Woollard v. Sheridan – Mixed Ruling On Motion To Dismiss

Yesterday, the plaintiffs in the Maryland concealed carry case, Woollard et al v. Sheridan et al, got a win and a tie on Maryland’s motion to dismiss the case. District Court Judge J. Frederick Motz denied the defense’s motion to dismiss on Count I – Second Amendment grounds – and approved it on Count II – 14th Amendment Equal Protection grounds. However, he gave Alan Gura leave or permission to file an amended complaint to make up the deficiencies in the claim in Count II. I’d call that a tie.

The Attorney General of Maryland had filed a motion to dismiss the case pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and (6) back in September. Rule 12(b)(1) argues that the District Court lacks subject-matter jurisdiction while Rule 12(b)(6) maintains the plaintiffs fail to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. In this case, the defense argued that the District Court should abstain from hearing the case as a state proceeding on the matter was still ongoing and that it implicated important state interests. This is what is known as a Younger abstention. They also challenged the standing of the Second Amendment Foundation to bring this case as an organizational plaintiff. Finally, they argued that with regard to the Equal Protection claims, the plaintiffs made an assertion that the state violated those rights without providing sufficient evidence to back up the claim.

Judge Motz takes up the standing of the Second Amendment Foundation in a footnote.

Defendants also assert SAF lacks standing to bring suit. I need not reach this issue, however, because it is undisputed that Woollard has standing to bring a facial challenge to the Maryland statute. In cases where, as here, plaintiffs seek injunctive and declaratory relief, “so long as at least one individual plaintiff . . . has demonstrated standing,” a court “need not consider whether the other individual and corporate plaintiffs have standing to maintain the suit.” Village of Arlington Heights v. Metro. Hous. Dev. Corp.

He goes on to add that he is denying the Motion to Dismiss on these grounds and will deny Maryland’s request for discovery on this issue. Judge Motz says that he will address SAF’s standing at a later date only if it is needed.

The meat of the opinion in this case deals with whether the Younger abstention claim is valid. To be valid, a Younger abstention requires three elements: an ongoing state judicial proceeding that implicates important state interests which provides an opportunity to raise constitutional issues. Judge Motz says:

Because I conclude that the state proceeding at issue here is not of a type that warrants abstention, I need not consider the gravity of the state‘s interest or whether the proceeding provides a sufficient opportunity to raise the constitutional claims.

Judge Motz then examines in detail the state proceedings and its characteristics. He notes that many courts, including the Fourth Circuit, have found that the key factor is whether the state administrative proceedings are coercive or merely remedial. In the Fourth Circuit, the rule is to abstain only if the proceedings could be deemed coercive. Thus, he says, “I will not abstain from deciding this case unless the Handgun Permit Review Board‘s hearing can be categorized as ‘coercive.’ “

He examines the Review Board hearing for the factors that would deem it coercive. They include mandatory participation, whether the state proceedings are the wrong that is sought to be corrected in Federal court, and are the proceedings meant to punish the plaintiff for a bad act. He concludes and rules:

In light of these factors, I conclude that the Board hearing was non-coercive. Woollard is challenging the state proceeding itself—that is, he alleges his constitutional rights were violated by the denial of his application for a handgun carry permit, not a distinct wrong. Nevertheless, Woollard, rather than the state, initiated the administrative proceeding. His participation in the proceeding was not mandatory, and he would have faced no liability if he opted not to participate. Furthermore, the state is not seeking to punish Woollard for any bad act. Indeed, it was Woollard‘s compliance with the law —specifically, his choice to apply for a handgun carry permit rather than carrying a handgun illegally — that prompted the initiation of the state proceeding. The present case therefore lacks the “common thread” linking cases in which Younger abstention is appropriate.

In sum, there is no ongoing state proceeding that warrants abstention under the Younger doctrine. Accordingly, I will deny the Defendants‘ Motion to Dismiss on this ground.

He finally examines whether Count II of the complaint can be dismissed under the 12(b)(6) rule and concludes that it can. He found that Count II which makes a general assertion that Maryland Public Safety Code Sec. 5-306(a)(5)(ii) violates the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause was “insufficient to make the defendant aware of the nature of the claim being brought.” He goes on to say that the plaintiffs have not alleged any facts to suggest that the state employed a suspect classification. However, because he cannot conclude that such “an allegation would be futile”, he will approve the Motion to Dismiss on Count II but give Alan Gura the opportunity to correct that defect with an amended complaint “stating their equal protection claim with more particularity.”

All in all, I would say that even though Count II was dismissed this was a win for Alan Gura. He survived the more critical challenge on standing and will have an opportunity to correct what the court saw as a defect in Count II.

The Maryland Shooters forum has a long string of posts on this case. The relevant comments regarding the Judge’s ruling starts near the bottom of of page 77 and goes from there. As usual, there are some very perceptive comments to be found there.

