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Chief of Police of Taunton v. Caras

Appeals Court of Massachusetts, Bristol

April 19, 2019

CHIEF OF POLICE OF TAUNTON & another[1]
v.
PAUL N. CARAS & others.[2]

          Heard: January 8, 2019.

         Firearms. License. Practice, Civil, Judicial review of license to carry firearms, Action in nature of certiorari.

         Civil action commenced in the Superior Court Department on May 9, 2017. The case was heard by Gregg J. Pasquale, J., on motions for judgment on the pleadings.

          Daniel F. de Abreu, Assistant City Solicitor, for the plaintiffs.

          Paul W. Patten for Paul N. Caras.

          Present: Massing, Desmond, & McDonough, JJ.

          MASSING, J.

         This appeal, which arises from the denial of certiorari relief in the Superior Court, concerns whether the chief of the Taunton Police Department[3] acted reasonably in revoking Paul N. Caras's license to carry a firearm. A District Court judge determined that revoking Caras's license based on a single incident was unreasonable. Because the District Court judge erroneously substituted his judgment for that of the chief, we reverse the Superior Court judgment, which denied the chief's certiorari petition, and direct the entry of a new judgment enforcing the chief's revocation decision.

         Background.

         The District Court judge found the following facts, which we supplement with undisputed record evidence. Caras held a license to carry a firearm since about 1967. On January 17, 2017, he was seventy-six years old and held a class A license to carry a large capacity weapon issued pursuant to G. L. c. 140, § 131. On that day, Caras agreed to give his adult grandson a ride to Providence, Rhode Island. Caras was carrying a Sig Saur Model 232 handgun in the unlocked glove compartment of his car. After picking up his grandson, Caras made a brief stop, leaving the grandson alone in the car. Caras knew that his grandson suffered from a substance use disorder.

         Because of heavy traffic, Caras dropped off his grandson in East Providence. Soon thereafter, he realized that his handgun was missing from the glove compartment. He immediately suspected that his grandson had stolen the gun, probably intending to pawn it to purchase drugs. Caras searched East Providence for his grandson and, when he could not locate him, reported the stolen gun to both the East Providence police and the Taunton police. Within a matter of hours police in Providence located the grandson, still in possession of the gun, and arrested him without incident.

         The next day, the chief determined that Caras was no longer a suitable person to continue to hold a license to carry and revoked Caras's license. The formal notice issued to Caras by Taunton Police Captain Daniel P. McCabe explained the grounds for the determination of unsuitability as follows: "Based on Taunton Police Report 17001026, ... I find from reliable and credible information that you have exhibited or engaged in behavior that created a risk to public safety by leaving your firearm unsecured in your vehicle and having your grandson remove it from the Commonwealth."

         Seeking to reinstate his license, Caras filed a complaint for judicial review in the District Court under G. L. c. 140, § 131 (f) . A nonevidentiary hearing was held on April 6, 2017. Caras supplemented the record with letters from friends and neighbors vouching for his character and integrity. After reviewing the evidence, and relying on Caras's responsible action in reporting the theft of his gun, the judge determined that the chief's unsuitability finding was unreasonable:

"[T]his [c]ourt cannot find, under the circumstances of this case that a single error in judgment should or must define Mr. Caras. There is no evidence that the index incident was anything more than an aberration after almost fifty (50) years of safe gun ownership. As a result, this [c]ourt cannot find that existing factors suggest that, ...

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