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Silvester v. Harris

United States District Court, E.D. California

November 20, 2014

JEFF SILVESTER, et al., Plaintiffs
KAMALA HARRIS, Attorney General of California, and DOES 1 to 20, Defendants

For Jeff Silvester, Brandon Combs, Calguns Foundation, Inc., a non-profit organization, The Second Amendment Foundation, Inc., a non-profit organization, Plaintiffs: Bradley A. Benbrook, LEAD ATTORNEY, Benbrook Law Group, Sacramento, CA; Stephen Duvernay, LEAD ATTORNEY, Benbrook Law Group, PC, Sacramento, CA; Victor John Otten, LEAD ATTORNEY, Otten Law, PC, Torrance, CA; Donald E. J. Kilmer, Jr., Law Offices of Donald Kilmer, APC, San Jose, CA.

For Michael Poeschl, Plaintiff: Jason Andrew Davis, LEAD ATTORNEY, Davis and Associates, Temecula, CA; Victor John Otten, LEAD ATTORNEY, Otten Law, PC, Torrance, CA; Donald E. J. Kilmer, Jr., Law Offices of Donald Kilmer, APC, San Jose, CA.

For Kamala D. Harris, Attorney General of California (in her official and individual capacities), Defendant: Jonathan Michael Eisenberg, LEAD ATTORNEY, Office of the Attorney General, Government Law Section, Los Angeles, CA; Kim L Nguyen, Office Of The Attorney General, Los Angeles, CA; Peter H. Chang, Office of the Attorney General, Department of Justice, San Francisco, CA.

For Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, Amicus: Neil R. O'Hanlon, LEAD ATTORNEY, Hogan Lovells Us LLP, Los Angeles, CA.



This case involved a Second Amendment challenge to statutes that imposed a 10-day waiting period between the time of purchase and time of possession of a firearm. Following a bench trial, the Court issued findings of fact and conclusions of law. The Court held that the 10-day waiting period violated the Second Amendment as applied to three classes of individuals. The Court also enjoined Defendant from enforcing the 10-day waiting period with respect to the three classes of individuals. However, as suggested by Plaintiffs, the Court stayed its order for a period of 180 days. Defendant later filed a motion to amend judgment, a notice of appeal, and a motion for a stay pending appeal. For the reasons that follow, Defendant's motions will be denied.

I. Motion To Stay

Defendant's Argument

Defendant argues that the relevant factors all favor a granting a stay. First, this case is the first of its kind to challenge a firearm waiting period law. The law surrounding the Second Amendment is evolving, and issues such as of what sort of waiting period a state may impose on the acquisition of a firearm, and on what grounds, are of nationwide importance. The Ninth Circuit could reach different conclusions than those reached by the Court. Thus, this case involves " serious legal questions." Second, California will suffer irreparable harm if an injunction is not issued. A state suffers irreparable injury whenever an enactment of its representatives is enjoined. Furthermore, irreparable injury occurs if a party will not be able to recoup significant time and resources to comply with an injunction if the injunction is later overturned. The declarations of Bureau of Firearms (" BOF") Chief Stephen Lindley and BOF employee Marc St. Pierre show that it will likely take at least 12-months to comply with an injunction, either to hire and train additional personnel or to change the relevant computer system. Current BOF computer personnel are working on other critical tasks that have firm legislative deadlines. It is thus undesirable to pull those personnel off of their current projects. Past experience with upgrading BOF computers through outside vendors indicates that 12 months likely will be needed, including the bidding process and installation of new software. In terms of additional personnel (which is not the preferred method of compliance), BOF would need to obtain additional funding from the Legislature, go through the process of hiring, and then go through a 6 to 8 month training period process. If the Ninth Circuit reverses this Court's order, there is no realistic prospect that California will be able to recover any compensation for the efforts it was forced to undertake. BOF would have to go through a process to undo the changes to the system that were done, and may be left with additional personnel. Third, the balance of harms favors a stay. Combs and Silvester already have a firearm, and they may still obtain a firearm during the pendency of this suit. The Court continued to allow BOF to conduct a background check on every prospective firearm purchaser, and that check can take up to 10-days in any event. The injunction may or may not reduce the 10-day waiting period for a particular purchaser, and a second trip to obtain the firearm could still be required. This harm is outweighed by the harm to California. Finally, the public interest favors a stay. The waiting period law was enacted for the important purpose of keeping firearms out of the hands of people who might have a propensity to misuse them. A stay would preserve the status quo for a system that processes 1 million firearm applications a year.

