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Snyder v. United States

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

October 30, 2019

STEVEN LEROY SNYDER, Plaintiff,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, WILLIAM BARR, in his official capacity as Attorney General of the United States, and FEDERAL BUREAU OF INVESTIGATION, Defendants.

          ORDER ON MOTIONS FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          ROBERT J. BRYAN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This matter comes before the Court on Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment (Dkt. 14) and the Defendants United States, William Barr[1], and the Federal Bureau of Investigation's (“FBI”) (collectively “United States”) Motion for Summary Judgment (Dkt. 17). The Court has considered the pleadings filed in support of and in opposition to the motions and the file herein.

         On May 21, 2018, the Plaintiff filed this case asserting that the United States violated his constitutional rights when the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (“NICS”) improperly indicated that he was a person prohibited from possessing or receiving a firearm. Dkt. 1. The parties file cross motions for summary judgment. Dkts. 14 and 17. For the reasons provided below, the Plaintiff's motion (Dkt. 14) should be denied and the United States' motion (Dkt. 17) should be granted.

         I. LEGISLATIVE BACKGROUND, FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         A. THE GUN CONTROL ACT OF 1968

         The United States regulates firearm manufacture and distribution through the Gun Control Act of 1968, 18 U.S.C. § 921, et. al., (“GCA”). The GCA prohibits certain categories of people, including those convicted of certain felonies, from shipping, transporting, possessing, or receiving firearms or ammunition. 18. U.S.C. § 922(g). As amended by The Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, Pub. L. 103-105, 107 Stat. 1536 (“Brady Act”), the GCA requires firearms dealers to contact the FBI to conduct background checks of persons attempting to purchase firearms. 18 U.S.C. §§ 922(t)(1)-(2). The FBI uses NICS to conduct the checks. 28. C.F.R. § 25.1. The Brady Act empowered the Attorney General to create NICS regulations; those regulations are set forth in 28 C.F.R. §§25.1 to 25.11.

         B. UNDISPUTED FACTS FOR PURPOSES OF THESE MOTIONS

         While the record in this case is rather scant, the following facts are undisputed for purposes of these motions. Dkts. 14 and 17. In October of 2013, the Plaintiff applied for, and was denied, a firearm purchase after a background check done by NICS, under NICS transaction numbers 2F6B-252 and 2FCV-HK2. Dkt. 1, at 5. In April of 2016, the Plaintiff was denied a transfer of a firearm pursuant to a NICS check, transaction number 36TR-5G2. Id.

         The Plaintiff maintains in his Complaint that he has, and in September of 2017 renewed, a Washington State license to carry a concealed pistol. Dkt. 1, at 5. He asserts that to qualify for this state license, he had to pass background checks, including a NICS search, to ensure that he wasn't prohibited from possessing a firearm under either Washington or federal law. Id.

         On May 18, 2016, the Plaintiff filed an appeal of the denials with the United States and enclosed documentation, including two “rolled fingerprint cards;” an “Authorization to Release Criminal History Information and Limitation of Liability, ” a “[Voluntary Appeal File (“VAF”)] Application Form, ” and a photocopy of Plaintiff's “State of Washington License to Carry Concealed Pistol.” Dkt. 1, at 9.

         On May 27, 2016, the United States responded and indicated that the Plaintiff's appeal and VAF requests had been forwarded for further processing. Dkt. 1, at 10. It also indicated that they were “currently processing cases received in July 2015.” Id.

         The United States did not issue a decision for months and so, on November 27, 2017, the Plaintiff (through counsel), wrote the United States inquiring on the status of the appeal. Dkt. 1, at 11. On December 8, 2017, the United States responded, indicated that no decision had been made, and that they were working on appeals from November of 2015. Dkt. 1, at 12.

         On June 21, 2018, the Plaintiff filed this case. Dkt. 1. He asserts that by failing to process his appeal, the United States violated its “obligations under Federal Law and Regulations.” Dkt. 1, at 7. He requests that this Court:

(1) Order Defendants to correct their records on Plaintiff to reflect that he is not forbidden to purchase, receive, or possess a firearm;
(2) Order that Defendants allow the transfer of the firearm under NTN 36TR-5G2; and
(3) Order Defendants to issue Plaintiff a UPIN [Unique Personal Identification Number “for future transactions”];
(4) That Plaintiff be awarded his costs and attorneys' fees and any and all other relief the Court deems appropriate.

Dkt. 1, at 8. The case proceeded.

         On August 2, 2018, the United States, by letter to counsel, notified the Plaintiff that his firearm background check was in a “delay status.” Dkt. 14, at 11. The notification states:

The fingerprints your client submitted are identical with those in a record that was used in the evaluation of his firearm purchase or pawn redemption. Based on further review and investigation, the original prohibitive information has been resolved. However, your client's FBI identification record currently contains a potentially prohibitive arrest lacking final judgment and sentence.
The FBI Criminal Justice Information Services Division's NICS Section was unable to nullify the potential prohibitor(s) or obtain the necessary documentation. The agency and the arrest data for the potential prohibition are:
Tacoma County Sheriff's Office Date of Arrest: August 4, 1972 Offense: Possession Stolen Property
If you have or can obtain documentation that was available at the time of the arrest/court proceedings, please provide the court documentation containing the final disposition, level of conviction, and/or convicting statute and subsection; documentation containing information that your firearm rights were restored, a pardon was received, or the case was expunged, etc.
When you have obtained ALL of the requested documentation listed above, please submit it to our office. Please be advised, a “no record found” document is not sufficient ...

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