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Wilson v. United States

United States District Court, E.D. Washington

December 10, 2014

MATTHEW STEVEN WILSON, Plaintiff,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Defendant

Matthew Steven Wilson, Plaintiff, Pro se, Ellensburg, WA.

For United States of America, Defendant: Vanessa Ruth Waldref, LEAD ATTORNEY, U S Attorney's Office - SPO, Spokane, WA.

ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO DISMISS

THOMAS O. RICE, United States District Judge.

BEFORE THE COURT are Plaintiff's Motion for Supplemental Pleadings (ECF No. 18), Defendant's Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 19), and Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 20). This matter was submitted for consideration without oral argument. The Court has reviewed the record and files herein, and is fully informed.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff filed this action on February 28, 2014, alleging that he was erroneously prohibited from purchasing a firearm. ECF No. 1, 8. By way of providing background on the transaction, Defendant filed an affidavit of Brian Allen Baker, a custodian of records for the Federal Bureau of Investigation. ECF No. 19-1. Baker reviewed the records in the National Instant Criminal Background Check Service (NICS) Audit Log relating to Plaintiff's attempted firearm purchase and subsequent denial.[1]

Baker's review indicates that Plaintiff attempted to purchase a firearm at Cabela's in Union Gap, Washington, on February 19, 2014. Id. ¶ 22(a). Cabela's initiated an NICS background check and the attempted transaction was assigned a unique NICS Transaction Number (NTN) of 2J8ZG49. Id. The background check was initially delayed because of a technology issue. Id. ¶ 22(b). The next day, a NICS Legal Instruments Examiner (Examiner) determined that Plaintiff's descriptive information matched an Indiana State criminal record for an individual with a conviction of " Possession Firearm School Property, " a class D felony. Id. ¶ 22(c)--(d). Plaintiff has provided the Court with copies of his Indiana criminal transcript showing this conviction. ECF Nos. 13, 20. The Examiner determined that because of this conviction Plaintiff was prohibited from owning a gun under 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1). ECF No. 19-1 ¶ 22(d).

Plaintiff requested an explanation for his denial and was mailed a letter informing him of the result of the NICS record search and advising Plaintiff that no further research on the matter would be conducted by the Examiner until Plaintiff submitted additional documentation or a fingerprint card. Id. ¶ 22(f). Between February 27, 2014, and March 5, 2014, Plaintiff submitted additional appeal requests, documents, and fingerprint cards. Id. ¶ 22(g)--(j). Plaintiff's appeal was reviewed by an Examiner on April 22, 2014. Id. ¶ 22(k). The Examiner concluded that the Indiana firearm conviction had been reduced under Indiana law from a felony to a misdemeanor after Plaintiff had served his sentence. Id. As such, the conviction did not prohibit Plaintiff from purchasing a firearm under § 922(g)(1) and the Plaintiff's record was updated to indicate this. Id. The Examiner, however, proceeded to conduct additional research to ensure Plaintiff was not prohibited from owning a firearm for any other reason. Id.

On May 16, 2014, the Examiner determined that a disorderly conduct conviction in Indiana may prohibit Plaintiff from owning a firearm. Id. ¶ 22(m). This conviction is also shown on the copies of Plaintiff's Indiana criminal transcript that Plaintiff has provided to the Court. ECF Nos. 13, 20. The Examiner mailed Plaintiff a letter requesting additional information that would assist the Examiner in clarifying whether or not this conviction qualified as a crime of domestic violence which would prohibit him from owning a firearm under § 922(g)(9). ECF No. 19-1 ¶ 22(n). Plaintiff responded with a letter that included a fingerprint card and a copy of the court transcript relating to his conviction. Id.¶ 22(o). On June 6, 2014, the Examiner contacted the Indiana police department that had arrested Plaintiff to obtain an incident report. Id. ¶ 22(q). Based upon that report, the Examiner concluded the incident was not a crime of domestic violence and notified Plaintiff of that determination. Id.¶ 22(q)--(r).

However, in the same letter, the Examiner notified Plaintiff that there was a recent potentially prohibiting arrest in Washington State for which Plaintiff was requested to submit additional information. Id.¶ 22(r). After further research, the Examiner concluded on July 9, 2014, that Plaintiff's recent Washington State arrest did not prohibit Plaintiff from purchasing a firearm. Id.¶ 22(u).

On July 11, 2014, the Examiner mailed to Plaintiff an appeal certificate indicating that Plaintiff may proceed with the attempted February 19, 2014, firearm transaction, identified as NTN 2J8ZG49. Id. ¶ 22(v). The transaction status was changed to " proceed." Id.

Plaintiff was also provided with instructions on applying for a Voluntary Appeal File (VAF), in order to facilitate processing NICS background checks for future firearms purchases. Id. On July 18, 2014, Plaintiff filed a VAF application. Id. ¶ 23. On August 5, 2014, Plaintiff was assigned a Unique Personal Identification Number (UPIN) associated with his entry in the VAF. Id.¶ 23(b).