Plaintiffs' Opposition

Plaintiffs argue that a stay is not justified. Defendant argues that this case raises " serious legal questions" because it involves issues of first impression. However, in order to issue a stay based on " serious legal questions, " Defendant must show that the balance of hardships tips sharply in her favor. Defendant has not done so. Defendant argues that California is harmed because one of its laws will be enjoined and because it will incur associated fiscal and administrative costs. The Ninth Circuit has recognized that simply because an enactment is being enjoined is not dispositive, because the basis of enjoining the state law is a violation of either a federal statute or the federal Constitution, which also represent enactments of the people. Defendant has also not explained why it cannot simply allow delivery of firearms to the three as-applied classes once the background check is complete. Defendant does not adequately appreciate the nature and magnitude of the harm suffered by Plaintiffs, especially because the deprivation of a constitutional right is recognized to be an irreparable harm. Finally, the public interest does not lie in favor of a stay. When the state is asserting harm, there is no interest in enforcing an unconstitutional law.

Legal Standard

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 62(c) allows a district court to suspend, modify, restore, or grant an injunction during the pendency of an appeal. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 62(c); Natural Res. Def. Council, Inc. v. S.W. Marine, Inc., 242 F.3d 1163, 1166 (9th Cir. 2001). " A stay is not a matter of right, even if irreparable injury might otherwise result, " rather, a stay is " an exercise of judicial discretion" and the " propriety of its issue is dependent upon the circumstances of the particular case." Nken v. Holder, 556 U.S. 418, 433, 129 S.Ct. 1749, 173 L.Ed.2d 550 (2009); Lair v. Bullock, 697 F.3d 1200, 1203 (9th Cir. 2012). " The party requesting a stay bears the burden of showing that the circumstances justify an exercise of that discretion." Nken, 556 U.S. at 433-34; Lair, 697 F.3d at 1203. In determining whether to issue a stay pending an appeal, courts consider four factors: " (1) whether the stay applicant has made a strong showing that he is likely to succeed on the merits; (2) whether the applicant will be irreparably injured absent a stay; (3) whether issuance of the stay will substantially injure the other parties interested in the proceeding; and (4) where the public interest lies." Nken, 556 U.S. at 434; Lair, 697 F.3d at 1203. The first two factors " are the most critical." Nken, 556 U.S. at 434. With respect to the first factor, the Ninth Circuit has characterized a " strong showing" in various ways, including " reasonable probability, " " fair prospect, " " substantial case on the merits, " and " serious legal questions . . . raised." Leiva-Perez v. Holder, 640 F.3d 962, 967-68 (9th Cir. 2011). These formulations are " largely interchangeable, " and each indicate that, " 'at a minimum, ' a petitioner must show that there is a 'substantial case for relief on the merits.'" Lair, 697 F.3d at 1204; Leiva-Perez, 640 F.3d at 967-68. With respect to the second factor, the proponent of the stay must demonstrate that there is a probability that she will suffer an irreparable injury if the stay is not granted. Lair, 697 F.3d at 1215; Leiva-Perez, 640 F.3d at 969.


1. First Factor -- Strong Showing Of Success

There is no dispute that the first factor may be met if the stay applicant has raised " serious legal questions." Lair, 697 F.3d at 1204. " Serious questions are substantial, difficult and doubtful, as to make them a fair ground for litigation and thus for more deliberative investigation." Gilder v. PGA Tour, Inc., 936 F.2d 417, 422 (9th Cir. 1991); Republic of the Phil. v. Marcos, 862 F.2d 1355, 1362 (9th Cir.1988). Plaintiffs do not dispute that this case and Defendant's appeal raise " serious legal questions." The Court agrees that Second Amendment law is evolving, although the framework for evaluating laws under the Second Amendment has now been established. See United States v. Chovan, 735 F.3d 1127 (9th Cir. 2013). In the absence of an argument on this point from Plaintiffs, the Court is satisfied that this case raises " serious legal questions." [1] See Gilder, 936 F.2d at 422.

