This is the thirteenth installment of a series documenting an ordinary New Yorker attempting to exercise his Second Amendment rights: Part I (license application), Part II (application rejected), Part III (the lawsuit), Part IV (appeal filed), Part V (appellate briefing complete), Part VI (N.Y. Appeals Court Not Interested in Ending NYPD Corruption), Part VII (Corruption? You Can’t Prove It!), Part VIII (appeal to N.Y. high court), Part IX (N.Y. Court of Appeals won’t hear), Part X (Federal Lawsuit Filed), Part XI (Federal Court Refuses Challenge), Part XII (U.S. Court of Appeals).
Total Time Spent So Far: 79 hours
Total Money Spent So Far: $2,296
In July last year, I filed a notice of appeal of the U.S. District Court’s decision that New York City’s gun licensing scheme was constitutionally sound. Federal court appeals are heard by the appellant filing a brief, the appellee filing an opposing brief, and the appellant gets an opportunity to file a reply brief. Often, but not always, oral arguments are heard, wherein the parties get a short period of time (typically, 5 – 15 minutes each) to persuade the judges hearing the case and to answer their questions.
Oral arguments were ordered in this case and heard on June 3rd, 2020. Getting the Second Circuit to overturn longstanding precedent regarding New York gun laws was always a long shot, so I prepared for a somewhat hostile reception. The judges randomly assigned, however, were two Trump appointees and 1 Bush 43 appointee — a favorable selection for a gun rights case. Because of coronavirus, the arguments were telephonic, and a recording is available from the court (.mp3).
Alas, despite the favorable panel selection, the judges apparently had made up their mind before hearing arguments, as they put out a 5-page opinion the next day (.pdf) affirming the judgment of the court below. The judges did not reach the merits of the case (the constitutional issue). Instead, they agreed with the city that because of the way I presented my case in state court, I could not challenge again in federal court.
Let me try to explain. Some cases can be heard in both state and federal court — gun issues are one of them. However, if your case is heard in state court, it generally can only be heard in federal court if the state court doesn’t provide the same type of remedy (in the legal world, we describe this issue using the Latin phrase “res judicata“). Gun license challenges in New York courts (called “Article 78” proceedings) typically only come with the remedy of ordering the issuance of the license or a new administrative hearing, while in federal court I can ask for money for the infringement of my rights. So, I should have been good. The problem is that when I asked for the review of my gun license issue in state court, I also asked them to review their refusal to provide me with records I requested. The federal court held that this type of case allows for money damages also. In other words, if I had filed 2 separate cases — one challenging the gun license denial and the other challenging the records refusal — my case could be re-reviewed in federal court, but since I did both at once, no dice.
As far as I can tell, this is the first case in which such a distinction has been made, and in my opinion creates an unjust result: there should be no penalty for saving the courts time by asking them to hear two matters at once. Needless to say, it leaves my court battle over my 2015 gun license application dead, as although I can appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, it is highly unlikely that they have interest in hearing such a case.
But, the fight is not over. Stay tuned for Part XIV over the next month or two, in which we explore the contours of New York’s “proper cause” requirement. 🙂