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Doe v. Wilmington Hous. Auth.

Supreme Court of Delaware

March 18, 2014

JANE DOE and CHARLES BOONE, Plaintiffs Below-Appellants,
v.
WILMINGTON HOUSING AUTHORITY and FREDERICK S. PURNELL, SR., in his capacity as Executive Director of the Wilmington Housing Authority, Defendants Below-Appellees

Submitted December 18, 2013

Case Closed April 3, 2014.

Page 655

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 656

Certification of a Question of Law from the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. No. 12-3433.

QUESTIONS ANSWERED.

Francis G.X. Pileggi, Esquire (argued) and Jill Agro, Esquire, of Eckert Seamans Cherin & Mellott, LLC, Wilmington, Delaware for appellants.

Barry M. Willoughby, Esquire (argued) and Lauren E.M. Russell, Esquire, of Young Conaway Stargatt & Taylor, LLP, Wilmington, Delaware for appellee.

Before HOLLAND, BERGER, JACOBS, and RIDGELY, Justices and COOCH, Resident Judge,[*] constituting the Court en Banc.

OPINION

Page 657

RIDGELY, Justice:

In this certified question proceeding, we address whether lease provisions for apartments of a Delaware public housing authority that restrict when residents, their household members, and their guests may carry and possess firearms in the common areas violate the right to keep and bear arms guaranteed by Article I, Section 20 of the Delaware Constitution. We accepted two questions of state law from the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit (" Third Circuit" ). Pending before the Third Circuit is an appeal from a judgment of the United States District Court for the District of Delaware in Doe. v. Wilmington Housing Authority .[1] The District Court found no violation of the Second Amendment or the Delaware Constitution. The certified questions are:

1. Whether, under Article I, § 20 of the Delaware Constitution, a public housing agency such as the WHA may adopt a policy prohibiting its residents, household members, and guests from displaying or carrying a firearm or other weapon in a common area, except when the firearm

Page 658

or other weapon is being transported to or from a resident's housing unit or is being used in self-defense.
2. Whether, under Article I, § 20 of the Delaware Constitution, a public housing agency such as the WHA may require its residents, household members, and guests to have available for inspection a copy of any permit, license, or other documentation required by state, local, or federal law for the ownership, possession, or transportation of any firearm or other weapon, including a license to carry a concealed weapon, as required by Del. Code Ann. tit. 11, § 1441, on request, when there is reasonable cause to believe that the law or policies have been violated.[2]

We answer both certified questions in the negative.

Facts and Procedural History [3]

Appellants Jane Doe and Charles Boone (" Residents" ) filed suit in the Delaware Court of Chancery against the Wilmington Housing Authority (WHA), a nonprofit agency of the State of Delaware that provides housing to low-income individuals and families, and against WHA's Executive Director, Frederick Purnell. Jane Doe lived in the Park View, a privately owned housing facility managed by the WHA. Doe's lease required her to follow the " House Rules." The original version of House Rule 24, in effect when the suit was filed, stated, " Tenant is not permitted to display or use any firearms, BB guns, pellet guns, slingshots, or other weapons on the premises." Charles Boone lived in the Southbridge Apartments, a public housing facility owned and operated by the WHA. Boone's lease stated that residents are " not to display, use, or possess . . . any firearms, (operable or inoperable) or other dangerous instruments or deadly weapons as defined by the laws of the State of Delaware anywhere on the property of the Authority." Residents were subject to eviction if they, their household members, or their guests violated the lease provisions and rules.

Doe and Boone alleged that the restrictions on gun use and possession violated their right to bear arms as provided in the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution and in Article I, Section 20 of the Delaware Constitution. They also alleged that the WHA firearms rules and policies were preempted by Delaware law and that the WHA exceeded its statutory authority by enacting them.

The defendants removed the case to the United States District Court for the District of Delaware on June 1, 2010. On June 28, 2010, the Supreme Court of the United States decided McDonald v. City of Chicago ,[4] holding that the Second Amendment applies to the states through the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The defendants informed the District Court that they were reevaluating the constitutionality of the WHA firearm rules and policies in light of McDonald .

On October 25, 2010, the WHA adopted a new firearms policy (the " Revised Policy" ) for its public housing units, including Southbridge. The Revised Policy provides, in full:

Page 659

Lease Modification (Replaces Lease Part I § DC.P.):

Ownership, possession, transportation, display, and use of firearms and weapons is governed by the Wilmington Housing Authority Firearms and Weapons Policy which is incorporated into and made a part of this lease.

Wilmington Housing Authority Firearms and Weapons Policy:

WHA recognizes the importance of protecting its residents' health, welfare, and safety, while simultaneously protecting the rights of its residents to keep and bear arms as established by the federal and state constitutions. WHA therefore adopts the following Firearms and Weapons Policy. Residents, members of a resident's household, and guests:
1. Shall comply with all local, state, and federal legal requirements applicable to the ownership, possession, transportation, and use of firearms or other weapons. The term " firearm" includes any weapon from which a shot, projectile or other object may be discharged by force of combustion, explosive, gas and/or mechanical means, whether operable or inoperable, loaded or unloaded, and any weapon or destructive device as defined by law.
2. Shall not discharge or use any firearm or other weapons on WHA property except when done in self-defense.
3. Shall not display or carry a firearm or other weapon in any common area, except where the firearm or other weapon is being transported to or from the resident's ...

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