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Sherlund v. Sessions

United States District Court, D. Arizona

November 14, 2018

William Christopher Sherlund, Plaintiff,
Jefferson B. Sessions, III, Attorney General, Department of Justice; Thomas E. Brandon, Acting Director, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; Christopher Wray, Director, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Defendants.


          David G. Campbell Senior United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff William Christopher Sherlund alleges violations of the Second, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments. Doc. 1. Defendants Jefferson B. Sessions III, United States Attorney General; Christopher Wray, Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigations; and Thomas E. Brandon, Acting Director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, move to dismiss Plaintiff's complaint pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1), (3), and (6). Doc. 13. The motion is fully briefed, and oral argument will not aid the Court's decision. Docs. 15-17. For the following reasons, the Court will grant the motion for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.

         I. Background.

         The Court takes the factual allegations of Plaintiff's complaint as true for purposes of a motion to dismiss. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). In July 2008, Plaintiff was involuntarily committed in California because of concerns that he was a danger to himself and others after a suicide attempt. Doc. 1 at 3, 6. Plaintiff has not been a risk to himself or others since his discharge on August 6, 2008, and he does not have substance abuse issues. Id. at 6.

         Plaintiff applied for a concealed weapons permit in Arizona. Id. In a letter dated September 19, 2016, the Arizona Department of Public Safety (“AZDPS”) denied Plaintiff's application because he had been “adjudicated as a mental defective or committed to a mental institution.” Id. The letter stated:

On 9/17/2008, California Department of Justice adjudicated you as suffering from a mental disorder. As a result, you are classified as a prohibited possessor under state law A.R.S. § 13-3101(7)(a). Additionally, you are classified as a prohibited possessor under federal law in accordance with United States Code Title 18 Section 922(G)(4). The law provides that an applicant for a concealed weapons permit shall not be a prohibited possessor.

Id. at 6-7.

         Plaintiff has been unable to purchase or possess a firearm, and he fears arrest, criminal prosecution, incarceration, and fines if he were to do so. Id. at 3. In April 2018, Plaintiff sued Defendants, challenging the constitutionality of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(4) under the Second, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments. Doc. 1. Plaintiff did not challenge the constitutionality of A.R.S. § 13-3101(7)(a). See Doc. 1. Defendants argue that Plaintiff lacks Article III standing, venue is improper, and that Plaintiff fails to state a claim. Doc. 13.

         II. Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Article III Standing.

         “A Rule 12(b)(1) jurisdictional attack may be facial or factual. In a facial attack, the challenger asserts that the allegations contained in a complaint are insufficient on their face to invoke federal jurisdiction.” Safe Air for Everyone v. Meyer, 373 F.3d 1035, 1039 (9th Cir. 2004). When considering a facial attack, the Court takes the allegations in the plaintiff's complaint as true. Wolfe v. Strankman, 392 F.3d 358, 362 (9th Cir. 2004). The party invoking the Court's jurisdiction has the burden of establishing it. Spokeo, Inc. v. Robins, 136 S.Ct. 1540, 1547 (2016).

         The Constitution limits federal court jurisdiction to “Cases” and “Controversies.” U.S. Const. art. III, § 2; Raines v. Byrd, 521 U.S. 811, 818 (1997) (citation omitted). To show that a case or controversy exists, a plaintiff must establish that he has standing to bring suit. Lujan v. Defs. of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 560-61 (1992). An individual plaintiff must satisfy three elements to establish Article III standing: (1) an injury-in-fact, (2) causation between the injury and the allegedly wrongful conduct, and (3) that the injury is likely to be redressed by a favorable decision from the Court. Lujan, 504 U.S. at 560. In addition, when a “plaintiff seeks declaratory and injunctive relief only, there is a further requirement that [the plaintiff] show a very significant possibility of future harm.” San Diego Cty. Gun Rights Comm. v. Reno, 98 F.3d 1121, 1126 (9th Cir. 1996) (internal quotations omitted). “If a plaintiff lacks Article III standing to bring a suit, the federal court lacks subject matter jurisdiction and the suit must be dismissed under Rule 12(b)(1).” Chaney v. Berkshire Hathaway Automotive, No. CV-17-00989-PHX-DGC, 2017 WL 6520662, at *4 (D. Ariz. Sept. 25, 2017). Defendants argue Plaintiff cannot satisfy the causation and redressability elements of Article III standing. Doc. 13 at 5.

         A. Causation.

         “To show causation, the plaintiff must demonstrate a causal connection between the injury and the conduct complained of - the injury has to be fairly traceable to the challenged action of the defendant, and not the result of the independent action of some third party not before the court.” Salmon Spawning & Recovery All. v. Gutierrez, 545 F.3d 1220, 1227 (9th Cir. 2008) (citing Lujan, 504 U.S. at 560-61); see also Maya v. Centex Corp., 658 F.3d 1060, 1070 (9th Cir. 2011) (“In cases where a chain of causation involves numerous third parties whose independent decisions collectively have a significant effect on plaintiff['s] injuries, . . . the causal chain [is] too weak to support standing at the pleading stage.” (citing Allen v. Wright, 468 U.S. 737, 759 (1984)).

         Defendants argue Plaintiff cannot establish causation because he challenges only the federal statute prohibiting his gun possession when an Arizona statute also independently prohibits approval of his concealed carry permit. Doc. 13 at 5. Plaintiff responds that his general fear of criminal prosecution is fairly traceable, in part, to § 922(g)(4), and that his consequent forbearance in pursuing ...

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