarding the requested stay.

With respect to discovery, Plaintiffs suggest that the record in this case is limited to the materials before the Council of the District of Columbia ("D.C. Council") when it enacted the challenged legislation. See Pls.' Reply at 4. Yet, as this Court previously noted, the D.C. Circuit has emphasized that it is necessary to assess the evidentiary record assembled by the parties in order to determine whether the means chosen by the District of Columbia contribute to the governmental interests identified by the District "in a direct and material way, ' whether in one of the ways anticipated by the D.C. Council or otherwise.'" Heller v. District of Columbia, 801 F.3d 264, 275 (D.C. Cir. 2015) (Heller III) (quoting Turner Broad. Sys., Inc. v. FCC, 512 U.S. 622, 662-64 (1994) ( Turner I )); see also Wrenn, 2016 WL 912174, at *10. In other words, the District is not limited to defending the challenged statutory scheme on the basis of information that was before the D.C. Council at the time of enactment. Indeed, the D.C. Circuit, in what is known as Heller II, remanded the case to the district court for further evidentiary development because it could not adequately assess the constitutionality of certain provisions of the statutory scheme governing gun ownership on a record limited to the materials before the D.C. Council. See Heller v. District of Columbia, 670 F.3d 1244, 1258 (D.C. Cir. 2011) ( Heller II ). Indeed, on the appeal that followed that remand, in Heller III, the D.C. Circuit upheld certain elements of the statutory scheme explicitly on the bases of the evidence developed on remand, while it also concluded that other evidence developed was insufficient to uphold other features of the statutory scheme. Compare Heller III, 801 F.3d at 277 ("For the foregoing reasons, we believe the District has adduced substantial evidence from which it reasonably could conclude that fingerprinting and photographing registrants will directly and materially advance public safety....") with id. at 278-79 ("The District has not presented substantial evidence to support the conclusion that its prohibition on the registration of more than one pistol per registrant during any 30-day period, '... promotes a substantial governmental interest that would be achieved less effectively absent the regulation.'") (citations omitted); see also Heller v. D.C., 814 F.3d 480 (D.C. Cir. 2016) (Mem.) (Millett, J., concurring in denial of rehearing en banc ) (emphasizing "shortcomings in the record" before the Heller III court that undergirded that court's conclusions that certain provisions, including the one-pistol-per-month provision, were unconstitutional).

In light of the foregoing precedent from the D.C. Circuit, the Court is bound to permit a period of discovery. The nature and contours of that period will be discussed and determined at the May 9, 2016, Initial Scheduling Conference. However, the Court does not intend to entertain further argument on the necessity of discovery itself.

Before returning to the core question presented in Plaintiffs' motion to stay, the Court adds a final word with respect to Plaintiffs' argument regarding experts. Even beyond their commentary on the pointlessness of discovery in general, Plaintiffs further suggest that experts are improper in this case. See Pls.' Reply at 3-4 ("But few of these cases [upholding "good cause" licensing schemes] involved any discovery whatsoever, let alone experts (!) opining as to whether or not the law is constitutional."). Clearly, it is not the place of experts to opine on the ultimately legality of the challenged statutory scheme. But that basic proposition is immaterial here because experts can, in the proper circumstances, comment on other matters within their technical expertise that may arise in this case. Indeed, on the remand that followed the D.C. Circuit's decision in Heller II, the district court admitted expert testimony upon conducting the required analysis under Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, 509 U.S. 579 (1993). In Heller III, the D.C. Circuit then held that the district court had not abused its discretion in admitting that testimony. 801 F.3d 271-72. Moreover, the Heller III court relied on the admitted expert testimony in resolving the merits of the challenges in that case. Id. at 275-77. This Court will determine the admissibility of any specific expert testimony in this case based on the merits of any such testimony ultimately presented; yet, in suggesting that expert testimony has no place in this type of litigation, Plaintiffs are simply off base.

In short, in suggesting that discovery is inappropriate in this case and, moreover, that experts have little place in any such discovery, the Court disagrees. Absent intervening contrary action by the D.C. Circuit, the next phase in this case ...

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