U.S. First Circuit - The FindLaw 1st Circuit Court of Appeals News and Information Blog

1st Circuit Rules Against Ex-Gun Owners in Gov't Fee Levying Case

The case of Jarvis v. Village Vault was decided by the First Circuit last week in favor of the Massachusetts business, Village Vault.

The legal issue revolves around how much government entanglement is needed in order to turn a seemingly private entity into an arm of the government thereby triggering due process concerns.

Due Process Concerns

Jarvis v. Village Vault involved the withholding and confiscation of firearms under Massachusetts law which requires a renewal of the state's Firearms Identification (FID) card. Under the applicable state law, Mass. police were and are authorized to seize any and all firearms by the now overdue cardholder. They are redeemed back to the cardholder if she becomes current on her FID fees.

In the case at bar, plaintiff's firearms were transferred to Village Vault and were later sold at auction when cardholders failed to renew their FIDs. The court acknowledged that plaintiffs did not have a meaningful opportunity to challenge the forfeiture of their weapons in any court or hearing.

Exorbitant Fees

Plaintiffs argued that the state had failed to properly regulate bonded warehouses creating an opportunity for them to massively levy exorbitant fees that geometrically exceed the value of the confiscated property. The inevitable result is that such property is left at the warehouse where it is eventually sold. This scenario is representative of many of the plaintiffs who claimed that by the time they were notified of the forfeiture, the fees had ballooned to the point that it was not worth it to reclaim their weapons.

State Action and Compulsion

The plaintiffs claimed that Village Vault was an arm of the government and that due process had been violated. The panel rejected this argument. The reasoning turned on the definition of a public function in Massachusetts. When considering whether or not an entity is a government actor or not, the "exclusive preserve for ... public function" are few. The First Circuit argued noted that the plaintiffs admitted that the storage facility enjoyed statutory powers that the police (an arm of the government) did not: they could charge fees for storage. Thus, the plaintiffs failed to prove the exclusivity element.

Nor did the court buy the plaintiffs' argument that the police compelled the shop to take their guns. Rather, it anything, applicable state laws require businesses to seek police approval and licensing in order to be considered for the job. Thus, the court ruled that it was a case of "I didn't come to you, you came to me."

No word yet if plaintiffs intend to appeal to a higher court.

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