The Volokh Conspiracy
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From Goudreau v. Nikas, decided Monday:
In March 2014, Ipswich police officers investigated the theft of two guns from Patriot Arms, a local gun shop co-owned by Goudreau and Richard Munyon. The investigation culminated in the issuance of a criminal complaint charging Goudreau with two counts of improperly storing a firearm, in violation of § 131L.
After a hearing on Goudreau's motion to dismiss the charges, a District Court judge was persuaded by Goudreau's argument that § 131L does not apply to guns kept in a gun shop. In July 2014, the judge allowed Goudreau's motion to dismiss the criminal complaint for lack of probable cause.
Nearly two years later, Goudreau filed a verified complaint seeking damages from the town of Ipswich, its police chief, Paul Nikas, and Ipswich police lieutenant John Hubbard, for malicious prosecution, tortious interference with contractual relations, and defamation….
But this time, Goudreau lost, both at the trial court and on appeal:
[Section] 131L contains no exception for firearm dealers or guns kept in a commercial setting. We decline Goudreau's invitation to read such an exception into the statute. First, doing so would violate the well-settled tenet that "an express exception in a statute … comprises the only limit on the operation of the statute and no others will be implied." Second, "common sense" dictates that § 131L applies to commercial gun owners, who store "a potential majority" of the firearms in this Commonwealth, because the "impact on the public would be greater" if commercial gun owners failed to secure their inventory….
[On the facts of this case,] Hubbard is entitled to qualified immunity because a reasonable officer could conclude that Goudreau violated § 131L.
Hubbard's investigation revealed that Goudreau had allowed [his son] Stephen [who was convicted of stealing the guns] to be in Patriot Arms unsupervised on February 28, even though Stephen was neither an employee nor a person authorized to access firearms, given his criminal history. Stephen's unfettered access enabled him to place two boxes beneath his shirt, walk to the garage, remove guns from the unlocked boxes, and walk away without anyone noticing…. [N]o reasonable juror could conclude from these undisputed facts that the firearms were under the control of Goudreau, Munyon, or any other authorized user when Stephen walked out of Patriot Arms…. There simply is no dispute, and therefore it was reasonable for Hubbard to conclude, that the stolen firearms were being "stored or kept" within the meaning of § 131L (a).
Goudreau's argument, that Hubbard could not reasonably have believed Goudreau violated § 131L because a door lock, surveillance cameras, and the constant presence of employees rendered Patriot Arms a "locked container," "ignores the requirement that a container must not only be locked but also secure" in order to comply with § 131L (quotations omitted). "At a minimum, to be secure, any qualifying container must be capable of being unlocked only by means of a key, combination, or other similar means." Goudreau and Munyon both reported to Hubbard that Patriot Arms was open for business and not locked at the time of the thefts.
Hubbard could conclude that the open shelving in the storage area "did not prevent ready access by anyone other than" Goudreau or Munyon, Parzick, since Stephen was able to remove items and walk alone into the garage. Hubbard was also entitled to conclude that the surveillance measures had been "easily defeated," where the thefts went unnoticed for two days….