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Chief of Police of the City of Worcester v. Holden

Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, Worcester

March 11, 2015

Chief of Police of the City of Worcester
Raymond J. Holden, Jr

Argued November 6, 2014

Page 846

Civil action commenced in the Superior Court Department on December 6, 2011.

The case was heard by James R. Lemire, J., on motions for judgment on the pleadings.

The Supreme Judicial Court granted an application for direct appellate review.

Mel L. Greenberg for the defendant.

Kevin M. Gould, Assistant City Solicitor ( David M. Moore, City Solicitor, with him) for the plaintiff.

Julia Kobick, Assistant Attorney General, for the Commonwealth, amicus curiae.

The following submitted briefs for amici curiae:

Jonathan E. Lowy, Kelly Sampson, Elizabeth Burke, Jonathan L. Diesenhaus, James W. Clayton, & Anna M. Kelly, of the District of Columbia, & Kathy B. Weinman for Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence.

Ben T. Clements & Lila E. Slovak for Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association, Inc., & others.

Edward F. George, Jr., & Susan Chu for Gun Owners' Action League, Inc.

Karen L. MacNutt for Commonwealth Second Amendment, Inc.

Present: Gants, C.J., Spina, Cordy, Botsford, Duffly, Lenk, & Hines, JJ.


[26 N.E.3d 719] Spina, J.

This case mounts a challenge under the Second

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Amendment to the United States Constitution[1] to the constitutionality of the " suitable person" standard in G. L. c. 140, § 131 ( d ) and ( f ), as amended through St. 1998, c. 180, § 41, by which licenses to carry firearms were issued, suspended, or revoked between 2005 and 2010.[2] The chief of police of the city of Worcester (chief) determined, based on the history of domestic violence of Raymond J. Holden, Jr., against his wife, tat Holden was not a suitable person to have such a license. Holden sought judicial review of three separate adverse decisions of the chief: suspension of his license, then revocation of his license, and finally denial of his application for a new license to carry. After a complex history of District Court litigation that was consolidated and resolved largely in favor of Holden, the chief sought certiorari review in the Superior Court. On cross motions for judgment on the pleadings, a judge in the Superior Court ruled in favor of the chief. Holden appealed, and we granted his petition for direct appellate review. On appeal, Holden argues that (1) the " suitable person" standard violates the Second Amendment, both facially and as applied; (2) the statutory scheme as to the suspension and revocation of licenses and the denial of license applications violates procedural due process because it is devoid of any provision for a hearing before the chief, and because it makes no provision for an aggrieved person to confront and cross-examine witnesses in the District Court; (3) the " suitable person" standard is unconstitutional as applied to him because it allows the chief to disqualify him permanently from licensure as an unsuitable person without current cause; and (4) the decisions of the chief were not supported by substantial evidence. We reject Holden's claims, and we affirm the judgment of the Superior Court.[3]

1. Background.

On the evening of September 10, 2005, Holden's daughter telephoned the Shrewsbury police department

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911 dispatch to report that her father had just beaten her mother and thrown her out of his vehicle in front of the daughter's house in Shrewsbury. She reported that her mother was crying and that she was requesting police assistance. Police arrived at the daughter's home. Holden's wife prepared and signed a written statement, witnessed by her daughter, in which she described what had occurred. She indicated that she and Holden were at a restaurant that evening. After consuming a few cocktails they began to argue. She did not want to create a scene, so she asked the bartender to arrange for a taxicab to take her home. Eventually she left with Holden, who verbally assaulted her and said he was going to leave her at their daughter's home. Upon arrival, Holden punched his wife in the face, walked around to the [26 N.E.3d 720] passenger's side door, and pulled her out of the vehicle. He threw her to the pavement and then drove away. She suffered a swollen lip, a scratch over her right eye, and scrapes and bruises on her left arm.

On September 12, 2005, Holden was arraigned in the Westborough Division of the District Court Department (Westborough District Court) on a complaint alleging assault and battery on his wife. On September 14, 2005, the chief, acting in his capacity as licensing authority for the city of Worcester, suspended Holden's license on the ground that he was not suitable to carry firearms. His decision was based on Holden's arraignment on the assault and battery complaint. The complaint was dismissed two weeks later at the request of the complainant, Holden's wife.

On December 6, 2005, Holden filed a complaint for judicial review of his suspension in the Worcester Division of the District Court Department (Worcester District Court), pursuant to G. L. c. 140, § 131 ( f ). After an evidentiary hearing, the judge ordered the restoration of Holden's license because the sole ground for the suspension was the pending charge of assault and battery, which had been dismissed. The judge ruled that the suspension was " arbitrary and capricious in that the withholding of the license [was] not predicated upon any factual determination by [the licensing authority]." On January 30, 2006, the chief reinstated the suspended license.

However, on that same day, immediately after restoring Holden's suspended license, the chief revoked the license. Instead of relying on Holden's arraignment on the then-dismissed complaint for assault and battery, the chief's written decision set forth specific findings based on the police incident report of

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September 10, 2005, which contained details of the assault and battery as reported by Holden's wife. The chief explained that the credible information in the incident report, and not the mere existence of a criminal charge, were the grounds on which he determined Holden to be unsuitable. On March 1, 2006, Holden filed a complaint for judicial review in the Worcester District Court. A different judge found facts and ruled, without an evidentiary hearing, that the subsequent action by the chief was based on the same evidence that was presented in the earlier action. He ordered the license reinstated. The chief filed a complaint for certiorari in the Superior Court. On May 21, 2007, a judge of the Superior Court determined that the failure to conduct an evidentiary hearing was error, and he remanded the case to the District Court for an evidentiary hearing on the revocation. Holden sought appellate review, but the appeal was dismissed by the Appeals Court on June 30, 2008, on the ground that the Superior Court's order of remand was interlocutory, from which there was no right of appeal.

The case lay dormant for nearly two years. On June 17, 2010, Holden requested a hearing.[4] On September 21, 2010, Holden's revoked license to carry firearms expired. On October 18, 2010, Holden applied to the Worcester police department licensing division for a new license to carry firearms. On November 18, 2010, the chief denied the application on the ground that Holden was not a suitable person to hold such a license. The chief relied upon and cited details from the police incident report of September 10, 2005; the statement signed by Holden's wife on September [26 N.E.3d 721] 10, 2005; and the 911 dispatch call from Holden's daughter. On January 6, 2011, Holden filed a complaint for judicial review of the denial of his application, pursuant to G. L. c. 140, § 131 ( f ), in Worcester District Court. He also filed a motion to consolidate all three cases, which was allowed. It is not clear why the first case was included, as it had been decided and no notice of appeal had been filed.

A full evidentiary hearing was held before a third judge of the District Court on February 7 and 9, 2011. On October 21, 2011, the judge ruled that the chief had a reasonable ground to suspend and revoke Holden's license in 2005 and 2006, respectively, based upon the reported domestic assault and battery by Holden

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on his wife on September 10, 2005, notwithstanding dismissal of the criminal charges in the Westborough District Court on October 3, 2005. The judge concluded that the chief had authority to rely on reported behavior of a licensee, even if there had not been any criminal charges. However, the judge vacated the November 18, 2010, denial of Holden's application for a license to carry a firearm and directed that a license to carry be issued to Holden. The judge determined that the chief did not have a reasonable ground for denying the 2010 application where there had been a significant passage of time with no intervening incidents. He ...

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