Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Summary judgment granted to plaintiff due process/firearms case against Nassau County

This is a guns rights case, sort of. The Court of Appeals holds that a plaintiff was entitled to summary judgment in a procedural due process case involving Nassau County's refusal to return a woman's shotguns.

The case is Panzella v. Sposato, decided on July 19. Plaintiff's ex-husband got an ex parte order of protection against her. It said she could not possess any firearms. But since ex parte orders cannot prohibit you from possessing guns without a hearing, the gun prohibition could not really apply to her. But the police confiscated her guns anyway and would not give them back under County policy that says the Sheriff cannot return guns without a court order. The district court granted plaintiff summary judgment in this case on her due process case, and the Court of Appeals (Calabresi, Pooler and Vilardo [D.J.]) affirms.

Judge Calabresi tees up the analysis like this:

The facts relevant to this appeal are largely undisputed. Both parties agree that Defendants confiscated Panzella’s longarms, and that the County, through the Sheriff’s Department, has a policy of doing so even when an order of protection issued by the Family Court does not explicitly order the Defendants to confiscate firearms pursuant to § 842-a. The parties also agree that Defendants have a policy of retaining confiscated firearms, even after an order of protection expires or is dismissed, until the Sheriff’s Department is presented with an order from a court of competent jurisdiction directing the return of the longarms. And all agree that the Family Court believes it cannot issue such an order in circumstances like those before us. 
When the plaintiff wins summary judgment, it means she has a great case. Usually, it's defendants who win summary judgment motions. Not this case. Under the well-known due process standards, the court weighs the following factors in determining if the plaintiff got the process that was due when the government deprived her of a liberty or property interest:

(1) “the private interest that will be affected by the official action;” (2) “the risk of erroneous deprivation of such interest through the procedures used;” and (3) “the Government’s interest, including the function involved and the fiscal and administrative burdens that the additional or substitute procedural requirement would entail.”
We call this the Matthews factors, named after a Supreme Court case from the 1970s. The first factor tilts in plaintiff's favor because she has a property interest in her guns. She meets the second factor because, while she can (as the County argues) bring an Article 78 petition, that takes a substantial amount of time and that procedure places the burden on plaintiff. In light of the burdens an Article 78 petition places on the plaintiff, "there is a significant risk of erroneous deprivation of that person's interest in her longarms." While she would probably win the Article 78, the Court says, that would not prevent a lengthy deprivation, as per Supreme Court authority, Fusari v. Steinberg, 419 U.S. 379 (1975), a principle of which I was unaware until now. As for the third factor, the government's interest in this equation -- public safety -- is limited since plaintiff could buy new guns given the lack of licensing requirement for such weapons in Nassau County. Finally, since a post-deprivation due process hearing would not be particularly burdensome for the County, all the due process factors tilt in plaintiff's favor, and she wins the case.

No comments: