Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Smith v. District of Columbia

United States District Court, District of Columbia

May 16, 2019

MAGGIE SMITH et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          ROYCE C. LAMBERTH UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         To stem the tide of violent crime, the District of Columbia has spent decades enacting some of the strictest gun control measures in the country. But despite these laudable ends, the District's means have precipitated repeated tugs-of-war against law-abiding citizens, with the federal courts as the referee and the Second Amendment as the touchstone.

         The District has not been on a winning streak. In 2008, the Supreme Court struck down a D.C. law banning all handgun possession. See District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570 [hereinafter Heller I]. Subsequent litigation upheld some gun control measures (like a ban on assault weapons and large-capacity magazines, see Heller v. District of Columbia, 670 F.3d 1244 (D.C. Cir. 2011) [hereinafter Heller II]), but struck down others (like a triannual reregistration requirement and a ban on registering more than one handgun a month, see Heller v. District of Columbia, 801 F.3d 264 (D.C. Cir. 2015)). In 2014, the district court struck down D.C.'s carrying ban, D.C. Code § 22-4504. See Palmer v. District of Columbia, 59 F.Supp.3d 173' (D.D.C. 2014) (invalidating § 22-4504 (2013) (repealed 2015)), appeal withdrawn, No. 14-7180, 2015 WL 1607711 (D.C. Cir. Apr. 2, 2015). But even without the carrying ban, misdemeanor statues still criminalized possession of non-D.C.-registered firearms and related ammunition. See D.C. Code §§ 7-2502.01 (2012) (repealed 2015) (firearms), 7-2506.01 (2013) (ammunition). And since another provision effectively limited handgun registration to D.C. residents, see D.C. Code § 7-2502.02 (2012) (repealed 2015), non-D.C. residents remained barred from carrying a gun for self-defense, even if it was registered in their home state. Other statutes subjected non-D.C.-registered firearms and ammunition to seizure and destruction, D.C. Code §§ 22-4517, and exposed cars used to transport handguns to civil forfeiture, 7-2507.06a (1997) (repealed 2015). Almost a year after Palmer, the District updated those laws with new measures confining public carry to people with a special need for self-defense. See D.C. Code § 22-4506. But the D.C. Circuit eventually struck that down too. See Wrenn v. District of Columbia, 864 F.3d 650 (2017).

         Here, the District manages a draw-for now. Four non-D.C. residents arrested and charged under §§ 22-4504 (before Palmer struck it down), as well as 7-2502.01 and 7-2506.01 (before the District revamped its gun laws), who also had their firearms and ammunition seized under 22-4517, and (for one plaintiff) had a car subjected to civil forfeiture under 7-2507.06a bring a putative class action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 asserting claims under the Second, Fourth, and Fifth Amendments. The District asks the Court to dismiss the case, taking aim at this Court's jurisdiction under Rule 12(b)(1) and at plaintiffs' claims under Rule 12(b)(6). Its 12(b)(1) motion misses the mark, because plaintiffs have standing and because their claims are neither moot nor precluded. But some of its scattershot 12(b)(6) motion hits the target: although a few of plaintiffs' claims are legally sufficient, most fail as a matter of law or are timebarred. So the Court will deny the District's 12(b)(1) motion, but will grant-in-part and deny-in-part its 12(b)(6) motion.

         I. Background[1]

         This matter began when D.C. police pulled-over Maggie Smith, a 34-year-old nurse from North Carolina without a criminal record who visited D.C. in June 2014. During the traffic stop, she told the officer-"as she had been taught [to do] in her gun ownership class"-that she was carrying a handgun licensed in her home state. 2d Am. Comp. ¶ 31, ECF No. 50. So police arrested her, seized her firearm under § 22-4517, [2] and took her to the D.C. jail, where they strip-searched and held her overnight until the U.S. Attorney charged her under §§ 22-4504, [3] and then under 7-2502.01[4] and 7-2506.01.[5] A month later, when Palmer struck down § 22-4504, the U.S. Attorney dismissed the case. But pursuant to the division of prosecuting authority outlined in D.C. Code §§ 23-101, the D.C. Attorney General recharged Smith under 7-2502.01 and 7-2506.01. Though the District dismissed those charges seven months later, Smith's gun remains in police custody.

