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Baginski v. Lynch

United States District Court, District of Columbia

January 23, 2017

LORETTA LYNCH, et al. Defendants. Re Document Nos. 10, 13


          RUDOLPH CONTRERAS United States District Judge.


         Plaintiff Mark Baginski was convicted by a Massachusetts state trial court in 2004 of driving a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol, in violation of Massachusetts General Law chapter 90 section 24(1)(a)(1). Under Massachusetts law, violation of that statute is considered a misdemeanor offense and carries a maximum possible penalty of two and a half years imprisonment. Although Baginski was sentenced to only a year of probation, he is prohibited from purchasing a firearm under federal law as a consequence of his conviction, and he risks criminal prosecution if he purchases a firearm. Section 922(g)(1) of Title 18 of the United States Code makes it unlawful for any person “who has been convicted in any court of[] a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year” to ship, transport, possess, or receive firearms or ammunition. 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1). Congress has excluded from that scheme only those state misdemeanor offenses that are “punishable by a term of imprisonment of two years or less.” Id. § 921(a)(20)(B). In this civil action, Baginski challenges application of section 922(g)(1) to him on two grounds-one statutory and the other constitutional. He contends that the plain language of section 921(a)(20)(B), the misdemeanor exception, excludes any misdemeanor offense for which an actual sentence of two years imprisonment or less is possible, even if the maximum sentence available exceeds two years imprisonment. Alternatively, Baginski claims that section 922(g)(1) is unconstitutional, as applied to him, under the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution. The government has now moved to dismiss Baginski's complaint. As stated during the January 10, 2017 status conference and explained below, the Court will grant in part and deny in part the government's motion.


         For purposes of resolving the government's motion to dismiss, the Court accepts all well-pleaded factual allegations in Baginski's complaint as true, and draws all reasonable inferences in his favor. See, e.g., Doe v. Rumsfeld, 683 F.3d 390, 391 (D.C. Cir. 2012). On January 30, 2004, Baginski was convicted in a Massachusetts trial court of driving a motor vehicle under the influence of alcohol. See 1st Am. Compl. ¶ 7, ECF No. 5. As relevant here, Massachusetts law classifies driving under the influence as a misdemeanor, and provides that anyone convicted of that offense “shall be punished . . . by imprisonment for not more than two and one-half years.” Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 90, § 24(1)(a)(1); see also, e.g., Commonwealth v. Savage, 719 N.E.2d 473, 477 & n.6 (Mass. 1999) (citing section 24 and explaining that “an initial offense of operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of liquor is a misdemeanor, ” but that “three convictions in ten years for operating while under the influence is a felony”). As a result of his infraction, Baginski was sentenced to one year of probation, lost the ability to drive in Massachusetts for over 200 days, was ordered to pay certain fines and costs, and was ordered to attend an alcohol awareness class. See 1st Am. Compl. ¶ 8. He was not incarcerated. See id.

         With the exception of minor traffic violations, Baginski alleges that he has never been convicted of any crime other than his single driving while under the influence offense. See Id. ¶ 9. He states that he is “a responsible, law-abiding American citizen, ” that he “votes and pays his taxes, ” and represents that he “holds a Connecticut gaming license, and remains employed, as he has since November, 1996 without incident, in positions of significant trust at a casino.” Id. ¶ 10. Baginski also alleges that he “has no history of violent behavior, or of any other conduct that would suggest he would pose any more danger by possessing firearms than an average, law-abiding responsible citizen.” Id. ¶ 11.

         Despite his criminal conviction, Baginski “desires and intends to possess firearms for self-defense and for defense of his family.” Id. ¶ 16. To that end, Baginski sought to purchase a firearm on May 25, 2010 in Rhode Island, where he resides. See Id. ¶ 17. After the requisite seven-day waiting period, Baginski learned that the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (“NICS”) “had advised that [he] was prohibited from possessing firearms.” Id. According to Baginski's complaint, Rhode Island law would not prohibit him from possessing or carrying a firearm. Id. ¶ 12. But federal law, by contrast, makes it a criminal offense for a person “to sell or otherwise dispose of any firearm or ammunition to any person knowing or having reasonable cause to believe that such person . . . has been convicted in any court of[] a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year.” 18 U.S.C. § 922(d)(1). Under federal law, Baginski is one such person. Federal law defines a “crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year” to include all crimes except, as relevant here, state misdemeanor offenses that are “punishable by a term of imprisonment of two years or less.” Id. § 921(a)(20)(B). And federal law similarly makes it a crime for individuals convicted of qualifying offenses to ship, transport, possess, or receive firearms or ammunition. Id. § 922(g)(1). As a result of his prior Massachusetts conviction, the firearm transaction was canceled. See 1st Am. Compl. ¶ 17.

