The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in a new decision issued last month, in Sonoma County Law Enforcement Ass'n v. County of Sonoma, No. 09-16277, filed on May 14, 2010, upheld a federal district court's dismissal of a lawsuit where a number of Sonoma County correctional peace officers and their labor representatives had appealed a federal district court's order dismissing their case, relating to H.R. 218, the Law Enforcement Officers Safety Act of 2004.
Background for the Case
The case had involved a situation where the Sonoma County Sheriff's Department had issued the officers identification cards stating that they are not “qualified law enforcement officers” within the meaning of the Law Enforcement Officers Safety Act of 2004, 18 U.S.C. § 926B(c). The officers filed suit against the Sheriff and sought a declaration that they were in fact “qualified law enforcement officers,” as well as an injunction preventing “Defendants from disqualifying correctional peace officers from the category of ‘qualified law enforcement officers.’ “ The officers had argued that they had suffered an “injury in fact” because the Sheriff could or may discipline them for carrying concealed firearms outside of California. They officers asked the court to review the Sheriffs policy before it has actually been enforced against them.
In affirming the dismissal of the case, the Ninth Circuit, in this unpublished opinion, held that:
[T]he officers alleged generally that “Defendants' purported disqualification of Plaintiffs from the category of ‘qualified law enforcement officers' has prevented them from carrying concealed firearms under 18 U.S.C. § 926B.” However, they did not allege that any particular officer has a concrete plan to carry a concealed firearm outside California. Nor did they allege that the Sheriff has communicated any threat to discipline officers that do so. There is also no that the Sheriff has disciplined officers in the past for carrying concealed firearms outside California. The officers simply argue that they are obligated to follow department policy and that the Sheriff may discipline them if they do not. The officers are not suffering an injury in fact; nor is their dispute ripe for consideration. The district court therefore correctly concluded that it lacked jurisdiction and dismissed the officers' suit.
Thoughts on the Ruling
The Court of Appeals here appears to provide the officers the opportunity to again bring suit in this action. While the immediate result of this H.R. 218 case appears to be adverse to the officers, long term it may be a helpful decision which enables these officers or others to establish the specifics necessary to describe the harm resulting from this Department or other Department’s policies. The Court of Appeals, in this case, went further than the District Court, and found that they in fact had jurisdiction (the authority) to issue a ruling in this type of case. I think that this type of ruling, along with the recent Ord case in the District of Columbia, Ord v. District of Columbia, No. 08-7094 (D.C. Cir. 2009) will start to establish the groundwork for future cases of these types for current and retired police officers.