Maryland AG Asks For Status Conference In Woollard Case

The Maryland Attorney General’s Office has asked U.S. District Court Judge Frederick Motz for a status conference in the Woollard case according to a letter they sent on Friday. This case was brought on behalf of Raymond Woollard by the Second Amendment Foundation over the state’s denial of the renewal of his concealed carry permit. The State Police and the Maryland Handgun Permit Board contend that Mr. Woollard failed to show “apprehended danger” and thus was denied a renewal of his permit.

Maryland is requesting the status conference because Alan Gura indicated to them on Thursday that he intended to file a motion for summary judgment.

Defendants believe that engaging in summary judgment practice at this stage of the litigation is premature, and have communicated that to plaintiffs. Defendants understand that plaintiffs nonetheless intend to file a motion for summary judgment as soon as today. In light of that, defendants request that the Court hold a status conference in the near future to address the issue of the timing of filing summary judgment motions. Plaintiffs have stated that they do not believe there is any need for a scheduling conference at this time.

So far in the case, Maryland has filed a motion to dismiss the complaint on the grounds of abstention, questions on the standing of the Second Amendment Foundation, and a Rule 12(b)(6) challenge to one of the counts. This was responded to by the plaintiffs and then a reply to the response from the defendants. At no time has either side engaged in discovery nor has the State of Maryland argued that their law doesn’t violate the Second Amendment. A motion for summary judgment is brought when the facts of the case are known and a ruling is being sought on the application of the law to the known facts.

Commentators on the Maryland Shooters forum speculate that Maryland has been dragging their feet on the case and the plaintiffs are making a strategic move to get them moving. They well could be right. This will bear watching.

UPDATE: Alan Gura was true to his word and filed his Motion for Summary Judgment this morning.

He also filed a letter in response to the Maryland Attorney General’s Office request for a status conference. He says that he didn’t think that “the routine filing of a cross-dispositive motion does not occasion a status conference.”

His letter examines the rules for filing motions for summary judgment. He notes that under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 56(c)(1) he could have filed a motion for summary judgment at the same time he filed the complaint in this case. If the state thinks his motion is premature, Gura says they can file a motion under Rule 56(f) to seek discovery which would identify which facts it expect discovery to produce. Nonetheless, he goes on to say that his motion is “aimed exclusively at a legal, not a factual, dispute” and that Rule 56(f) would not apply.

He goes on to add:

Indeed, even if this Court were to grant Defendants’ motion to dismiss and deny Plaintiffs’ motion as moot, the appellate courts would prefer a complete record. For example, the leading Second Amendment case, District of Columbia v. Heller, 128 S.Ct. 2783 (2008), saw both the D.C. Circuit and Supreme Court grant a plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment that the district court did not reach, as it had granted defendants’ motion to dismiss. Had the summary judgment motion not been filed, that case would still be unresolved.

He concludes by saying that if the rules and well-established practice allow his motion and if the State of Maryland objects, then the rules give them a way to make that argument. In the meantime, the plaintiffs are entitled to ask for relief and to put it on the record.

I will post on the Summary Motion after I have had time to read it. It is a darn shame when paying work gets in the way of blogging!

UPDATE II:  On Wednesday, Judge J. Frederick Motz sent a memo to both the plaintiffs and defense attorneys. He ordered a status conference to be held by phone on Friday, November 19th at 11am. While the court records indicate that the status conference was held, nothing was said about any agreements, schedules, or any other item.

Washington Post Covers Gura’s Maryland Case

In a surprisingly sympathetic article, the Washington Post examined the background of Raymond Woollard’s case against the State of Maryland over the denial of his concealed carry permit. The case, Woollard et al v. Sheridan et al, challenges the requirement of the State of Maryland that a person must show “apprehended danger” before being issued a concealed carry permit.

I examined the case back in July here. Mr. Woollard is joined in the case by the Second Amendment Foundation. Alan Gura is joined by Maryland attorney Cary Hansel as the attorneys of record. The case is being brought on both Second and Fourteenth Amendment grounds. One of the key arguments in the complaint is that “Individuals cannot be required to prove their “good and substantial reason” for the exercise of fundamental constitutional rights, including the right to keep and bear arms.”

The Washington Post article describes how Mr. Woollard was the victim of a home invasion on Christmas Eve 2002 and how long he had to wait for police assistance. Mr. Woollard has consistently said it took police 2 1/2 hours to arrive. The Baltimore County police dispute this but did acknowledge it was over an hour. They blamed the rural location, holiday staffing, and bad weather for the slow response time.

Woollard was initially granted a concealed carry permit after this incident which was renewed again in 2005. The intruder turns out to have been his son-in-law who, as the article notes, had “a history of depression, drug and alcohol abuse, and domestic violence.” They do not say whether the intruder is still married to Mr. Woollard’s daughter but do acknowledge that he had served time for violating his probation after the 2002 home invasion. Mr. Woollard said he had not previously publicly identified the intruder as he wanted to protect his daughter.

