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Gottwalt v. Oxton

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

March 28, 2017

TYLER PAUL GOTTWALT, Plaintiff,
v.
JEFFERY OXTON, LORI ELLERING, and, TRACY PEACOCK, individually and in their official capacities, and the CITY OF ST. CLOUD, Defendants.

          Kenneth U. Udoibok, KENNETH UBONG UDOIBOK, P.A., for plaintiff.

          Mark P. Hodkinson and Uzodima F. Aba-Onu, BASSFORD REMELE, for defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANTS’ MOTION TO DISMISS

          JOHN R. TUNHEIM Chief Judge United States District Court Judge

         Defendants Assistant Police Chief Jeffrey Oxton, Sergeant Lori Ellering, and Officer Tracy Peacock, of the St. Cloud Police Department (collectively, the “Individual Defendants”) arrested Plaintiff Tyler Paul Gottwalt for carrying an AK-47[1] in public. The Stearns County District Court, however, ultimately dismissed the charges. Gottwalt then initiated this action against the Individual Defendants and Defendant City of St. Cloud (collectively “the Defendants”). Because Minnesota law does not permit an individual to publicly carry an AK-47 while in possession of a valid permit to carry a weapon, and because laws outlawing the public carrying of an AK-47 are not unconstitutional under the Second Amendment, the Court will grant the Defendants’ motion to dismiss Gottwalt’s claims.

         BACKGROUND

         On November 17, 2014, the Individual Defendants, along with Sauk Rapids police officers, arrested Plaintiff Tyler Paul Gottwalt as he walked from the City of St. Cloud across a bridge into the City of Sauk Rapids openly carrying a Kalashnikov AK-47. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 11-14, May 10, 2016, Docket No. 4; Pl.’s Mem. of Law in Opp’n to Defs.’ Rule 12(c) Mot. to Dismiss (“Pl.’s Mem. in Opp’n”) at 1, Aug. 25, 2016, Docket No. 23.) At the time, Gottwalt also possessed a permit to carry a weapon pursuant to Minn. Stat. § 624.714. (Am. Compl. ¶ 11.)

         The Sauk Rapids police allegedly realized that Gottwalt violated no laws and left him in the custody of the Individual Defendants. (Id. ¶ 13.) The Individual Defendants assert that after consulting with the St. Cloud Attorney’s Office, they charged Gottwalt with violating a local ordinance, City of St. Cloud, Minnesota, Ordinances, ch. X, § 1060:00 (2007) (the “Ordinance”), for possessing a semiautomatic military-style assault weapon. (Defs.’ Mem. in Supp. of Mot. to Dismiss at 4, Aug. 4, 2016, Docket No. 17.)[2]Gottwalt, however, alleges that St. Cloud attorneys informed the Individual Defendants that Gottwalt did not violate any state laws, yet the Individual Defendants refused to release Gottwalt. (Am. Compl. ¶ 12.)

         On three occasions, the Stearns County District Court considered Gottwalt’s charges for violating the Ordinance and ultimately dismissed the charges. In its first decision, on June 2, 2015, the court rejected Gottwalt’s argument that Minnesota law allows the open carrying of an AK-47 with a permit, preempts, in conflict with the Ordinance. The court explained that

an individual with a permit [to carry a weapon pursuant to Minn. Stat. § 624.714] may carry a pistol, rifle or shotgun, but only if that firearm meets the definition of “pistol” as defined in Minn. Stat. § 624.712, subd. 2. . . . [However,] an AK-47 does not fit the statutory definition of “pistol.”

(Answer, Ex. A at 2, 6, June 1, 2016, Docket No. 7.) Subsequently, on June 10, 2015, the court determined that the Ordinance was not unconstitutionally vague or overly broad because “[t]he only reasonable interpretation of the [O]rdinance is that the city intended to enact legislation ‘identical to state law.’” (Id., Ex. B at 11-12 (quoting Minn. Stat. § 471.633).) However, on December 11, 2015, the court granted Gottwalt’s motion to dismiss his charges, holding that Minn. Stat. § 624.7181 was ambiguous and resolving the ambiguity in favor of Gottwalt. (Id., Ex. C at 14-17.) The court noted that

[o]n the one hand, Minn. Stat. § 624.7181 certainly implies that a § 627.714 permit holder may carry any type of rifle in public. However, Minn. Stat. § 624.714 appears to concern itself with only pistols and common sense dictates that the legislature could not have intended for individuals to be allowed to walk on public sidewalks armed with AK-47 rifles.

(Id. at 17.)

         On April 27, 2016, in connection with his arrest, Gottwalt initiated this action against the Individual Defendants as well as Defendant City of St. Cloud (collectively “the Defendants”). (Compl. ¶¶ 1-4, Apr. 27, 2016, Docket No. 1.) Gottwalt claims that the Ordinance is vague, overbroad, unconstitutional, and preempted by Minnesota law. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 38-39.) Gottwalt also claims: the Ordinance abridges Gottwalt’s Second Amendment right to bear arms; the Individual Defendants violated 42 U.S.C. § 1983 through the Due Process Clause of the Fifth[3] and Fourteenth Amendments as they incorporate the Second Amendment; the Individual Defendants violated § 1983 by their false arrest and illegal imprisonment of Gottwalt; and the Individual Defendants maliciously prosecuted Gottwalt as a matter of state law. (Id. ¶¶ 24-37.) The Defendants moved to dismiss Gottwalt’s claims on August 4, 2016.

         Because Minnesota law does not permit an individual to publicly carry an AK-47 while in possession of a valid permit to carry a weapon, and because laws outlawing the public carrying of an AK-47 are not unconstitutional under the Second Amendment, the ...


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