         Soon after the District dropped her charges, Smith filed this suit seeking damages related to her arrest and prosecutions, an injunction expunging and sealing her criminal record, a' declaration that her arrest and prosecutions violated her Second and Fifth Amendment rights, and attorneys' fees. And through successive amendments, her complaint grew to include more plaintiffs and claims.

         Police arrested one new plaintiff, Cpl. Frederick Rouse, after housekeeping found two handguns and a scope in his D.C. hotel room. Both handguns were licensed in Maryland, where Rouse--a senior engineer at the Defense Information Systems Agency-resides. After Rouse spent two nights in jail, the D.C. Attorney General charged him with violating §§ 7-2502.01 and 7-2506.01. The District eventually dismissed the charges without prejudice at a pretrial status conference, though it had earlier successfully opposed Rouse's motion to dismiss. Despite dismissing the charges, the District held his guns and scope-together worth $2050-for another two year's before returning them. Thanks to his arrest, Rouse's top-secret security clearance was placed "under review." 2d Am. Compl. ¶ 183.

         Police pulled-over another new plaintiff, Gerard Cassagnol, after receiving a tip he had a gun in the car. He volunteered the gun's location to the officers, which was unloaded and properly contained in a locked gun-safe. But he spent two nights in jail before the U.S. Attorney charged him with violating §§ 7-2502.01, 7-2506.01, and 22-4504. When the United States dropped the charges post-Palmer, the D.C. Attorney General reinstated the charges for §§ 7-2502.01 and 7-2506.01, and successfully opposed Cassagnol's motion to dismiss before nolle prossing the charges without prejudice. Before this incident, Cassagnol had no criminal record and worked fulltime for a telecommunications company. After his arrest, he lost his job, and D.C. continues to hold his ammunition and firearm, licensed in Maryland and worth approximately $500, despite Cassagnol's requests for its return.

         Police arrested another new plaintiff, Virginia student Delontay Davis, after spotting his firearm during a traffic stop. The District confiscated his car and firearm, strip-searched him, and jailed him for four nights while the U.S. Attorney charged him with violating §§ 7-2502.01, 7- 2506.01, and 22-4504. When the U.S. Attorney dismissed those charges ten months later, the D.C. Attorney General recharged him under §§ 7-2502.01 and 7-2506.01, but dropped the case two months later. Even still, the year-long case against him wrought significant harm. First, police seized Davis's vehicle for civil forfeiture under § 7-2507.06a.[6] Although they returned it two months later in response to Davis's motion under D.C. Superior Court Rule of Criminal Procedure 41(g), [7] Davis had already been forced to drop out of school because he lacked transportation. Second, his $400 firearm remains in police custody, four years (and counting) after the District dismissed his charges.

         * * *

         Based on these facts, plaintiffs bring ten claims:

1. That §§ 7-2502.01, 7-2506.01, and 22-4504-which together prohibited non-D.C. residents from having handguns and ammunition for self-defense while in the District- violated the Second Amendment;
2. That arresting and detaining people under those laws violated the Fourth Amendment;
3. That those laws violated the Fifth Amendment's right-to-travel and equal protection guarantees;
4. That seizing handguns (under § 22-4517) and the vehicles used to convey them (under § 7-2507.06a) violated the Second Amendment;
5. That the same handgun and vehicle seizure violated the Fourth Amendment;
6. That continuing to seize plaintiffs' handguns and ammunition after dismissing their charges violates the Fourth Amendment;
7. That seizing handguns and ammunition without notice and a hearing violated the Fifth Amendment's procedural due process protection;
8. That seizing cars after searching and processing them for evidence violated the Fourth Amendment;
9. That forfeiting cars used to transport guns violates the Second Amendment; and
10. That forfeiting cars used to transport guns violates the Fourth Amendment.

