United States v. Bean

PETITIONER: United States
RESPONDENT: Bean
LOCATION: 1220 Student Activities Building - Undergraduate Admissions

DOCKET NO.: 01-704
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit

CITATION: 537 US 71 (2002)
ARGUED: Oct 16, 2002
DECIDED: Dec 10, 2002

ADVOCATES:
Craig Goldblatt - for the Violence Policy Center as amicus curiae urging reversal
Edwin S. Kneedler - Argued the cause for the petitioners
Mathew S. Nosanchuk - for the Violence Policy Center as amicus curiae urging reversal
Thomas C. Goldstein - Argued the case for the respondent

Facts of the case

After attending a gun show in Texas, Thomas Bean drove to Mexico. When Mexican officials stopped his vehicle at the border, they found ammunition, and Bean was subsequently convicted in a Mexican court of importing ammunition. Because of his felony conviction, 18 USC section 922(g)(1) prohibited Bean from possessing, distributing, or receiving firearms or ammunition. Bean applied to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) for relief from his firearms disabilities, but the ATF returned the application unprocessed, explaining that its annual appropriations law forbade it from expending any funds to investigate or act upon applications such as Bean's. Bean then filed suit, asking the District Court to conduct its own inquiry into his fitness to possess a gun and grant relief from his inability to possess, distribute, or receive firearms or ammunition. The court granted the requested relief, and the Court of Appeals affirmed.

Question

Does a federal district court, despite appropriation provisions barring the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms from acting on applications for relief from firearms disabilities from persons convicted of a felony, have the authority to grant such relief?

Media for United States v. Bean

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - October 16, 2002 in United States v. Bean

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - December 10, 2002 in United States v. Bean

John Paul Stevens:

Justice Thomas.

Clarence Thomas:

I have the opinion of the Court in United States versus Bean, No. 01-704.

This case comes to use on a writ of certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.

18 U.S.C. Section 922(g)(1) prohibits a person convicted of a felony from possessing firearms.

18 U.S.C. Section 925(c) authorizes the Secretary of Treasury to grant relief from that prohibition if it is established to his satisfaction that certain preconditions are met.

An applicant may seek judicial review from the United States District Court if his application is denied by the Secretary.

Since 1992, however, an appropriations bar has prevented the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms to which the Secretary has delegated authority to act on Section 925(c) applications from using funds appropriated herein to investigate or act upon applications for relief from federal firearms disabilities under 18 U.S.C. 925(c).

ATF upon receipt of respondent's petition returned it explaining that the appropriations bar prevents ATF from acting on it.

Respondent contends that ATF's failure to act constitutes a denial within the meaning of 925(c) and that therefore District Courts have jurisdiction to review such action.

The lower courts agreed with the respondent.

In an opinion filed with the Clerk today, we reversed.

Inaction by ATF does not amount to denial within the meaning of Section 925(c).

The text of Section 925(c) and the procedure it sets out for seeking relief may clear that an actual decision by ATF on the application is a prerequisite to judicial review and that mere inaction by ATF does not invest a District Court with independent jurisdiction to act on the application.

The opinion of the court is unanimous.