With regard to the need for concealed carry and response time of the police, Mr. Woollard notes:

“It’s up to me. Do you have to show a reason to have a driver’s license?” Woollard said. Under current law, the only people likely to carry guns are criminals who do not follow the law anyway, Woollard said. “And the police, as good as they are, show up after the fact.”

When asked for comment on the case, the Maryland State Police declined as it was an active case. However, the gun control group CeaseFire Maryland blew off the challenge to Maryland’s concealed carry law saying:

“Good luck to him,” spokesman Casey Anderson said. “I would have a hard time imagining that the Supreme Court is going to say you have a constitutional right to hide a firearm on your person.”

I seem to remember that Mayors Fenty and Daley made similar statements about constitutional rights and the Second Amendment before losing in Heller and McDonald cases respectively. I recommend reading the whole article to get more of the human details of this case.

Good Things Happen In Three’s

Yesterday, the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, the CalGuns Foundation, the NRA, the Folsom Gun Club, and two individuals brought the third suit in California over the state’s new handgun ammunition law. Today, Alan Gura and the Second Amendment Foundation filed their third lawsuit after their win in McDonald v. Chicago.

The newest case involves a Baltimore County, Maryland man who’s renewal of his handgun carry permit was turned down by the Maryland State Police because he couldn’t demonstrate “a reasonable precaution against apprehended danger.” The case, Woollard et al v. Sheridan et al, was filed in U. S. District Court for the District of Maryland. In addition to Raymond Woollard, the Second Amendment Foundation is also a plaintiff.

The Second Amendment Foundation said in their release,

The lawsuit alleges that “Individuals cannot be required to demonstrate that carrying a handgun is ‘necessary as a reasonable precaution against apprehended danger’ as a prerequisite for exercising their Second Amendment rights.” Plaintiffs are seeking a permanent injunction against enforcement of the Maryland provision that requires permit applicants to “demonstrate cause” for the issuance of a carry permit.

 On Christmas Eve, 2002, Mr. Woollard and his family were attacked in a home invasion by a burglar. He and his family finally subdued the intruder and had to wait  2 1/2 hours for the police to arrive. The police were confused as to whether he was in Baltimore County or not. The home invader was convicted of 1st Degree Burglary and given a sentence of three years probation.

Mr. Woollard was granted a handgun carry permit after this incident. His permit was renewed in 2005 after the home invader (who lives a mere three miles from him) was released from prison on probation violation charges. When Mr. Woollard went to renew his permit in 2009, he was denied a renewal because he didn’t provide proof that he was in danger. He appealed this denial to the Handgun Permit Review Board. They affirmed his denial saying “has not submitted any documentation to verify threats occurring beyond his residence, where he can already legally carry a handgun.”

The lawsuit is suing the Maryland State Police and the Handgun Permit Review Board on Second and Fourteenth Amendment grounds. The suit contends,

28. Individuals cannot be required to prove their “good and substantial reason” for the exercise of fundamental constitutional rights, including the right to keep and bear arms.

29. Individuals cannot be required to demonstrate that carrying a handgun is
“necessary as a reasonable precaution against apprehended danger,” or that they face a greater than average level of danger, as a prerequisite for exercising their Second Amendment rights.

30. Maryland Public Safety Code § 5-306(a)(5)(ii)’s requirement that handgun carry
permit applicants demonstrate “good and substantial reason to wear, carry, or transport a handgun, such . . . that the permit is necessary as a reasonable precaution against apprehended danger,” violates the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution, damaging Plaintiffs in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983.

The suit seeks to permanently enjoin the Maryland State Police and Handgun Permit Review Board from requiring a showing of “apprehended danger as well as “from denying a permit to carry firearms on grounds that the applicant does not face a level of danger higher than that which an average person would reasonably expect to encounter.” The suit is also asking for Mr. Woollard’s permit to renewed, cost of the suit, and attorney’s fees.

I see this lawsuit as well as the Westchester County, NY case as a direct frontal assault on “may issue” states. A win in either or both of those cases would mean that one doesn’t have to be rich, famous, or well-connected in order to secure a carry permit.

The whole complaint can be found here.

UPDATE: Dave Hardy at the Of Arms and the Law blog has a very perceptive observation.

And to think — it was only a few years ago that Brady and others were suing gun manufacturers right and left, as part of a campaign to bankrupt the industry, a campaign that had a good chance of succeeding. Today, they’re on the defensive (to the extent they act at all) and the progun side is on the offense. Since almost all of it has occurred over the last month or so, it’s more than an offense, it’s a legal blitzkrieg.

 UPDATE II: Sebastian at Snowflakes in Hell makes a very good point about Maryland. It is in the 4th Circuit but is the outlier in terms of concealed carry. The other states in the 4th Circuit – Virginia, West Virginia, and the Carolinas are all “shall issue” states.

UPDATE III: The Baltimore Sun didn’t even cover this in today’s paper. The Washington Post did have a story but it was buried on page B6. I’m sure they be screaming bloody murder if and when Woollard wins.