         Plaintiffs seek damages (compensatory, consequential, and nominal), declaratory relief, and injunctive relief sealing their arrest and prosecution records, ordering their property's return, and declaring their arrests legal nullities. Plaintiffs further seek attorney's fees and costs under 42 U.S.C. § 1988.

         * * *

         This is not the only case challenging a D.C. civil asset forfeiture law. In Hoyte v. District of Columbia, a putative class brought Fourth and Fifth Amendment challenges to D.C. Code § 48-905.02 (2012) (repealed 2015), a provision subjecting cars used to transport illegal drugs to civil forfeiture. In July 2015, Judge Cooper dismissed the Fourth Amendment claims and some Fifth Amendment claims. More recently, he allowed plaintiffs' procedural due process claims to proceed as a class action under Rule 23(b)(3), but declined to certify their challenges to the District's retention of forfeited property and to § 48-905.02's bond requirement.

         * * *

         Now, the District moves to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(1). First, the District claims plaintiffs lack standing to challenge vehicle seizures under § 7-2507.06a. In the alternative, the District argues this Court should not consider that challenge because of Hoyte. Next, the District claims two other cases involving a different statute and different plaintiffs preclude these plaintiffs' procedural due process challenge to § 22-4517. Finally, the District argues the Court lacks jurisdiction to consider plaintiffs' Second and Fifth Amendment challenges to §§ 7-2502.01, 7-2506.01, and 22-4504.

         The District further moves to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6). It argues plaintiffs' Fourth' Amendment challenges fail as a matter of law. It also contends plaintiffs' challenges to §§ 7-2502.01, 7-2506.01, and 22-4504 are not cognizable under § 1983, and fail to state a claim under the Fifth Amendment. Next, the District argues plaintiffs' vehicle-related claims are timebarred. Then it argues Rule 41(g) overcomes plaintiffs' procedural due process challenge to the District's seizure of guns and ammunition. Finally, the District argues plaintiffs cannot pursue declaratory or injunctive relief nullifying their arrests and sealing any related arrest and prosecution records.

         II. Discussion

         Given its '"obligation to satisfy itself of its own jurisdiction before addressing the merits of any dispute," Dominguez v. UAL Corp., 666 F.3d 1359, 1362 (D.C. Cir. 2012) (quoting Bender v. Williamsport Area Sch. Dist., 475 U.S. 534, 541 (1986)), the Court starts with the District's motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction under Rule 12(b)(1). Ultimately, that motion fails: plaintiffs have standing to challenge the laws that enabled the District to seize their cars, take their guns, and subject them to criminal prosecution.

         Next, the Court surveys the District's motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6), which a layman might deem an attempt to kill plaintiffs' complaint by a thousand cuts. Although the District successfully minces seven claims, three survive: plaintiffs' Fourth Amendment challenge to the District's continued seizure of their guns and ammunition; plaintiffs' Second Amendment challenge to §§ 7-2502.01, 7-2506.01, and 22-4504; and plaintiffs' equal protection and right-to-travel challenge to §§ 7-2502.01, 7-2506.01, and 22- 4504. Plaintiffs may also continue pursuing declaratory and injunctive relief nullifying their arrests and sealing related records.

         A. Because Plaintiffs have standing to challenge the laws that enabled the District to seize their cars, take their guns, and subject them to criminal prosecution, the Court will deny the District's 12(b)(1) motion.

         A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(1) "presents a threshold challenge to the court's jurisdiction." Haase v. Sessions, 835 F.2d 902, 906 (D.C. Cir. 1987). The Constitution cabins federal court jurisdiction to "Cases" and "Controversies." Art. Ill. § 2. To heed that limitation, courts rely on justiciability doctrines like standing and mootness. And to avoid rehashing cases and controversies other courts already resolved, courts rely on preclusion doctrines like collateral estoppel and claim-splitting.[8]

         Standing ensures the plaintiffs are the proper party to sue: it requires they "ha[ve] a personal stake in the alleged dispute, and that the alleged injury suffered is particularized as to" them. Raines v. Byrd, 521 U.S. 811, 819 (1997) (internal quotation marks omitted). More specifically, to have standing a plaintiff "must have suffered an injury in fact-an invasion of a legally protected interest which is (a) concrete and particularized, and (b) actual or imminent, not conjectural or hypothetical." Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 560 (citations and internal quotation marks omitted). The injury must be "fairly ... trace[able]" to the defendant's conduct. Id. (alteration in original) (internal quotation marks omitted) (quoting Simon v. Eastern Ky. Welfare Rights Org., 426 U.S. 26, 41-42 (1976)). And it must be likely to be "redressed by a favorable decision." Id. at 561 (internal quotation marks omitted) (quoting Simon, 426 U.S. at 38).