Plaintiff filed this action on February 28, 2014, seeking to correct the information in his NICS background check in order to allow him to purchase the firearm at issue in NTN 2J8ZG49. ECF No. 1, 8. Plaintiff has confirmed in both motions presently before the court that he has been able to purchase firearms using his UPIN and the information retained in the VAF. ECF No. 18, 20. Plaintiff notes, however, that he has continued to be delayed on a number of occasions, including once when he was delayed for almost two days. ECF No. 20. Plaintiff has further requested that erroneous information in his NICS file from Indiana be corrected so he does not have to use a UPIN to purchase a firearm. ECF No. 18. Defendant asserts that because Plaintiff is now able to purchase firearms that his claim is moot and should be dismissed. ECF No. 19.

DISCUSSION

18 U.S.C. § 925A affords this Court jurisdiction to hear the claim of any person who was denied the right to purchase a firearm because of an erroneous NICS background check. The Court has the authority to direct that erroneous information be corrected and that a transfer be approved. Id. When Plaintiff filed this suit on February 28, 2014, he was unable to complete the purchase of the firearm he sought to procure from Cabela's on February 19, 2014. At that point, a live controversy existed about whether Plaintiff was qualified to own a firearm and the Court had jurisdiction over that controversy. See United States v. Geophysical Corp. of Alaska, 732 F.2d 693, 698 (9th Cir. 1984).

As the case now stands, however, what relief the Court could order in regard to that attempted transaction has already been provided. At the time Plaintiff was denied his purchase, the Court could do nothing more than to order the NICS to correct the information in the database and to order that the transfer be approved. This has already been accomplished through the NICS appeals process. On July 11, 2014, the NICS cleared Plaintiff to purchase a firearm in NTN 2J8ZG49. There exists no remaining controversy about Plaintiff's ability to complete that transaction. Any claim that Plaintiff had regarding the denial of his February 19, 2014, firearm purchase is now moot and is dismissed. See Geophysical Corp. of Alaska, 732 F.2d at 698 (" A claim is moot if it has lost its character as a present, live controversy.").

The Court does not have jurisdiction over Plaintiff's remaining contention that his Indiana criminal transcript should be corrected so he does not have to use a UPIN. As an initial matter, Plaintiff did not raise this issue in his Amended Complaint. ECF No. 8. In the Amended Complaint, Plaintiff only contested the denial of his February 19, 2014 transaction. As such, Plaintiff's remaining contention is not properly before the Court.

Even were the issue before the Court, the Court does not have jurisdiction to order the State of Indiana to make corrections on Plaintiff's criminal transcript because the State of Indiana is not a party to these proceedings. See 18 U.S.C. § 925A (stating that a plaintiff must bring an action " against the State or political subdivision responsible for providing the erroneous information"). The NICS Examiner can only interpret the records provided to it by the State of Indiana. In this lawsuit, Plaintiff could only challenge the Examiner's interpretation. Indeed, Plaintiff successfully challenged the Examiner's interpretation through the NICS appeals process. Should Plaintiff wish to challenge the accuracy of the information on the Indiana criminal transcript itself, he must do so by applying directly to the State of Indiana to correct the transcript. See 28 C.F.R. § 25.10(c).

Finally, the Court notes that it does not have jurisdiction in this case to order the NICS to function in a manner different than the one prescribed by law.[2] As prescribed by law, a NICS background check is required for the purchase of a firearm from any licensed importer, manufacturer, or dealer. 18 U.S.C. § 922(t)(1). The NICS is required to destroy all background check documents in an approved firearm transaction within twenty-four hours. 28 C.F.R. § 25.9(b)(1)(iii). This can result in requiring prospective firearms purchasers with potentially disqualifying criminal convictions to submit the same documentation each time they wish to purchase a firearm, extensively delaying the purchase. To remedy this problem the NICS has established the VAF. The VAF retains documentation that establishes a purchaser's qualification to purchase a firearm and enables NICS Examiners to avoid erroneous denials or extended delays in subsequent background checks. 28 C.F.R. § 25.10(g); ECF No. 19-1 ¶ 16-21.

Because of Plaintiff's criminal history, his NICS background checks will always return an automated response that the database contains potentially disqualifying information. This, in turn, will require a NICS Examiner to review each transaction. The VAF is designed to facilitate that review. Plaintiff is not required to be enrolled in the VAF, but doing so is the only way he can avoid having to submit documentation establishing his qualification to purchase a firearm for each and every firearm transaction. In short, given Plaintiff's criminal history, as displayed on his Indiana criminal transcript, his only recourse to a quicker approval process for firearms purchases is the VAF system and his UPIN.

IT IS HEREBY ORDERED:

1. Plaintiff's Motion for Supplemental Pleadings (ECF No. 18) is DENIED. 2. Defendant's Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 19) is GRANTED.
2. Defendant's Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 19) is GRANTED.
a. All claims and causes of action in this matter are DISMISSED with prejudice.
3. Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 20) is DENIED.

The District Court Executive is hereby directed to enter this Order and Judgment accordingly, furnish copies to the Plaintiff and Defendant's counsel, and CLOSE the file.


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