Today, U.S. District Court Judge Morrison England dismissed both suits brought against the State of California challenging their restrictions on handgun ammunition that go into effect on February 1, 2011. In both suits, he ruled that the claims failed on ripeness grounds. In virtually identical opinions, Judge England said:
Plaintiffs’ claims are not ripe for review. They cannot demonstrate any current harm or a sufficiently immediate concern. No one can yet anticipate how California’s bill will affect Plaintiffs and/or their business. No case or controversy exists at this time. Therefore, Plaintiffs’ case is DISMISSED without prejudice, and Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss … is DENIED as moot.
AB 962, the Anti-Gang Neighborhood Protection Act of 2009, is a California law that bans anything other than face-to-face transactions in handgun ammunition starting on February 1st.
The first suit brought against this law was State Ammunition et al v. Lindley which challenged the law on the grounds that it was impermissably vague, that it interfered with interstate commerce, and that it violated the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. A version of this lawsuit had been brought prior to the McDonald decision. That version was voluntarily dismissed and then refiled in July to take advantage of the McDonald decision.
The second suit, Owner-Operators Independent Drivers Association et al v. Lindley, also alleged that AB 962 interfered with interstate commerce. However, they took a fairly innovative approach when they argued that the law violated the Federal Aviation Administration Authorization Act, which prohibits states and local municipalities from interfering with carriers’ rates, routes, or services.
A third suit, Sheriff Clay Parker et al v. State of California, was filed in state court and is not effected by Judge England’s orders.
In his orders, Judge England noted that ripeness claims are a question of timing. He cited Supreme Court precedent regarding ripeness:
The Supreme Court has consistently held that the ripeness doctrine aims “to prevent the courts, through premature adjudication, from entangling themselves in abstract disagreements.” Thomas v. Union Carbide Agric. Prod. Co., 473 U.S. 568, 580 (1985) (citing Abbott Lab. v. Gardner, 387 U.S. 136, 148 (1967)).
He goes on to add that while the Declaratory Judgment Act does grant Federal courts the power to “declare rights and other legal relationships” in cases within its jurisdiction, the case must be constitutionally ripe. That is, “that is the facts demonstrate there is a controversy ‘of sufficient immediacy and reality.’ ” He concluded that it was too early to judge the impact of AB 962 and therefore dismissed the cases.
I would anticipate that after February 1, 2011 when the law becomes effective, both of these cases will be reintroduced in Federal court challenging AB 962. Until then, it is up to the state courts to deal with this matter.
UPDATE: Dave Hardy of Arms and the Law blog had this to say about the ruling in an e-mail he gave me permission to share:
Rather strange ruling. Ripeness doesn’t key upon “is the law presently applicable?” It’s more along the lines of whether the rule is presently ambiguous and delay might clarify the issues by,for example, letting the agency administering do some interpretation of it, or giving the court a more concrete setting. Where the statute is clear, there’s no difference between deciding its constitutionality now and doing so in a couple of months. The very brevity of the court’s order is suggestive … while I like short rulings, the present fad is to hand down 20-30 page opinions on almost any ruling. List facts in excruciating detail, summarize everyone’s arguments, devote a few pages to the standards for a motion to dismiss which everyone knows and are probably cut and pasted from a stock ruling, and then after 10-15 pages, finally explain the decision.
Then there’s the practical end — appeal an error and spend a year and a beaucoup of money and time, or just re-file in two months