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Phelps v. Bosco

United States District Court, N.D. New York

March 26, 2015

FREDERICK H. PHELPS, Plaintiff,
v.
MAUREEN BOSCO, Exec. Dir. of Cent. N.Y. Psychiatric Ctr; MARGARET C. DRAKE, Assist. Counsel, N.Y. State Office of Mental Health; N.Y. STATE OFFICE OF MENTAL HEALTH; N.Y. STATE DI
v.
OF CRIM. JUSTICE SERVS.; FED. BUREAU OF INVESTIG. CRIM. JUSTICE INFO. SERVS.; NAT'L INSTANT BACKGROUND CHECK SYS.; U.S. DEP'T OF JUSTICE; ERIC HOLDER, U.S. Att'y Gen.; and ROBERT MUELLER, III, Dir. of Fed. Bureau of Investig., Defendants.

LEWIS B. OLIVER, JR., ESQ., OLIVER LAW OFFICE, Albany, NY, Counsel for Plaintiff.

HON. ERIC T. SCHNEIDERMAN, Attorney General of the State of New York, ADRIENNE J. KERWIN, ESQ., Assistant Attorney General, The Capitol Albany, NY, Counsel for State Defendants.

DANIEL M. RIESS, ESQ., Trial Attorney, U.S. DEP'T OF JUSTICE, Washington, D.C., Counsel for Federal Defendants.

DECISION and ORDER

GLENN T. SUDDABY, District Judge.

Currently before the Court, in this civil rights action filed by Frederick H. Phelps ("Plaintiff") against the four above-described state employees and agencies ("the State Defendants") and the five above-described federal employees and agencies ("the Federal Defendants"), are the State Defendants' motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), and the Federal Defendants' motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). (Dkt. Nos. 7, 17.) For the reasons set forth below, the State Defendants' motion is granted in part and denied in part, and the Federal Defendants' motion is denied.

I. RELEVANT BACKGROUND

A. Summary of Plaintiff's Complaint

In his Complaint, Plaintiff asserts three claims: (1) a claim against the State Defendants and Federal Defendants, pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 925A, for a judgment declaring that Plaintiff has never been "committed to a mental institution" for the purpose of the relevant provision of the federal Gun Control Act, 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(4), and directing NICS to remove from its records the statement that he has been so committed;[1] (2) a claim against Defendant Bosco, pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 1983, for recklessly misinterpreting the term "committed to a mental institution" under 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(4) as including a five-day admission to the Central New York Psychiatric Center for an evaluation pursuant to N.Y. Mental Hyg. Law § 9.37(a), in violation of his right to keep and bear arms under the Second Amendment; and (3) a claim against the State Defendants, pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 1983, for recklessly implementing a policy that fails to distinguish between an individual who has been admitted to a mental institution for an evaluation pursuant to N.Y. Mental Hyg. Law § 9.37(a) and a person who has been "committed" to such an institution within the meaning of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(4), in violation of his right to keep and bear arms under the Second Amendment. (Dkt. No. 1.)[2]

Generally, these claims are based on the following factual allegations, which are contained in the Complaint as well as the documents attached to it and incorporated by reference in it. ( Id. )

Events in 1996

1. On or before July 22, 1996, Plaintiff kicked the Columbia County Sheriff (apparently during Plaintiff's attempt to persuade the Columbia County District Attorney to file a criminal complaint against individuals with whom Plaintiff was having a land boundary dispute).

2. On or about July 22, 1996, Plaintiff was arrested on charges of Assault in the Second Degree, Harassment and Resisting Arrest, and held in the Columbia County Correctional Facility ("CCFC").

3. While being held in the CCFC, Plaintiff went on a hunger strike (for nine days) "as a means to protest perceived unjust treatment." completed (1) a Certificate of Examination stating that "in my opinion [Plaintiff] has a mental illness for which immediate inpatient care and treatment in a hospital is appropriate, " and (2) an Application for Involuntary Admission requesting that Plaintiff be involuntarily admitted to the Central New York Psychiatric Center ("CNYPC") pursuant to N.Y. Mental Hyg. Law § 9.37 in order to undergo an evaluation of whether he was a danger to himself (as a result of his statement that he was on the hunger strike because "they're doing something to the food and water here").

5. Later that day, Plaintiff was screened by a physician at the CNYPC who found that Plaintiff appeared to be expressing "delusion" and "paranoia" (due his belief that there was "something in the food") and diagnosed him with "Depressive Disorder." As a result, Plaintiff was admitted to the CNYPC for "further evaluation of his emotional instability."