         Mootness guarantees this "requisite personal interest" not only "exist[s] at the commencement of the litigation" but also "continue[s] throughout its existence." U.S. Parole Comm'n v. Geraghty, 445 U.S. 388, 397 (1980) (internal quotation marks omitted) (quoting Henry P. Monaghan, Constitutional Adjudication: The Who and When, 82 Yale L.J. 1363, 1384' (1973)). "Simply stated, a case is moot when the issues presented are no longer live or the parties lack a legally cognizable interest in the outcome." Powell v. McCormack, 395 U.S. 486, 496 (1969) (internal quotation marks omitted).

         Preclusion doctrines "relieve parties of the cost and vexation of multiple lawsuits, conserve judicial resources, and, by preventing inconsistent decisions, encourage reliance on adjudication." Allen v. McCurry, 449 U.S. 90, 94 (1980). Under the doctrine of collateral estoppel, "once a court has decided an issue of fact or law necessary to its judgment, that decision may preclude relitigation of the issue in a suit on a different cause of action involving a party to the first case." Id. And the related rule against claim-splitting threatens dismissal for litigants who "spread[] claims around in multiple lawsuits in other courts or before other judges." Katz v. Gerardi, 655 F.3d 1212, 1217 (10th Cir. 2011); see also The Haytian Republic, 154 U.S. 118, 124-25(1894).

         The District's 12(b)(1) motion invokes standing, mootness, and preclusion. First, the District claims plaintiffs lack the required injury-in-fact to confer standing to challenge vehicle seizures under § 7-2507.06a because the District did not actually forfeit any plaintiffs car. Alternatively, the District argues claim-splitting precludes this Court from considering that challenge given Hoyte's pending challenge to another D.C. civil forfeiture law. Next, the District claims two other cases rejecting challenges to the District's seizure of property incident to arrest preclude plaintiffs' present challenge to the District's seizure of guns and ammunition under §22-4517. Finally, the District argues the Court lacks jurisdiction to consider plaintiffs' Second or Fifth Amendment challenges to §§ 7-2502.01, 7-2506.01, and 22-4504; either because plaintiffs" lack standing or because their claims are moot.

         But the District errs at each step. Plaintiffs have standing to challenge vehicle seizures under § 7-2507.06a: by temporarily seizing Davis's car under color of § 7-2507.06a, the District caused him to suffer a redressable injury. And claim-splitting does not block those challenges, since Hoyte concerns a different civil forfeiture law. Relatedly, because plaintiffs did not participate in other cases challenging the District's seizure of property incident to arrest, those cases do not preclude their challenge to § 22-4517. Additionally, plaintiffs have standing to challenge §§ 7-2502.01, 7-2506.01, and 22-4504 because their prosecutions under those statutes caused them to suffer redressable injuries. And finally, repealing §§ 7-2502.01, 7-2506.01, and 22-4504 did not moot plaintiffs' claims for declaratory relief since the superseded laws still harm one named plaintiff and since plaintiffs seek more than a declaration concerning the repealed laws' constitutionality.

         1. Because the District intended to forfeit Davis's car under § 7-2507.06a, plaintiffs can challenge that statute.

         The District argues plaintiffs lack standing to pursue Second and Fourth Amendment challenges to the District's seizure of cars used to transport guns under its civil forfeiture scheme. As the District points out, although Davis alleges the District seized his car to forfeit it, the District ultimately changed its mind, returning it sixty days later following Davis's Rule 41(g) ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.