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Nichols v. Chief of Police of Natick

Appeals Court of Massachusetts, Middlesex

January 30, 2019

JAKE NICHOLS
v.
CHIEF OF POLICE OF NATICK & others. [1]

          Heard: October 9, 2018.

         Civil action commenced in the Superior Court Department on October 11, 2016. The case was heard by Salim Rodriguez Tabit, J., on motions for judgment on the pleadings.

          David A. DeLuca for chief of police of Natick.

          Jason A. Guida for the plaintiff.

          Eric R. Atstupenas, for Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association, Inc., amicus curiae, submitted a brief.

          Neil S. Tassel, for Commonwealth Second Amendment, amicus curiae, submitted a brief.

          Present: Meade, Sullivan, & McDonough, JJ.

          SULLIVAN, J.

         Jake Nichols applied to the Natick police department for a Class A (large capacity) license to carry firearms (LTC) in October of 2015. At the time of his application, Nichols had a fifteen-year history of prescription drug abuse, an addiction that had been facilitated in part by his position as a licensed pharmacist. He had been in recovery for five years, was reemployed, and his pharmacy license had been reinstated, although he remained on probation with the Board of Registration in Pharmacy. Natick police Chief James Hicks (chief) found Nichols to be an "unsuitable" person, see G. L. c. 140, § 131 (d), as appearing in St. 2014, c. 284, § 48, and denied the application for a license to carry.

         On review of that decision, see G. L. c. 140, § 131 (f), as appearing in St. 2014, c. 284, § 51, a judge of the District Court held an evidentiary hearing, made factual findings, and concluded that the chief's denial of the LTC was not arbitrary, capricious, or an abuse of discretion. On certiorari review, see G. L. c. 249, § 4; Chardin v. Police Comm'r of Boston, 4 65 Mass. 314, 317, cert, denied sub nom. Chardin v. Davis, 134 S.Ct. 535 (2013), a judge of the Superior Court reversed the decision of the District Court, vacated the denial of the LTC application, and remanded the matter to the chief for a new determination of eligibility. We conclude that the Superior Court decision exceeded the bounds of permissible certiorari review, and reverse.[2]

         Background.

         We summarize the facts as found by the District Court judge, supplementing the findings with facts she implicitly credited and which are consistent with her opinion. Nichols, age thirty-nine at the time of his application, is in recovery from a long-standing drug addiction. He began using Ritalin and other drugs in pharmacy school at age nineteen. After graduating with a doctorate degree in pharmacy, he married, had children, and worked as a pharmacist for several pharmacies and health care providers. During this time, Nichols became addicted to Adderall, Ritalin, and Vicodin. He was able to hide his addiction from those close to him. He also denied he had a drug abuse problem, even to himself.

         Although Nichols had some periods when he was able to remain drug free, he relapsed, and his drug use worsened. Nichols was terminated from several pharmacy jobs, and in 2009 began working at Oncomed, a Waltham oncology center. At Oncomed, Nichols uttered false prescriptions using the names of unsuspecting doctors, falsified prescription slips on the computer, and diverted drugs to himself. His behavior came under scrutiny in 2010, and Nichols was fired. He voluntarily entered an inpatient drug treatment program and surrendered his pharmacy license. The United States Drug Enforcement Administration, the State Police, and the Waltham police conducted a joint investigation of offenses involving Class B, C, and E drugs, resulting in 468 criminal charges of identity fraud, uttering false prescriptions, false health care claims, obtaining drugs by fraud, and using a false registration number, in the Framingham, Natick, and Waltham Divisions of the District Court Department.

         Nichols admitted to sufficient facts to warrant a finding of guilt on eighteen charges, which were continued without a finding. He remained on supervised probation until December, 2011, on three of the charges, and until July 25, 2014, on the remaining charges; he successfully completed probation, and the pending cases were dismissed. The Commonwealth filed a nolle prosequi on the remaining charges. The Board of Registration in Pharmacy suspended Nichols's license as ...


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