The decision tips the scale toward defendants' rights; represents victory for privately owned gun shop in the Bronx
NEW YORK, Aug. 14, 2009 — The United States Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of a Bronx gun shop owner who claimed her constitutional rights were violated in a search and seizure of her store following a post-9/11 security crackdown by the New York City Police Department.
Angela Spinelli, the owner of Olinville Arms, Inc., appealed the case to the Second Circuit after a federal district court granted the City of New York and the NYPD officers' motion for summary judgment dismissing her case. In the overturned ruling, the district court held that Spinelli failed to demonstrate that the city had denied her Constitutional rights under the Fourth Amendment, her rights to Due Process of Law, or tortuously interfered with her business, when they confiscated her entire firearms inventory and suspended her dealer's licenses.
While the Appeals Court determined that the lower court had properly dismissed Spinelli's Fourth Amendment claim because the City's warrantless search of Olinville Arms was objectively reasonable and performed pursuant to established regulations, the Court found that the City and its police officers violated due process by denying Spinelli the constitutionally required notice and post-deprivation hearing.
"We are delighted by the court's decision to protect the due process of defendants, even in light of reasonable security interests designed to protect the public," said Sanford F. Young, Esq., who argued the case before the Second Circuit Court of Appeals on behalf of Spinelli and Olinville Arms.
In the wake of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the 47th Precinct of the NYPD was tasked with providing enhanced security to sensitive locations within its boundaries, known as "Omega posts" or "Omega watches." The Olinville gun shop was designated an Omega post.
Without a warrant, a police search on October 8, 2001 cited the gun shop for minor security breaches due to an unwatched counter area, a hole in the backyard fence and two unlocked safes. The following month, the City's License Division suspended the shop's dealer's licenses and demanded the surrender of all her inventory of firearms, some which had already been sold to customers who later demanded a refund. Many of the customers are themselves police officers.
Spinelli made improvements to comply with the original complaint, including restoration of the fences in the backyard area, installation of video surveillance in the store, renovation of the counter area and construction of a large concrete room where her gun safes were housed. Shortly after, the division recommended the reinstatement of her license and allowed her to reopen the gun shop.
Due to the loss of sales and a violation of her rights, Spinelli sued the City on November 8, 2002, alleging that the city's confiscation of her licenses and weapons violated her due process and Fourth Amendment rights and also interfered with her business relationships.
Finding that the City's search of Olinville's premises, the seizure of its firearms and the suspension of its license were reasonable due to "the apparent security lapses at Olinville," the district court dismissed all of her claims.
On appeal to the Second Circuit US Court of Appeals, that court ruled in favor of the city with respect to the appellant's Fourth Amendment claim, but reversed the lower court's judgment with respect to the appellant's due process claim. The Court sent the case back to the district court with instructions to enter summary judgment in favor of Spinelli on her due process claim, and to calculate her damages. The district court's judgment dismissing the appellant's tortuous interference claim was also vacated, and that claim also sent back to the district court for further proceedings. In addition to damages, Spinelli is entitled to recover her legal fees.
The Panel of three judges who heard the oral argument of the appeal on January 22, 2009 included Justice Sonia Sotomayer. However, in the Court's Decision, dated August 7, 2009, the Court noted that Justice Sotomayer did not participate in the Decision as she "was elevated to the Supreme Court… on August 6, 2009."
Sanford F. Young, Esq.
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