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Mitchell v. Atkins

United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Tacoma

May 20, 2019

DANIEL MITCHELL, et al, Plaintiff,
CHUCK ATKINS, et al, Defendant.


          Ronald B. Leighton, United States District Judge.


         THIS MATTER is before the Court on Defendants Chuck Atkins and Craig Meidl's Motions to Dismiss Plaintiffs' First Amended Complaint (FAC). Dkt. #32 & #34. Plaintiffs are a group consisting of gun dealers (“Dealers”), aspiring gun owners under the age of 21 (“Young Adults”), and gun rights advocacy organizations. They seek a declaration that several of I-1639's amendments to Washington's gun control laws are unconstitutional and ask the Court to enjoin enforcement. Specifically, Plaintiffs challenge the portions of the initiative that prohibit the sale of pistols and semiautomatic assault rifles to individuals under the age of 21 and prohibit the sale of semiautomatic assault rifles to residents of another state. They also allege a claim under 28 U.S.C. § 1983, arguing that the challenged portions of I-1639 infringe their Second Amendment rights and violate the Commerce Clause.

         Atkins is the Sheriff of Clark County and Meidl is the Chief of Police of Spokane. They argue that Plaintiffs lack standing to assert a claim against them because neither officer has enforced I-1639 against Plaintiffs or threatened to do so. Atkins and Meidl also contend that they are not proper defendants in this action because any potential injuries Plaintiffs suffered are the result of I-1639 itself, not its enforcement. Finally, Atkins and Meidl assert that Plaintiffs' 1983 claim fails because Clark County and Spokane's enforcement of I-1639 is non-discretionary.

         For the following reasons, Atkins and Meidl's Motions to Dismiss are GRANTED in part and DENIED in part.


         Plaintiffs filed this action in February of 2019. Their lawsuit challenges the constitutionality of sections 12 and 13 of I-1639, which was approved by voters in 2018. Section 12 amends RCW 9.41.124, which formerly permitted out-of-state individuals to purchase any weapon available to Washington residents. The amendment created by I-1639 creates an exception for “firearms defined as semiautomatic assault rifles.” RCW 9.41.124.

         Section 13 amends RCW 9.41.240 to include the following: “A person under twenty-one years of age may not purchase a pistol or semiautomatic assault rifle, and except as otherwise provided in this chapter, no person may sell or transfer a semiautomatic assault rifle to a person under twenty-one years of age.” Section 13 also changes the rules around possession of semiautomatic assault rifles for young adults, but Plaintiffs do not appear to challenge those provisions.

         While it is not directly challenged in this lawsuit, section 3 of I-1369 amends the procedures for background checks under RCW 9.41.090. Background checks are now required for all sales of semiautomatic assault rifles as well as pistols. RCW 9.41.090(6)(a). Dealers are required to collect an application from the purchaser containing certain information and send it to the chief of police of the municipality or the sheriff of the county, or the state if it opts to set up its own background check system. RCW 9.41.090(3)(b), (6)(c). The relevant authority has the power to deny the application if the applicant is ineligible to purchase the firearm under any state or federal law. RCW 9.41.090(6)(c). This, too, is a change from the previous law, which only allowed the authority to deny the application under state law if the purchaser was ineligible for reasons related to criminal history. See RCW 9.41.040.

         Two of the Plaintiffs, Daniel Mitchell and Robin Ball, are licensed firearm dealers from Vancouver and Spokane, respectively. Dkt. #17 at 2. Plaintiffs Luke Rettmer, Nathaniel Casey, Armen Tooloee, and Mathew Wald are all Washington residents under the age of 21 but over the age of 18. Id. at 3. According to the FAC, each of the Young Adults contacted one of the Dealers on a specific date to inquire about purchasing a semiautomatic assault rifle. Id. at 7-10. When the Young Adults stated their age, the Dealers informed them that they could not sell them semiautomatic rifles under the new Washington law because of the risk it would pose to their licensed status. Id. The FAC alleges that this harmed the Young Adults by infringing their Second Amendment rights and harmed the Dealers by causing them to lose profits. Id. at 7-11.

         The FAC also alleges that both of the Dealers received their licenses from Atkins or Meidl and that the officers have the authority to revoke their licenses. Id. at 4. While Meidl has apparently not made a statement about Washington's gun laws, Atkins allegedly expressed that “[t]he Clark County Sheriff's Office will adhere to the law as passed by a vote of the people unless a court rules that it is unconstitutional.” Id. at 6.


         1. Legal Standard

         Dismissal under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) may be based on either the lack of a cognizable legal theory or the absence of sufficient facts alleged under a cognizable legal theory. Balistreri v. Pacifica Police Dep't, 901 F.2d 696, 699 (9th Cir. 1990). A plaintiff's complaint must allege facts to state a claim for relief that is plausible on its face. See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). A claim has “facial plausibility” when the party seeking relief “pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. Although the court must accept as true the Complaint's well-pled facts, conclusory allegations of law and unwarranted inferences will not defeat an otherwise proper 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss. Vazquez v. Los Angeles Cty., 487 F.3d 1246, 1249 (9th Cir. 2007); Sprewell v. Golden State Warriors, 266 F.3d 979, 988 (9th Cir. 2001). “[A] plaintiff's obligation to provide the ‘grounds' of his ‘entitle[ment] to relief' requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do. Factual allegations must be ...

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