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Sibley v. Watches

United States District Court, W.D. New York

January 3, 2020

MONTGOMERY BLAIR SIBLEY, Plaintiff,
v.
CHAUNCEY J. WATCHES, solely in his official capacity as a New York Consolidated Laws, Penal Law 265.00 10 Licensing Officer; ANDREW MARK CUOMO, solely in his official capacity as the Chief Administrative Officer of the State of New York, JAMES L. ALLARD, solely in his official capacity as Sheriff of Steuben County, New York; BROOKS BAKER, solely in his official capacity as District Attorney of Steuben County; and KEITH M. CORLETT, solely in his official capacity as Superintendent of the New York State Police; Defendants.

          DECISION AND ORDER

          HON. FRANK P. GERACI, JR. CHIEF JUDGE.

         INTRODUCTION

         Pro se Plaintiff Montgomery Blair Sibley brings this action challenging the constitutionality of New York State Penal Law Articles 265 and 400, New York's handgun licensing laws. Now before the Court is Plaintiff's motion for a preliminary injunction to enjoin a hearing scheduled before Defendant Chauncy J. Watches, a New York handgun licensing officer, on January 10, 2020. ECF No. 23. For the reasons stated below, Plaintiff's motion is DENIED.

         BACKGROUND

         The following facts are taken from the Amended Complaint. ECF No. 18. In November 2017, Plaintiff moved to New York and brought two handguns and a cane sword with him. In April 2018, Plaintiff applied for a “carry concealed” handgun license in Steuben County.[1] The application triggered an investigation including a series of background checks and an in-person interview with a Steuben County Sheriffs Deputy. Following the interview, the Deputy told Plaintiff that possessing his handguns in his home without a license was illegal under New York Penal Law § 265.01 and advised Plaintiff to get rid of them pending the application process.

         In May 2019, Defendant Watches denied Plaintiffs application. The denial letter stated that “the decision [was] based upon concerns expressed in the Sheriffs investigation, ” specifically “concerns about your being sufficiently responsible to possess and care for a pistol” and concerns “that your history demonstrates that you place your own interest above the interests of society.” ECF No. 18 at 20. The letter advised Plaintiff that he had the right to request a hearing at which he could testify and present witnesses. Id.

         In June 2019, Plaintiff requested hearing. He also requested copies of all reports and communications Defendant Watches received in the course of the investigation and copies of any legal or educational authorities he used to guide his decision to deny Plaintiffs application. Id. at 21. Defendant Watches set a hearing for July 31, 2019 but denied Plaintiffs document requests as lacking a legal basis. Id. at 22.

         According to an October 2019 letter from Defendant Watches to Plaintiff, the hearing was re-set for January 10, 2020. Id. at 23. The letter also notified Plaintiff of several issues that would be addressed at the hearing. Id. In November 2019, Plaintiff responded that Defendant Watches's letter provided insufficient notice to allow Plaintiff to prepare for the hearing and again requested documents. Id. at 24.

         In the meantime, in July 2019, Plaintiff brought this action in this Court challenging the constitutionality of NY Penal Law Articles 265 and 400. His five claims can be summarized as follows.

         In his first and second claims, Plaintiff challenges NY Penal Law § 265.01, which criminalizes the possession of handguns, including in the home. Although Plaintiff applied for a “carry concealed” license and not a license for household possession, Plaintiff claims that possessing a handgun in the home is a fundamental right and that any law requiring a license to do so is unconstitutional. In other words, he asserts that he should not have to obtain a license at all to possess handguns in his home, and thus, the Steuben County Sheriff s Deputy's directive to get rid of his handguns violated his Second Amendment rights

         In his third and fourth claims, Plaintiff challenges NY Penal Law § 400.00, the statutory mechanism for the licensing of firearms in New York.

         His third claim alleges that § 400.00(1) is unconstitutional on its face and as applied because it allows arbitrary and discriminatory denial of licenses and was discriminatorily applied against him based on his viewpoints. He thus alleges that § 400.00(1) violates his First and Fourteenth Amendment free speech, due process, and equal protection rights.

         His fourth claim challenges the step-by-step process of Article 400. Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Watches obtained ex parte evidence from Plaintiffs employer and refused to disclose it to him; that he denied Plaintiffs application before allowing him to be heard; that he failed to articulate the basis for the denial; and that he denied the application after the six-month time limit for processing the application. ECF No. 18 at 12. Plaintiff also alleges that Article 400 improperly contemplates an evidentiary hearing at which no statutory procedure is established; the NY Administrative Procedure Act is ignored; applicants are not permitted to subpoena witnesses or documents; and the licensing officer improperly functions as both a witness and presider. ECF No. 18 at 13. Thus, Plaintiff argues that Article 400 violates his Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment constitutional rights, his state constitutional rights, and New York's administrative law.

         Finally, in his fifth claim, Plaintiff seeks a judicial declaration that an Article 78 proceeding would be “meaningless” and would violate his ...


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