Monumental Commonwealth Court Decision in PA License to Carry Firearms Case

While losing on the overall outcome, Attorney Joshua Prince secured a major victory for Pennsylvania License to Carry Firearms (LTCF) holders in obtaining the first decision in the history of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania that held that an individual has a liberty and property interest (neither of which were previously established) in an issued LTCF; therefore, entitling the individual to due process. The Court also found that the Sheriff failed to properly notify Mr. Caba of the basis of his revocation; another issue, which was the first holding of its kind.

In the case of Francisco Caba v. Eric Weaknecht, 318 C.D. 2012, the Commonwealth Court held the following:

  1. In any revocation proceeding that is appealed, de novo, to the Court of Common Pleas, the Sheriff (or in the City of the first class, the Chief of Police) has the burden of establishing the prohibiting criteria under 18 PA.C.S. 6109. “In the de novo proceeding, the trial court appropriately placed the burden of proof and ultimate burden of persuasion on the Sheriff to justify his revocation decision.” Id at 53.
  2. Where a Sheriff (or in the City of first class, the Chief of Police) revokes an LTCF, the Sheriff cannot simply state the statutory or legal basis but rather must specify the specific acts giving rise to the revocation under that statutory basis. “The notice requirement serves an important purpose under the Act. The Act provides for a direct appeal of a revocation to the court of common pleas. To evaluate whether to pursue this statutory remedy, a licensee should be informed of the ‘specific reason’ for revocation, and not simply a general statement that the licensee lacks the requisite character and reputation. Such a vague and nonspecific notice [citing merely character and reputation being a danger to public safety] essentially requires a licensee to guess as to the specific reason why the licensing authority has changed its opinion of the licensee’s character and reputation since the time it issued the license. When determining whether to exercise a statutory right to appeal a license revocation, the licensee must, at a minimum, be made aware of the specific reason, and not merely the general legal authority, for the decision.” Id at 45. In footnote 22, the Court continues, “It is noteworthy that the Sheriff does not even contend in this matter that Caba had actual notice of the specific reasons for the Sheriff’s decision before filing his appeal with the trial court, notwithstanding the lack of specificity in the Revocation Letter…Indeed, assuming arguendo that actual notice could remedy a defective written notice under the Act, it does not appear from the record that the Sheriff could make an actual notice argument in this appeal. None of the evidence presented to and admitted by the trial court indicates that Caba was even aware of the Sheriff’s investigation into his licensing status until he received the Revocation Letter.”
  3. An individual retains a liberty interest, pursuant to Article I, Sections 1 and 11 of the Pennsylvania Constitution, in an issued LTCF; therefore triggering due process protections. “Under Board of Regents and Paul, and recognizing that Article I, Sections 1 and 11 of the Pennsylvania Constitution expressly attach due process protections to a citizen’s interest in his or her reputation, we hold that the Sheriff’s revocation of Caba’s license in this case implicated a liberty interest worthy of procedural due process protections. Id. at 37.
  4. The case of Potts v. City of Philadelphia, 224 F. Supp. 2d 919 (E.D. Pa. 2002), was incorrectly decided by the Federal District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania because an individual does have a property interest in an issued LTCF. “Moreover, we reject the premise in Potts, advanced by the Sheriff in this case, that when the Sheriff determined that Caba lacked the requisite character/reputation to keep his license, the Sheriff was exercising discretion.” Id. at 42.
  5. An individual has a property interest; therefore triggering due process, in an issued LTCF. “When a regulatory scheme provides for a review of an adverse governmental decision, this ‘sheds light on the legislature’s intention in conferring a property right on those’ with the appeal right. Pipkin v. Pa. State Police, 548 Pa. 1, 7, 693 A.2d 190, 193 (1997).” Id at 42. The Court continued, “Having determined that Caba was entitled to procedural due process protections when the Sheriff revoked his license under the Act, we must now determine whether Caba received the process he was due.” Id at 43.

While greatly disappointed in the Court’s decision on the overall outcome, this is a monumental decision in favor of LTCF holders’ rights. When police take an LTCF, without due process, it is now established that they violate an individual’s Constitutional rights. This will provide a significant change in the context of 1983 civil right deprivation actions.

Attorney Prince is currently reviewing the Court’s Decision and assessing the ability to file for En Banc rehearing before the Commonwealth Court or petitioning the PA Supreme Court to review the decision.

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