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Debruhl v. Mecklenburg County Sheriff's Office

Court of Appeals of North Carolina

April 17, 2018


          Heard in the Court of Appeals 24 January 2018.

          Appeal by petitioner from order entered 28 April 2017 by Judge Regan A. Miller in Mecklenburg County No. 17 CVD 3949 District Court.

          Redding Jones, PLLC, by Ty Kimmell McTier and David G. Redding, for petitioner-appellant.

          Ruff Bond Cobb Wade & Bethune, LLP, by Ronald L. Gibson, for respondent-appellee.

          ZACHARY, JUDGE.

         The issue presented is whether the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment requires that the applicant be afforded an opportunity for an evidentiary hearing to contest the denial of his application for renewal of a Concealed Handgun Permit pursuant to N.C. Gen. Stat. § 14-415.12(a)(3). We conclude that it does.

         I. Factual Background

         On 9 September 2016, Petitioner Daniel Ryan DeBruhl submitted an application for the renewal of his Concealed Handgun Permit to the Mecklenburg County Sheriff's Office. A veteran of the United States military, Petitioner had maintained a Concealed Handgun Permit for ten years prior to submitting his renewal application. The Sheriff's Office issued a perfunctory denial of Petitioner's application for renewal on 14 December 2016, without notice of the nature of or basis for the denial or any opportunity for Petitioner to be heard on the allegations against him.

         The communication that advised Petitioner of the denial contained the following information:

It is found that your actions for the following constitute a violation of the provisions set forth in the North Carolina General Statute 14-415.12 for the possession of a concealed handgun permit.
Your application for a concealed handgun permit has been denied for the following reasons:
[ N.C. Gen. Stat. §] 14-415.12(a) - Does not meet the requirements for application
[ N.C. Gen. Stat. §] 14-415.12(b)(1) - Ineligible to own, possess, or receive firearm under State or Federal Law

         Petitioner appealed the Sheriff's decision to the district court on 6 March 2017, but complained that "there is no way for Petitioner to know what facts to challenge on appeal" because of the lack of facts "provided in the Denial". After "having reviewed [Petitioner's] criminal background and other relevant information, " the Honorable Regan A. Miller entered an order "Denying Appeal For A Concealed Handgun Permit" on 24 April 2017. In Finding of Fact No. 5, the trial court concluded that the Sheriff's Office "denied [Petitioner] a Concealed Handgun Permit because [Petitioner] sought or received mental health and/or substance abuse treatment in 2016, " although Petitioner had not previously been adjudicated to be mentally ill. In Finding of Fact No. 6, the district court found that Petitioner "suffers from a mental health disorder that affects his ability to safely handle a firearm."[1] Based on these findings, the district court concluded that "[t]he Sheriff's decision was a reasoned and reasonable decision[, ]" and affirmed the denial of Petitioner's Concealed Handgun Permit renewal application. Petitioner was not afforded any opportunity to be heard on the matter before the court entered its order.

         Petitioner filed notice of appeal to this Court on 30 May 2017. On appeal, Petitioner argues that "the district court's finding of fact that petitioner suffers from a mental health disorder was improper absent a formal adjudicatory hearing regarding petitioner's mental competency and violates petitioner's due process rights." In the alternative, Petitioner argues that the district court's "application of section N.C. G.S. § 14-415.12(a)(3) is overbroad, contrary to statutory construction and encompasses a myriad of protected activities under the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution."

         We find Petitioner's due process claim dispositive.

         II. North Carolina Statutory Framework

         In North Carolina, "[a]ny person who has a concealed handgun permit may carry a concealed handgun unless otherwise specifically prohibited by law." N.C. Gen. Stat. § 14-415.11(a) (2017). The criteria for obtaining a Concealed Handgun Permit are set forth in N.C. Gen. Stat. § 14-415.12. A permit is obtained from the local sheriff and once issued is valid for five years. N.C. Gen. Stat. § 14-415.11(b) (2017). If an individual applies to renew his Concealed Handgun Permit, the sheriff must determine whether that individual "remains qualified to hold a permit in accordance with the provisions of G.S. 14-415.12." N.C. Gen. Stat. § 14-415.16(c) (2017).

          N.C. Gen. Stat. § 14-415.12 provides that a sheriff "shall issue" a Concealed Handgun Permit to an applicant so long as "the applicant qualifies under the following criteria:"

(a) . . .
(1) The applicant is a citizen of the United States or has been lawfully admitted for permanent residence . . . and has been a resident of the State 30 days or longer immediately ...

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