United States District Court, District of Columbia
MEMORANDUM OPINION GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN
PART DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO DISMISS; DENYING WITHOUT
PREJUDICE PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY
RUDOLPH CONTRERAS United States District Judge.
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.
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.
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.
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. ¶
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.
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.
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.
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.
memorandum opinion, the Court will address the
government's motion to dismiss Baginski's claims on
statutory grounds. For the reasons stated during the January
10, 2017 status hearing, the Court will ...