Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court
Challenge to the state's requirement that individuals denied a firearms license bear the burden of demonstrating that the denial was 'arbitrary or capricious'
Filed January 30, 2013
Com2A seeks to challenge the requirement that applicants bear the burden of proving that a police chief acts in an arbitrary and capricious way when denying a LTC to carry on the grounds that the applicant is an 'unsuitable' person.
Jonathan Hill, a resident of New Bedford, was denied an LTC in 2011 after being deemed an "unsuitable person" by the New Bedford Police Chief. Mr. Hill appealed his denial to the New Bedford District Court and in a six page written decision the court denied Mr. Hill's petition and affirmed the chief's denial of the LTC. Under current Massachusetts law Mr. Hill bears the burden of demonstrating that the denial of his LTC was an 'arbitrary or capricious' exercise of the licensing authority's discretion. This approach is inconsistent with the exercise of a fundamental individual right in any other context. When restricting the exercise of an individual right, it normally falls to the government to demonstrate that an individual should be restricted from the exercise of that right.
Mr. Hill's appeal was filed with the SJC on January 30, 2013 and sought to place the burden on the licensing authority who should demonstrate by clear and convincing evidence, that the applicant should be denied the ability to exercise a fundamental right. The SJC denied review and remanded the case to the Bristol County Superior court for further proceedings. On January 27, 2014 the court ruled that the license denial was a violation of Hill's Second Amendment rights.
In the context of the stipulated facts, the court finds that the record clearly fails to establish, even a rational basis for declining the subject permit, let alone facts sufficient to meet a heightened scrutiny standard.
This decision represents a watershed moment for gun rights in Massachusetts. For the first time a Massachusetts state court has issued a ruling upholding the Second Amendment and acknowledging that non-statutory denials are subject to heightened scrutiny.
Mr. Hill was represented by attorney Karen MacNutt.
- 12/05/2013 -- District Court Decision
- 01/30/2013 -- Request for Direct Appellate Review Filed with SJC. Complaint Docket
- 05/13/2013 -- Motion for Judgement on the Pleadings
- 06/26/2013 -- Case Remanded to Bristol Superior Court
- 01/27/2014 -- Superior Court Decision and Order in favor of Plaintiff