Yesterday, Governor Corbett signed HB 80, which amended 18 Pa.C.S. § 6120, our firearm preemption statute, in several keys ways. Section (A.2) now provides:
A person adversely affected by an ordinance, a resolution, regulation, rule, practice or any other action promulgated or enforced by a county, municipality or township prohibited under subsection (a) or 53 Pa.C.S. § 2962(g) (relating to limitation on municipal powers) may seek declaratory or injunctive relief and actual damages in an appropriate court.
Further Section (A.3) provides:
Reasonable expenses.–A court shall award reasonable expenses to a person adversely affected in an action under subsection (a.2) for any of the following:
(1) A final determination by the court is granted in
favor of the person adversely affected.
(2) The regulation in question is rescinded, repealed or
otherwise abrogated after suit has been filed under
subsection (a.2) but before the final determination by the
The definition section now includes:
“Person adversely affected.” Any of the following:
(1) A resident of this Commonwealth who may legally possess a firearm under Federal and State law.
(2) A person who otherwise has standing under the laws of this Commonwealth to bring an action under subsection (a.2).
(3) A membership organization, in which a member is a person described under paragraph (1) or (2).
“Reasonable expenses.” The term includes, but is not limited to, attorney fees, expert witness fees, court costs and compensation for loss of income.
These changes are substantial, as they now provide the ability to sue a municipality that promulgates an unlawful ordinance, even in the absence of enforcement, and obtain attorney fees and costs, even where the municipality rescinds its unlawful ordinance after the lawsuit is filed but before a final determination is made. These changes were in a large part related to the litigation that I handled in Dillon v. City of Erie and the accompanying criminal matters, where the City of Erie’s ordinance was found to be unlawful, yet the Erie 8 (as they became known), were required to defend against the criminal charges, without right to recoup their attorney fees, under Section 6120.
Although it is a misdemeanor of the 1st degree, pursuant to 18 Pa.C.S. § 6119, to even promulgate such an unlawful ordinance, most municipalities thumbed their nose at the Commonwealth by enacting such illegal ordinances. Now, both aggrieved individuals and organizations can bring suit against these municipalities to force them to comply with the law. It is unfortunate that it has come to this – where local government can violate state law, without any concern for prosecution; yet, the individual, if he or she violates the municipalities illegal ordinance, must fear prosecution. With Governor Corbett’s signature on HB 80, now municipalities can be held accountable for their actions.