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Lambert v. Fiorentini

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

April 1, 2019

CRAIG LAMBERT
v.
JAMES J. FIORENTINI, et al.

          ORDER

          ZOBEL, S. D.J.

         Craig Lambert (“plaintiff”), a retired police officer with the City of Haverhill, Massachusetts, brings this action against Alan R. DeNaro, Chief of the Haverhill Police Department, and James J. Fiorentini, Mayor of Haverhill (collectively “defendants”), for relief from their denial of his application for a Law Enforcement Officer Safety Act (“LEOSA”) identification card. 18 U.S.C. § 926C. Defendants have moved for judgment on the pleadings (Docket # 9).

         I. Background

         LEOSA provides that a “qualified retired law enforcement officer” who obtains the requisite state-issued identification may “carry a concealed firearm that has been shipped or transported in interstate or foreign commerce, ” notwithstanding any contrary state or local law. Id. While LEOSA is a federal law, the issuance of the identification card is left to the states. In Massachusetts, “[t]he chief law enforcement officer for a law enforcement agency shall issue an identification card to a qualified retired law enforcement officer who retired from that law enforcement agency.” 501 Mass. Code Regs. § 13.03. A “qualified retired law enforcement officer” is defined as, inter alia, “[a]n individual who ... separated from service in good standing.”[1] Id. § 13.02.

         Because the Massachusetts regulations do not define “good standing, ” local regulations and policies may provide such definition. Frawley v. Police Com'r of Cambridge, 46 N.E.3d 504, 517 (Mass. 2016). The Haverhill Police Department's policy defines “separated ... in good standing” to mean that the individual, at the time of retirement, was not “charged with or suspected of criminal activity ... or ... under investigation or facing disciplinary action for an ethical violation of departmental rules, or for any act of dishonesty.” Haverhill Police Department, Policy & Procedure No. 22.2.7-III(D) at Docket # 11 at 7.

         Plaintiff retired on March 22, 2014, and, in January 2017, requested an identification card from Alan R. DeNaro, the Chief of the Haverhill Police Department (“Police Chief”). On October 2, 2017, the Police Chief officially denied plaintiff's request by letter, explaining that plaintiff did not qualify for the identification card because “he left employment under a disability prior to the completion of an Internal Affairs investigation, which could have potentially resulted in discipline up to and including termination.” Docket # 1-3 at 13.

         Plaintiff then filed a four-count complaint in the Essex Superior Court, which defendants timely removed to this court asserting federal question jurisdiction, 28 U.S.C. § 1441, based on Count II, which alleges civil rights violations under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Count II also invokes the Massachusetts Constitution. In addition, the complaint, in Count I, alleges a civil action in the nature of certiorari pursuant to Mass. Gen. L. ch. 249 § 4. See Frawley, 46 N.E.3d at 513 (civil action pursuant to Mass. Gen. L. ch. 249 § 4 is the appropriate avenue of relief for challenging denial of LEOSA identification card). Count III asserts that defendants acted negligently in “discharg[ing] the legal duties” owed to plaintiff as a retired police officer. Docket # 1-3 at 10. And, lastly, Count IV - vaguely titled “Equity” - alleges that the October 2, 2017, letter contained inaccurate and unsupported assertions of fact.

         II. Legal Standard & Analysis

         Defendants have moved for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12 (c), which is governed by the same standard as a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss. Thus, to survive a Rule 12(c) motion, “a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). The court may consider the complaint and its exhibits, documents incorporated by reference in the complaint, and public records.[2] See Watterson v. Page, 987 F.2d 1, 3 (1st Cir. 1993); see also Grajales v. Puerto Rico Ports Auth., 682 F.3d 40, 44 (1st Cir. 2012).

         A. Count I

         In reviewing a denial of a retired police officer's request for an identification card for LEOSA purposes, the “court will examine whether the ... decision was arbitrary and capricious such that it constituted an abuse of ... discretion.” Frawley, 46 N.E.3d at 515. A decision is arbitrary or capricious if it “lacks any rational explanation that reasonable persons might support.” Id. at 516 (citations ommitted).

         In the instant case, the Police Chief determined that plaintiff was not in “good standing” because when he retired, a disciplinary issue remained open. The issue dated back to August 2012, when plaintiff was determined to have engaged in insubordination and misconduct in violation of the Haverhill Police Department's Code of Conduct. The Police Chief imposed a five-day suspension without pay and recommended to the Mayor that plaintiff receive an additional fifty-five day suspension. However, plaintiff went on “injured leave” just before the suspension was imposed. The Haverhill Police Department subsequently withheld five days' pay from plaintiff, but in a lawsuit filed by plaintiff to recover that pay, a state court found that plaintiff's “injured leave” status precluded the imposition of the suspension. Lambert v. DeNaro et al., No. 1377-CV-00351 (Mass. Super. Nov. 26, 2013); see Docket # 13-1. Plaintiff remained on “injured leave” until he retired and the requisite hearing to determine whether a further suspension was warranted never occurred.

         Thus, at the time of plaintiff's retirement in March 2014, his suspension had yet to be served and the decision as to additional punishment had not been addressed. Cf. Frawley, 46 N.E.3d at 518 (denial of identification card constituted abuse of discretion when, at the time of the denial, the retired law enforcement officer had been cleared of wrongdoing). Accordingly, it was neither arbitrary nor capricious for the Police Chief to conclude that plaintiff was still “facing disciplinary action for an ethical violation of departmental rules” when he separated from the department. Haverhill Police Department, Policy & Procedure No. 22.2.7-III(D) at Docket # 11 at 7. Defendants' motion for judgment on the pleadings is thus allowed with respect to Count I.

         B. ...


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