6. Upon his admission to the CNYPC, Plaintiff received a written notice advising him of his admission "under Section 402 of the Correction Law" and his right to consult with the Mental Hygiene Legal Service, and telling him that, "[i]f you desire a court hearing on the questions of your hospitalization, ask to talk to the Mental Hygiene Legal Service." He acknowledged his receipt of that notice in writing.

7. On September 4, 1996, Plaintiff was discharged from the CNYPC. The Discharge Summary of a psychiatrist (Dr. Karl Newton, M.D.) stated, "Admitting doctor diagnosed him as Depressive Disorder NOS. He has been examined by this writer twice yesterday and again today and found free of obvious delusions and reasonable in his outlook and his plans.... There is no psychosis or mood disorder found in this setting. He does not appear to be a danger to himself or others."

Events in 2013

8. On February 21, 2013, Plaintiff went to Steve's Gun Shop in Stephentown, New

York, to purchase a long gun for hunting. After Plaintiff completed a Firearms Transaction Record form (ATF Form 4473), the seller ran an NICS background check, which was denied under NTN #2849-6Y8 with an indication that Plaintiff was ineligible to obtain a firearm due to disqualification under the Gun Control Act, 18 U.S.C. § 921 et seq.

9. Later that day, Plaintiff sent a letter to the Federal Bureau of Investigation ("FBI") inquiring about the denial of his application to obtain a firearm.

10. On March 4, 2013, the FBI sent a responsive letter to Plaintiff informing him that his application to obtain a firearm was denied on the basis of information that he was disqualified from possessing a firearm pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(4), which prohibits any person who has been adjudicated as a mental defective or who has been committed to a mental health institution from owning a firearm. The letter advised him that the agency that had provided the disqualifying information was the New York Office of Mental Health ("NYOMH"), and gave him instructions on how to challenge the accuracy of the record upon which the denial was based.

11. At some point between April 25, 2013, and April 30, 2013, Plaintiff sent a letter to the NYOHM with documentation explaining the inaccuracy of the records upon which his NICS denial was based, and requesting that the records be corrected and that the denial of his application to obtain a firearm be reversed.

12. On May 3, 2013, Plaintiff sent a letter to the CNYPC stating that he had been taken to the CNYPC in 1996 because he would not eat in the county jail, that he ate while he was at the CNYPC, and that he needed records explaining that he had not been committed to the CNYPC.

13. On July 12, 2013, the Executive Director of the CNYPC, Maureen Bosco, wrote a responsive letter to Plaintiff stating that his five (5) day stay at the CNYPC in 1996 was an "involuntary commit[ment], " that it was her understanding (from her conversation with him) that he had received his mental health record from the CNYPC, and that there was no additional information or assistance she or any staff could provide to him.

14. On July 26, 2013, Plaintiff, though his attorney, sent a letter challenging the accuracy of the records provided by the NYOMH to the FBI upon which the denial of Plaintiff's application to obtain a firearm was based. The letter explained the incident upon which the NYOMH had determined that Plaintiff had been committed to a mental institution (i.e., his admission to the CNYPC under N.Y. Mental Hyg. Law § 9.37 for evaluation based on his refusal to eat in the county jail in protest of perceived unjust treatment there, and his discharge from the CNYPC five days later based on a finding that Plaintiff exhibited "no psychosis or mood disorder" and did "not appear to be a danger to himself or others"). The letter further explained that concluding from this incident that Plaintiff had been "committed" to a mental institution for purposes of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(4) was not consistent with case law (such as United States v. Waters, 23 F.3d 29 [2d Cir. 1994]), which defines "commitment" as an application for admission by a qualified person accompanied by two (2) separate certificates completed and signed by two (2) examining physicians who recommend commitment (and who did not execute the application for admission).

15. On September 6, 2013, an Assistant Counsel in the Office of Counsel of the NYOMH, Margaret C. Drake, Esq., sent a responsive letter to Plaintiff stating that his five-day stay at the CNYPC in 1996 (which was pursuant to N.Y. Mental Hyg. Law § 9.37 and N.Y. Correct. Law § 508) was a "commitment" to a mental institution pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(4). The letter explained, inter alia, that two examining physicians had recommended that he be so committed-the physician who had executed the application (Dr. M. Thambirajah) and the screening physician at the CNYPC-and that Plaintiff had been notified of his right to have a court hearing on the question of his hospitalization. ( Id. )

B. Summary of Parties' Arguments on Pending Motions

1. State Defendants' Motion to Dismiss for Failure ...


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