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Association of New Jersey Rifle and Pistol Clubs Inc. v. Port Authority of New York and New Jersey

United States Court of Appeals, Third Circuit

September 13, 2013

ASSOCIATION OF NEW JERSEY RIFLE AND PISTOL CLUBS INC., Appellant
v.
PORT AUTHORITY OF NEW YORK AND NEW JERSEY, and SCOTT ERICKSON

Argued and Submitted May 31, 2013

On Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey (D.C. No. 2-06-cv-00402) District Judge: Hon. Katharine S. Hayden

Richard E. Gardiner, Esq. - Argued Counsel for Appellant.

Thomas R. Brophy, Esq. – Argued Port Authority of New York & New Jersey Counsel for Appellees.

Before: JORDAN and VANASKIE, Circuit Judges, and RAKOFF, [*] District Judge.

OPINION

RAKOFF, District Judge.

Section 926A of Title 18 of the United States Code confers the following protection upon those who wish to engage in the interstate transportation of firearms:

Notwithstanding any other provision of any law or any rule or regulation of a State or any political subdivision thereof, any person who is not otherwise prohibited by this chapter from transporting, shipping, or receiving a firearm shall be entitled to transport a firearm for any lawful purpose from any place where he may lawfully possess and carry such firearm to any other place where he may lawfully possess and carry such firearm if, during such transportation the firearm is unloaded, and neither the firearm nor any ammunition being transported is readily accessible or is directly accessible from the passenger compartment of such transporting vehicle: Provided, That in the case of a vehicle without a compartment separate from the driver's compartment the firearm or ammunition shall be contained in a locked container other than the glove compartment or console.

The provision amended a far more expansive entitlement to "transport an unloaded, not readily accessible firearm in interstate commerce, " which was passed just two months earlier as part of the Firearms Owners' Protection Act. See Pub. L. No. 99–308, § 107(a), 100 Stat. 449 (May 19, 1986), amended by Pub. L. No. 99–360, § 1(a), 100 Stat. 766 (July 8, 1986). The question before us is whether section 926A, as amended, creates a right enforceable by the appellant, the Association of New Jersey Rifle and Pistol Clubs Inc. ("the Association"), pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983.

The Association's cause of action seeks injunctive relief pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 that would enjoin the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and Scott Erickson (collectively, the "Port Authority") from enforcing certain New Jersey statutes, which prohibit possession of a firearm without a permit and possession of hollow-point ammunition, [1] against non-resident members of the Association "who are entitled to transport firearms through New Jersey pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 926A." J.A. at 26-30. The Association seeks this relief because, it alleges, the Port Authority enforces these state gun laws in Newark Airport against non-resident members of the Association, who are thus "coerced and intimidated into taking one of two courses of action: (i) When traveling with firearms . . . they avoid Newark Airport and other Port Authority sites to avoid unlawful arrest and/or detention . . . even though they have a right . . . to travel unmolested through such locations with firearms; or (ii) . . . they refrain from possessing firearms when traveling through Newark Airport and other Port Authority sites . . . ." Id. at 29.[2]

On August 20, 2012, the district court granted the Port Authority's motion for summary judgment, holding that section 926A does not create a right enforceable under section 1983. Because we hold that, in enacting the amended section 926A, Congress did not intend to confer the right upon the Association's non-resident members that the Association seeks to enforce in this case, we affirm.

Section 1983 imposes liability on anyone who, under color of state law, deprives a person "of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws" of the United States. On its face, section 1983 provides a remedy for a violation of federal rights, privileges, or immunities, but "not merely a violation of federal law." Blessing v. Freestone, 520 U.S. 329, 341 (1997); see also Gonzaga Univ. v. Doe, 536 U.S. 273, 283–90 (2002). Determining whether a federal statute creates a federal right enforceable under section 1983 is a two-step process.

The first step is to determine whether the federal statute creates a federal right. To make this determination, three requirements must be met. "First, Congress must have intended that the provision in question benefit the plaintiff. Second, the plaintiff must demonstrate that the right assertedly protected by the statute is not so 'vague and amorphous' that its enforcement would strain judicial competence. Third, the statute must unambiguously impose a binding obligation on the States . . . [i.e., it] must be couched in mandatory, rather than precatory, terms." Blessing, 520 U.S. at 340–41 (internal citations omitted).

If all three requirements are met, a rebuttable presumption arises that the statute creates a right enforceable under section 1983. In such circumstances, "[p]laintiffs suing under § 1983 do not have the burden of showing an intent to create a private remedy because § 1983 generally supplies a remedy for the vindication of rights secured by federal statutes." Gonzaga Univ., 536 U.S. at 284. However, in the second step of the Blessing analysis, this presumption may be overcome if a defendant shows that Congress has either expressly or impliedly foreclosed the section 1983 remedy for that particular right. Blessing, 520 U.S. at 341. "Implied" foreclosure of a remedy -- the more elusive rebuttal to the presumption that a federal right has a remedy under section 1983 -- means that notwithstanding the fact that Congress ...


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