         Baginski appealed his NICS denial, during the pendency of which Rhode Island state officials again checked Baginski's eligibility to possess a firearm under state law. See Id. ¶ 18. He was again cleared. See Id. His NICS appeal was denied on September 16, 2010, however, and federal officials “stated that [Baginski] was prohibited from possessing firearms pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1) on account of his single Massachusetts misdemeanor conviction for driving under the influence.” Id. ¶ 19.

         Baginski filed this lawsuit on July 29, 2015, against Loretta Lynch, Attorney General of the United States, and Thomas Brandon, Acting Director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, in their official capacities. See Id. ¶¶ 2-3; Compl., ECF No. 1. Baginski seeks injunctive and declaratory relief on two counts. Count I asserts a statutory claim, and Baginski alleges that, pursuant to the plain language of 18 U.S.C. § 921(a)(20)(B), his Massachusetts driving under the influence conviction falls within the safe harbor for misdemeanor convictions capable of being punished by two years of incarceration or less and, therefore, that 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1) cannot be applied to him. See 1st Am. Compl. ¶¶ 21-23. Count II alleges a constitutional claim that 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1) is unconstitutional under the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution, as applied to his “unique personal circumstances, including but not limited to the nature of his misdemeanor conviction, the passage of time since that conviction, Baginski's generally law-abiding record over the years, his trustworthiness with firearms[, ] and the lack of danger that his possession of firearms would pose.” See Id. ¶ 26.

         The government has filed a motion to dismiss both counts of the complaint, contending that the plain language of 18 U.S.C. § 921(a)(20)(B) and binding precedent preclude Baginski's statutory claim and that his constitutional claim fails. See generally Defs.' Mem. P. & A. Supp. Defs.' Mot. Dismiss (“Defs.' Mem. Supp.”), ECF No. 10. Baginski opposes the motion to dismiss on both fronts. See generally Pl.'s Mem. P. & A. Opp'n Defs.' Mot. Dismiss (“Pl.'s Opp'n”), ECF No. 12. Baginski has also filed a separate motion for summary judgment, and the Court vacated the government's deadline to oppose that motion pending the Court's review of the motion to dismiss. See generally Pl.'s Mot. Summ. J., ECF No. 13; Jan. 15, 2016 Minute Order.


         The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure require that a complaint contain “a short and plain statement of the claim” in order to give the defendant fair notice of the claim and the grounds upon which it rests. Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2); accord Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93 (2007) (per curiam). A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) does not test a plaintiff's ultimate likelihood of success on the merits; rather, it tests whether a plaintiff has properly stated a claim. See Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974), abrogated on other grounds by Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800 (1982). A court considering such a motion presumes that the complaint's factual allegations are true and construes them liberally in the plaintiff's favor. See, e.g., United States v. Philip Morris, Inc., 116 F.Supp.2d 131, 135 (D.D.C. 2000). Nevertheless, “[t]o survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). This means that a plaintiff's factual allegations “must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level, on the assumption that all the allegations in the complaint are true (even if doubtful in fact).” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555-56 (citations omitted). “Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, ” are therefore insufficient to withstand a motion to dismiss. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. A court need not accept a plaintiff's legal conclusions as true, see id., however, nor must a court presume the veracity of the legal conclusions that are couched as factual allegations, see Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555.

         IV. ANALYSIS

         In this memorandum opinion, the Court will address the government's motion to dismiss Baginski's claims on statutory grounds.[1] For the reasons stated during the January 10, 2017 status hearing, the Court will ...

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