The 5th Circuit Upholds a Ban on Sale of Firearms to People Under 21

Last month, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a 1968 law that prohibits federally licensed firearm dealers from selling handguns to people under age 21.

The National Rifle Association challenged the law soon after the U.S. Supreme Court declared a broad Second Amendment right for individuals to keep and bear arms in District of Columbia v. Heller in 2008.  The Supreme Court in Heller held that the Washington, D.C. statutes banning the possession of usable handguns at home — in addition to requiring residents to keep their firearms either disassembled or trigger locked violated the Second Amendment.  The Court invalidated the laws because they violated the central right that the Second Amendment was intended to protect—that is, the “right of law-abiding, responsible citizens to use arms in defense of hearth and home.”

After Heller, the National Rifle Association filed a lawsuit against the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives arguing that 18 U.S.C.  §§ 922(b)(1) and (c)(1) , as well as attendant regulations, 27 C.F.R. §§ 478.99(b)(1), 478.124(a), and 478.96(b), which prohibited federally licensed firearm dealers from selling firearms to people between ages of 18 and 21, violated the Second Amendment and the Equal Protection Clause.

The Fifth Circuit in National Rifle Association of America, Inc., et al. v. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, et al. was the first circuit court to address the constitutionality of a firearms law in light of Heller

The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals’ unanimous three-judge panel held that the Congress adopted the law to help curb violent crime and that young persons under 21 presented a particular problem because they were immature and prone to violence.  Thus, the ban was “consistent with a longstanding tradition of age- and safety-based restrictions on the ability to access arms.”   The Court further noted that “unlike the D.C. ban in Heller, this ban does not disarm an entire community, but instead prohibits commercial handgun sales to 18-to-20-year-olds—a discrete category.”

While the NRA might appeal this decision to the Supreme Court, it is very unlikely that the Supreme Court will agree to hear the case because the ban in question has been in place for over 40 years and constitutes a “long-standing tradition” and because it is not nearly as drastic or limiting as the ban implemented by the District of Columbia and struck down in Heller

For more information, contact Leiza Dolghih.

New Expedited Process for Lawsuits With Less Than $100,000 in Damages

Late last week, the Texas Supreme Court issued Rules for Dismissals and Expedited Actions.  Under the new Texas Rule of Civil Procedure (TRCP) 169, the expedited process is mandatory for cases where relief is limited to “$100,000 or less, including damages of any kind, penalties, costs, expenses, pre-judgment interest, and attorney fees.”

TRCP 169 does not apply to healthcare-liability claims or claims governed by the Family Code, Property Code, or Tax Code.

The expedited proceedings will include an expedited pretrial process, limits on discovery, and an expedited trial.  More specifically:

• Once discovery begins, it must be completed within 180 days.

• Written discovery is limited to 15 written interrogatories, 15 requests for production, 15 requests for admissions, and a request for disclosure.

• Each party has a total limit of six hours for all depositions.

• At the request of any party, the court must set the case for a trial date within 90 days after the discovery period ends.

• At trial, each side is limited to five hours for jury selection, opening, closing, and examination of witnesses.

• The court cannot order the parties to engage in alternative dispute resolution, unless the parties agree or are required by contract to do so.

Additionally, under the new Texas Rule of Civil Procedure 91a, a party may move to dismiss a cause of action on the grounds that it has no basis in law or fact.  The winning party gets the attorneys fees.  Thus, if a party files a motion to dismiss and loses, it must pay the other side’s attorneys fees.  Likewise, if a party’s case gets dismissed as the result of the motion, that party will have to pay the other side’s attorneys fees.

How will this affect litigation? 

Given that $100,000 cap includes all types of damages, including attorneys’ fees and interest, the expedited rules will end up applying only to truly small cases.  However, they will end up streamlining such cases, which could result in a faster and less expensive resolution of a dispute.   A trial could occur as early as nine months after the filing of suit (or even earlier if the court desires), with limited discovery, no mediation, and perhaps a two-day trial.

The dismissal rules could prevent frivolous lawsuits from being filed.  If a lawsuit is found to have no basis in law or fact and  is dismissed under TRCP 91a, the plaintiff will be forced to pay the defendant’s attorneys fees.  This should serve as a deterrent to frivolous lawsuits.

For more information, contact Leiza Dolghih.

The Texas Supreme Court OKs do-it-yourself divorce forms

The Texas Supreme Court has approved new do-it-yourself divorce forms this Tuesday.

The forms are designed only for uncontested divorces with no children or real estate and are intended to help low-income Texans who cannot afford legal representation.

The Court stated that it is confident the forms will be useful “in addressing the burgeoning population of litigants who cannot afford representation and are unable to obtain representation through legal service provider.”

Last year, almost 58,000 Texans filed family law cases without help from a lawyer — more than could be absorbed by attorneys offering to work without charge, the court said.

Clearly, if you are considering a divorce, and you and your spouse have property, debts, or children, you should consult with an attorney.   However, if no such issues are present, and neither of spouses is contesting the divorce, the form approved by the Court might be all they need.

The form is available on the Texas Supreme Court website and in the near future will be posted on TexasLawHelp.org, a website offering legal help to low-income people.

You can find it at  http://www.supreme.courts.state.tx.us/miscdocket/12/12919200.pdf.  NOTE: The form might be modified in response to comments received on or before February 1, 2013.

For more information, contact Leiza Dolghih.