2. Second Factor -- Harm To The Applicant

Defendant has identified as an irreparable harm the harm that befalls a state when one of its laws has been held unconstitutional. Citing a chambers order from then Justice Rehnquist, the Ninth Circuit in Coalition for Economic Equity v. Wilson, 122 F.3d 718, 719 (9th Cir. 1997) stated that this as an irreparable injury. However, very recently the Ninth Circuit noted that the Supreme Court has never adopted Justice Rehnquist's opinion that this form of harm is an irreparable injury. See Latta v. Otter, __ F.3d __, *19 n.1 (9th Cir. 2014). Further, the Ninth Circuit has characterized the relevant language from Coalition as " dicta." Independent Living Ctr. of S. Cal. v. Maxwell-Jolly, 572 F.3d 644, 658 (9th Cir. 2009).[2] Independent explained that to the extent a state suffers an abstract form of harm whenever one of its acts is enjoined, that harm is not dispositive because such a rule would eviscerate the balancing of competing claims of injury. See id. In Latta, the Ninth Circuit recognized Coalition 's statement and Independent 's characterization of Coalition . See Latta, __ F.3d __, at *19. Latta did not expressly address how to apply Coalition and Independent, but it nevertheless found that lifting a stay on an injunction that prohibited the enforcement of an Idaho law was appropriate in light of other factors. Given Latta 's methodology, the Court finds that a state suffers an abstract harm whenever one of its duly enacted laws is enjoined, but this abstract harm is not a dispositive harm and it may be outweighed by other factors. Therefore, the Court concludes that California will suffer an abstract injury if the Court's injunction is not stayed.

With respect to administrative and fiscal costs, the Court agrees with Defendant that hiring and training additional personnel, as well as hiring outside contractors, would represent an additional expenditure of funds that Defendant would likely not be able to recover. However, Defendant (through Chief Lindley's declaration) acknowledges that she has computer personnel who could modify the system.[3] See Lindley Dec. ¶ 15. The problem is that Defendant believes that other projects are deserving of greater priority. See id. There is no description of what these critical projects are or when the deadlines might be, nor is there an explanation of why outside contractors cannot be utilized for some of those projects, nor is there an explanation of why computer personnel from different departments or agencies cannot be utilized. A bench trial has concluded, and a law that is actively being enforced has been found to be unconstitutional. The Court does not know how Defendant or the BOF prioritizes projects, but dealing with an unconstitutional law should be towards the top of the list.[4] It is true that redirecting personnel may cause difficulties, but there is not enough before the Court for it to conclude that Defendant probably would suffer irreparable harm from such redirection.[5] The Court is not satisfied that Defendant has demonstrated irreparable fiscal or administrative harm.[6]

3. Third Factor -- Harm To Others

In this case, the Court determined that the 10-day waiting period laws burden the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms because they prohibit the exercise of that right for all purposes with respect to a newly purchased firearm. The Court also determined that the 10-day waiting period laws have caused additional expense and inconvenience, and that they have caused individuals to forego exercising their Second Amendment rights. The Court examined the historical evidence submitted by the parties and concluded that there were no comparable laws in existence during the relevant historical periods, and that waiting period laws exist today in only a distinct minority of States. The Court also found that no evidence justified a 10-day waiting period under intermediate scrutiny.[7] Therefore, the Court has determined that the 10-day waiting period laws, as applied to those who have a Carry Concealed Weapons permit (" CCW"), those who already have a firearm, or those who have a firearm and a Certificate of Eligibility (" COE"), violate the Second Amendment. It has been held that a deprivation of constitutional rights, " for even minimal periods of time, unquestionably constitutes irreparable injury." Elrod v. Burns, 427 U.S. 347, 373, 96 S.Ct. 2673, 49 L.Ed.2d 547 (1976); Latta, __ F.3d __, at *19-*20; Melendres v. Arpaio, 695 F.3d 990, 1002 (9th Cir. 2012). Because the waiting period laws violate their constitutional rights, the named Plaintiffs and all those who fit within the as-applied classes will suffer irreparable injury if a stay pending appeal is granted.[8]

