United States District Court, D. Rhode Island
JASON A. RICHER, Plaintiff,
JASON PARMELEE as the Finance Director of the Town of North Smithfield, TOWN OF NORTH SMITHFIELD, and STEVEN E. REYNOLDS in his official capacity as Chief of the North Smithfield Police Department, Defendants.
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
J. MCCONNELL, JR., UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
North Smithfield police confiscated three guns from Jason A.
Richer after he allegedly threatened to commit suicide during
a domestic dispute with his wife. The police retained his
guns for six and a half years, refusing to return them absent
a court order. The Court finds that this conduct violated Mr.
Richer's constitutionally protected procedural due
case is before the Court on Mr. Richer's Motion for
Partial Summary Judgment against the Town of North Smithfield
and Steven E. Reynolds in his official capacity as Chief of
the North Smithfield Police Department. ECF No. 12.
Richer's First Amended Complaint against the Defendants
alleged violations of procedural due process; the right to
bear arms! and the right to equal protection of the laws; all
under the federal and state constitutions. ECF No. 4. Mr.
Richer also alleged a violation of the Rhode Island Firearms
Act. Id. He moved for summary judgment on all of the
counts, except the claim alleging violation of the equal
protection of the laws. ECF No. 12-1 at 10. Several months
after moving for summary judgment, Mr. Richer amended his
complaint for a second time, to allege a violation of the
right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures
under the federal and state constitutions. ECF No. 33. He
asks the Court to consider summary judgment on this count as
well, arguing that the issue had been fully briefed as part
of the parties' procedural due process discussion. ECF
No. 34 at 2, The Court accedes to doing so in light of the
parties' extensive briefing of the issue.
parties submitted four briefs each in support of their
positions. (ECF Nos. 12-1, 23, 27, and 34 for Mr. Richer and
ECF Nos. 18, 26, 32, and 37 for the Town). Mr, Richer also
submitted a Statement of Undisputed Facts (ECF No. 16) and
the Town responded with a Statement of Disputed Facts (ECF
No. 19) and Undisputed Facts (ECF No, 20). After reviewing
all of the parties' briefs, the submitted evidence, and
the relevant substantive and procedural law, Mr. Richer's
Motion for Partial Summary Judgment (ECF No. 12) is GRANTED
in part and DENIED in part.
STATEMENT OF UNDISPUTED FACTS
September 2008, Mr. Richer and his then-wife were having
domestic difficulties that required two visits by the North
Smithfield Police in a span of ten days. ECF No. 20 at
1-2. The first visit by the Town police occurred when Mr.
Richer called them in the midst of an argument and informed
them that the couple was getting divorced and that he
believed his wife was having an affair. Id. The
second time, Mr. Richer's wife called the police to
report that Mr. Richer was threatening to kill himself.
Id. When the police and the paramedics arrived
following this second call, Ms. Richer told them that she had
asked for a divorce on more than one occasion, and that Mr.
Richer begged her not to go through with it. Id. She
told them that Mr. Richer looked at the couple's six-year
old son and told him "I'm going to bed and I
won[']t get up." Id. Mr. Richer then
appeared to ingest some pills. Id. The couple's
son confirmed the story to the police. Id.
Richer was taken to a hospital for a mental health
evaluation. ECF No. 19 at 3. While still at the residence,
the police learned that Mr. Richer had three guns located in
his home workshop. ECF No. 12 at 4. Officers followed his
wife into another room where they seized a 22-caliber rifle,
a 12-gauge shotgun, and a 50- caliber black powder rifle.
Id. The police researched all of the seized firearms
through the National Crime Information Center and none
returned positive for criminal activity. ECF No. 19 at 4. The
police removed the guns from the premises, and transported
them to headquarters for the safety and protection of the
public, Mr. Richer, and his family. Id.
hospital discharged Mr. Richer that same day, and asked him
to follow up two days later. Id. at 3. Although the
police never charged Mr. Richer with any crime, he would not
be reunited with his guns until six and a half years after
this September 28, 2008 incident. Id. at 4, 9.
three weeks after the incident, Mr. Richer went to the North
Smithfield police station to retrieve his guns. Id.
at 4. He reports that the police told him that he would need
to obtain a court order to regain them. Id. Mr.
Richer waited more than a year, and again requested the
return of his guns, this time in writing. In his request, he
included letters from his wife and his psychologist attesting
to his well-being. Id. at 6. He did not receive a
response from the Town. Id.
and a half years later, on July 24, 2013, Mr. Richer returned
to the North Smithfield police station and again requested
the return of his property from Police Captain Tim Lafferty.
Id. at 6. Captain Lafferty refused, citing concern
over the police department's potential liability if the
department returned the guns and someone used them for
something improper. ECF No. 33 at 6 ¶ 30 and No. 38 at 2
¶ 5. Mr. Richer continued to communicate with Captain
Lafferty by phone and email on at least three more occasions
in 2013 and once in 2015, all to no avail. ECF No. 19 at 7.
On March 20, 2015, the American Civil Liberties Union of
Rhode Island (ACLU) sent a letter to Chief Steven E. Reynolds
asking that the police return Mr. Richer's guns, ECF No.
19 at 8. The ACLU received no response. Id.
Richer filed this suit for injunctive and declaratory relief,
return of the weapons, and damages. ECF No. 1. On May 1,
2015, he moved for a preliminary injunction requesting the
return of his firearms, ECF No. 8. On May 5, 2015, before the
Court heard the preliminary injunction, but six and a half
years after the police seized his property, the police
returned Mr. Richer's guns to him. ECF No. 19 at 9. In
the interim, the Town did not offer Mr. Richer any
opportunity - short of obtaining a state court order - to
contest the confiscation or retention of his property. ECF
No. 16 at 12.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
judgment is warranted when "the pleadings [and
discovery], together with the affidavits, if any, show that
there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that
the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of
law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c).
Richer seeks relief under the R.I. Firearms Act, the Second,
Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution,
and article 1, sections 2, 6, and 22 of the R.I.
Fourteenth Amendment Procedural Due Process
Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution
forbids the Town from depriving "any person of life,
liberty, or property, without due process of law." This
constitutional right is actionable against state and
municipal officials through 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Mr. Richer
claims that when the Town seized his guns from his house, and
refused to return them without giving him an opportunity to
contest the seizure and retention, the Town deprived him of
his property without due process of law. See Cleveland
Bd. of Educ. v. Loudermill, 470 U.S. 532, 541 (1985)
("property [ ] cannot be deprived except pursuant to
constitutionally adequate procedures"). "In
evaluating a procedural due process claim under the
Fourteenth Amendment, we must determine 'whether [the
plaintiff] was deprived of a protected interest, and, if so,
what process was his due.'" Garcia-Gonzalez v.
Plug-Morales, 761 F.3d 81, 88 (1st Cir. 2014)
(citing Logan v. Zimmerman Brush Co., 455 U.S. 422,
Town deprived Mr. Richer of his property for six and a half
years, which qualifies as a constitutional
deprivation.See Fuentes v. Slievin, 407 U.S.
67, 85 (1972) ("a temporary, nonfinal deprivation of
property is nonetheless a 'deprivation' in the terms
of the Fourteenth Amendment." (citing Sniadach v.
Family Finance Corp., 395 U.S. 337 (1969) and Bell
v. Burson, 402 U.S. 535 (1971))). The crux of the issue
before the ...