In a suit we brought as cooperating attorneys for the Rhode Island affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union, Strauss Factor has obtained summary judgment for the owner of firearms seized by a local police department because the defendants failed to provide the owner with due process after the seizure. Richer v. Parmalee, C.A. No. 15-162-M-PAS, slip memorandum and order, (D.R.I. June 1, 2016).
The police department of the Town of North Smithfield seized Jason Richer’s three guns after it was called to his home during a domestic dispute with his wife. She told police officers that Richer had threatened to kill himself and had appeared to take pills. Richer went to the hospital for a mental examination and was promptly discharged. While he was gone, the police learned he had three guns in his workshop, a .22 caliber rifle, a 12 gauge shotgun, and .50 caliber muzzle-loading rifle. They seized all three guns and took them to the police station for “safekeeping.” Richer was never charged with any crime. When Richer went to the police station to retrieve his guns he was told he would have to go to court to obtain an order before he could get them back. The police said the purpose of the order was to protect them from liability in case Richer harmed himself or others with the guns. Defendants refused to return the firearms for 6 ½ years.
Richer filed suit. His amended complaint alleged violations of his constitutional rights under the Second, Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments, and his statutory rights under the Rhode Island Firearms Act. Richer moved for a preliminary injunction to compel defendants to return the firearms and defendants did so without a court order. Richer then moved for partial summary judgment on liability on all of his claims except equal protection.
The district court rejected plaintiff’s Second Amendment argument. It held that because Richer could have obtained other firearms his Second Amendment rights were not violated. It held that plaintiff’s Fourth Amendment rights were violated but his claims pursuant to §1983 were barred by the applicable three-year statute of limitation. The court also held that the Firearms Act provides only a right to injunctive relief, not damages, and plaintiff’s claims for injunctive relief were now moot.
The district court found that because Richer had a property interest in his firearms he was entitled to post-deprivation due process. It found that the defendants’ requirement that Richer file suit and get a court order was an unreasonable burden. The defendants’ interest in protecting itself from potential liability was unjustified and, in any event, could be satisfied by providing administrative due process. The court rejected defendants’ arguments that Richer had failed to establish it had unconstitutional policy or that the seizures were the random, unauthorized act of a Town employee because defendants argued that the seizures were appropriate and that filing a lawsuit was an adequate remedy for the seizure. The case will now proceed into discovery and, possibly, a jury trial on damages.
The Memorandum and Order is available at: http://www.rid.uscourts.gov/menu/judges/opinions/McConnell/06012016_15CV0162M_RICHER_v_PARMELEE_P.pdf
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