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Benedetto v. Sessions

United States District Court, D. Maryland

September 27, 2017




         The plaintiff, Jeffrey Benedetto, has sued two federal defendants, Attorney General Jefferson B. Sessions, III and Thomas E. Brandon, the Acting Director for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives. He also has sued two state defendants, William L. Pallozzi, Secretary of the Maryland Department of State Police, and Brian E. Frosh, Attorney General of Maryland. Benedetto asserts an as-applied challenge to a federal firearms statute, 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1), and Maryland's equivalent firearms statutes, Md. Code Ann., Pub. Safety § 5-133(b)(1), § 5-144, and § 5-205(b)(1), claiming that they are unconstitutional burdens on his second amendment rights and ex post facto punishments in violation of the United States Constitution, U.S. Const. art. 1, § 9, cl. 3 (applies to the federal government); U.S. Const. art. 1, § 10, cl. 1 (applies to the states).

         The plaintiff has filed a motion for summary judgment, and both federal and state defendants have moved to dismiss the claim. For the reasons stated below, this court will deny the plaintiff's motion and will grant the defendants' motions to dismiss.[1]


         In 1992, Jeffrey Benedetto pled guilty to a misdemeanor battery charge under what is now § 3-203 of the Maryland Code of Criminal Law. (Compl., ECF No. 1 ¶ 7). He received a one-year suspended sentence and 18 months of probation. (Id.). Since his guilty plea, Benedetto has not been arrested or convicted of another crime. He completed his sentence and probation without incident. (Id.).

         Some 24 years later, in 2016, Benedetto tried and failed to obtain a handgun license to defend “himself and his family within his home.” (Id. at ¶ 1). He was informed by Maryland State Police that he was disqualified from gun ownership under the Maryland Gun Violence Act of 1996 because his 1992 misdemeanor conviction carries a statutory penalty of greater than two years. (See Id. at ¶ 8). Benedetto appealed the decision but was rebuffed by both the Maryland Office of Administrative Appeals and the Circuit Court of Maryland for Anne Arundel County. (Id. at ¶ 9).

         Benedetto now sues the state and federal defendants in federal court for declaratory and injunctive relief. He asserts as-applied second amendment challenges against the federal and Maryland firearms regulations: 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1) and Md. Code Ann., Pub. Safety §§ 5-133(b)(1), 5-144, and 5-205(b)(1).[2] He also claims that the laws constitute ex post facto punishment in violation of the Constitution. Because Benedetto is not a “law-abiding and responsible citizen” and because the Fourth Circuit already has upheld § 922(g)(1), a law substantially similar to the Maryland firearms statutes, against an ex post facto claim, Benedetto's claims must be dismissed.

         Standard of Review

         When ruling on a motion under Rule 12(b)(6), the court must “accept the well-pled allegations of the complaint as true, ” and “construe the facts and reasonable inferences derived therefrom in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.” Ibarra v. United States, 120 F.3d 472, 474 (4th Cir. 1997). “Even though the requirements for pleading a proper complaint are substantially aimed at assuring that the defendant be given adequate notice of the nature of a claim being made against him, they also provide criteria for defining issues for trial and for early disposition of inappropriate complaints.” Francis v. Giacomelli, 588 F.3d 186, 192 (4th Cir. 2009). “The mere recital of elements of a cause of action, supported only by conclusory statements, is not sufficient to survive a motion made pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6).” Walters v. McMahen, 684 F.3d 435, 439 (4th Cir. 2012) (citing Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009)). To survive a motion to dismiss, the factual allegations of a complaint “must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level on the assumption that all the allegations in the complaint are true (even if doubtful in fact).” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (internal citations omitted). “To satisfy this standard, a plaintiff need not ‘forecast' evidence sufficient to prove the elements of the claim. However, the complaint must allege sufficient facts to establish those elements.” Walters, 684 F.3d at 439 (citation omitted). “Thus, while a plaintiff does not need to demonstrate in a complaint that the right to relief is ‘probable, ' the complaint must advance the plaintiff's claim ‘across the line from conceivable to plausible.'” Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570).


         Benedetto's complaint contains two challenges. The first alleges that the federal and Maryland firearms laws are unconstitutional as applied because Benedetto pled guilty to a misdemeanor, not a felony. The second asserts that the challenged laws violate the ex post facto clauses of the Constitution.

         1. Second Amendment Challenge

         Since District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570 (2008), the Fourth Circuit has used a two-step framework to address second amendment challenges. The first step requires a court to determine whether the challenged law burdens or regulates the second amendment as it was understood in 1791. Hamilton v. Pallozzi, 848 F.3d 614, 623 (4th Cir. 2017). If the court finds that the second amendment is burdened, the second step requires a court to apply intermediate scrutiny to the law. Kolbe v. Hogan, 813 F.3d 160, 179 (4th Cir. 2016).

         When dealing with a presumptively valid regulatory law, however, the court should streamline the first step of the test. Hamilton, 848 F.3d at 623. A presumptively valid law is any law that does not infringe upon the “law-abiding and responsible citizen['s] [freedom] to use arms in defense of hearth and home.” District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570, 635 (2008). In such cases, the court can bypass the historical analysis otherwise required by Heller and instead presume that the challenged law is valid unless the plaintiff rebuts that presumption. Hamilton, 848 F.3d at 624. A plaintiff can ...

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