4. Public Interest

It has been recognized that enforcement of an unconstitutional law is contrary to the public interest. See Gordon v. Holder, 721 F.3d 638, 653, 406 U.S.App.D.C. 6 (D.C. Cir. 2013); Melendres, 695 F.3d at 1002; Scott v. Roberts, 612 F.3d 1279, 1297 (11th Cir. 2010); Tyson Foods, Inc. v. McReynolds, 865 F.2d 99, 103 (6th Cir. 1989); Levine v. Fair Political Practices Comm'n, 222 F.Supp.2d 1182, 1191 (E.D. Cal. 2002). Because the waiting period law is unconstitutional with the respect to the three as applied classes, this factor weighs against a stay.[9] See id.

5. Conclusion

When an applicant relies on " serious legal questions, " she must demonstrate that the balance of equities tips sharply in her favor. See Leiva-Perez, 640 F.3d at 966; Tribal Village of Akutan v. Hodel, 859 F.2d 662, 663 (9th Cir. 1988); Lopez v. Heckler, 713 F.2d 1432, 1435 (9th Cir. 1983). Given the on-going constitutional violations that are occurring to the likely thousands of Californians by operation of the 10-day waiting period laws, the Court cannot conclude that the balance of equities tips sharply in Defendant's favor. Combined with the public interest that weighs against granting an injunction, the Court does not find that issuing a stay is appropriate. Defendant's motion for a stay under Rule 62(c) will be denied.

II. Motion To Alter Judgment

Defendant's Argument

Defendant argues that to comply with the Court's order, BOF will either have to change the computer system to automatically search the CCW database, the COE database, and the AFS database, or hire additional staff to manually check these databases. A significant number of staff would have to be added, and it takes 6 to 8 months to train these individuals. Further, auto-approved applications would no longer be " auto-approved" because an analyst would have to review the additional databases. Finally, BOF cannot hire additional staff until it receives funding from the Legislature, which is currently in recess. To hire and train more staff would likely require 12 months. However, BOF prefers the automated computer approach. Under this approach, fewer analysts would be needed and a firearm could be released much sooner, assuming all appropriate criteria are met. BOF personnel are currently performing other critical tasks, and an outside vendor would be necessary. Given the history of past projects, the bidding and completion of computer modification would likely take at least 12-months. Finally, if the Court's intent was to give the Legislature time to act, more time is needed as the Legislature is in recess.

Plaintiffs' Argument

Plaintiffs argue that Defendant has not shown why additional time is needed. Although Defendant claims that more time is needed to hire personnel and reconfigure the system, no effort to comply been demonstrated since the Court's order. To the extent that Defendant needs to improve systems and hire staff, she should make efforts to do so now rather than induce urgency by waiting until expiration of the stay. Further, the Department of Justice has had millions of dollars appropriated to it, which should be sufficient to comply with Court's order without further legislative involvement. Also, Defendant has made it clear that she can comply with the Court's order without any legislative action. Even if a legislative " fix" were enacted, Defendant would presumably return to the Court and ask for more time to implement a new law. Relying on the legislative calendar to drag out the process is not appropriate. If it becomes clear that the Legislature wishes to address the problem, Defendant can request additional time from the Court. Finally, if the injunction is modified, Defendant should be required to file periodic status conferences to ensure that all efforts are being made to meet the new deadline.

Legal Standard

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(e) provides a mechanism for a court to reconsider and alter or amend a prior order. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 59(e); Kona Enters. v. Estate of Bishop, 229 F.3d 877, 883 n.6, 890 (9th Cir. 2000). " While Rule 59(e) permits a district court to reconsider and amend a previous order, the rule offers an extraordinary remedy, to be used ...

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