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Jarvis v. Village Gun Shop, Inc.

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit

October 30, 2015



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David D. Jensen, with whom David Jensen PLLC, Patrick M. Groulx, and Grollman, LLP were on brief, for appellants. Mark I. Zarrow, with whom Lian, Zarrow was on brief, for appellee.

David R. Marks, Assistant Attorney General, with whom Maura Healey, Attorney General, was on brief, for Commonwealth of Massachusetts and Executive Office of Public Safety and Security, amici curiae.

Before Barron, Selya and Lipez, Circuit Judges.


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SELYA, Circuit Judge.

There are circumstances in which the actions of private parties become so entangled with the actions of public entities that the former may become liable as state actors under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. But the line that separates private action from state action is sometimes difficult to plot. This case, which involves the actions of a privately owned storage facility with respect to firearms confiscated by Massachusetts police officers, illustrates the point.

The district court, ruling at the summary judgment stage, concluded that the storage facility that was sued here was not a state actor and, accordingly, entered summary judgment in its favor. After careful consideration, we affirm.


We begin our odyssey with a sketch of the key elements of the Massachusetts statutory scheme for firearms ownership.

In Massachusetts, an individual who wishes to own or possess a firearm in his residence or place of business must obtain a Firearms Identification (FID) card. See Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 140, § § 129B, 129C; Com. v. Gouse, 461 Mass. 787, 965 N.E.2d 774, 785 n.14 (Mass. 2012). Under certain defined circumstances, an FID card may be denied, suspended, or revoked. See Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 140, § § 129B, 131(d), (f), (i). Pertinently, Massachusetts law provides that if a court issues an abuse prevention order against a person who presents " a substantial likelihood of immediate danger of abuse," the court must order that person to surrender all of his firearms and his FID card (as well as any other firearms license). Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 209A, § 3B. One who has surrendered his firearms pursuant to an abuse prevention order yet wishes to challenge the suspension or revocation of his FID card or license, may petition the ordering court for relief -- and a hearing must be held within 10 days. See id.

An FID card will expire if the holder does not renew it within the time fixed by law. See Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 140, § 129B(9). If an FID card expires, law enforcement officials are authorized to confiscate both the expired card and any firearms possessed by the former cardholder. See id. § 129B(12). The holder may at any time take steps to renew his card and reclaim his property.

The surrender of firearms pursuant to this statutory scheme does not terminate a gun owner's ownership rights. After such a surrender has occurred, the gun owner may arrange for the firearms to be transferred or sold to any person with a valid FID card or other firearms license within one year after the date of surrender. See id. § 129D. The police cannot dispose of the confiscated firearms for one year, but they are not required to maintain custody of the firearms for that length of time. Rather, the police " may transfer possession of such weapon[s] for storage purposes to a federally and state licensed dealer of such weapons and ammunition who operates a bonded warehouse . . . that is equipped with a safe for the secure storage of firearms . . . ." Id. The statutory scheme therefore puts gun owners on constructive notice that if they do not take action with respect to their confiscated firearms, the police have a right to transfer those firearms for storage.[1]

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Once a licensed dealer takes possession of confiscated firearms and any associated property, the dealer must inspect the firearms, furnish the owner with a detailed inventory, and store the items as specified by the statute. The gun owner becomes liable for all " reasonable storage charges," but he may at any time avoid the continuing accrual of such charges by selling or transferring the firearms to a person with a valid FID card or other firearms license. Id. If the owner does not either reclaim the confiscated firearms or arrange for a permitted transfer of them and then fails to pay the accumulated storage charges for a period of no less than 90 days, the dealer is authorized to auction the property in order to recoup its fees. See id. So, too, if one year has elapsed and the owner still has not either reclaimed or transferred his confiscated property, the dealer may sell the property at public auction and defray all accumulated storage charges out of the proceeds. See id. Any surplus proceeds will be remitted to the owner.[2] See id.


With this foundation in place, we turn to the case at hand. There are three groups of plaintiffs here: we rehearse their facts and circumstances separately.

A. James and Russell Jarvis.

Plaintiff James Jarvis is a gun owner residing in Cheshire, Massachusetts. In the early morning hours of July 9, 2010, Massachusetts State Police troopers arrested him for domestic assault and battery. His wife proceeded to obtain an ex parte temporary abuse protection order. Based on this order and in pursuance of state law, see Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 209A, § 3B, the state police confiscated all firearms and ammunition found in James Jarvis's home. The confiscated property included firearms owned by not only James Jarvis himself but also his son (James Jarvis, Jr.) and his father (Russell Jarvis).

That same morning, James Jarvis and his wife appeared in court. A state judge extended the protection order until August 9, 2010, and it was thereafter extended to August 2, 2011.

James Jarvis moved into his parents' residence in Adams, Massachusetts, where he remained for two years. As long as the order of protection was still velivolant, the state police could not lawfully return his firearms to him. Moreover, his presence in his parents' home inhibited the ability of the police to return Russell Jarvis's firearms (and at any rate, Russell Jarvis did not himself possess a valid FID card or other firearms license at that time).

On August 11, 2010 -- over a month after the firearms had been taken from James Jarvis's home[3] -- the state police transferred custody of the confiscated firearms to defendant Village Gun Shop, Inc., doing business as " Village Vault" (the Gun Shop). As part of its business, the Gun Shop operates a bonded warehouse for the secure storage of firearms and ammunition. See Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 140, § 129D. The Gun Shop inventoried the confiscated property and, in a letter to

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James Jarvis dated that same day, laid out its storage terms (including fees and costs). The letter, to which a formal inventory was attached, explained James Jarvis's options for exercising dominion over his firearms, noting that he could " at any time transfer or sell [his] firearms to a firearms dealer or a properly licensed individual." The inventory included Russell Jarvis's firearms; and even though the Gun Shop did not send a separate letter to Russell Jarvis, he has acknowledged that he saw the Gun ...

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