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Kaminsky v. Commissioner of Emergency Services and Public Protection

Court of Appeals of Connecticut

February 26, 2019

JOSEPH W. KAMINSKY JR.
v.
COMMISSIONER OF EMERGENCY SERVICES AND PUBLIC PROTECTION ET AL.

          Argued December 3, 2018

         Procedural History

         Action for a declaratory judgment to determine whether certain firearms were improperly seized and withheld from the plaintiff, and for other relief, brought to the Superior Court in the judicial district of Tolland and tried to the court, Bright, J.; judgment for the named defendant, from which the plaintiff appealed to this court. Affirmed.

          Rachel M. Baird, for the appellant (plaintiff).

          James Belforti, assistant attorney general, with whom, on the brief, were George Jepsen, former attorney general, and Stephen R. Sarnoski, assistant attorney general, for the appellee (named defendant Commissioner).

          Sheldon, Keller and Moll, Js.

          OPINION

          SHELDON, J.

         The plaintiff, Joseph W. Kaminsky, Jr., appeals from the trial court's judgment, rendered after a trial without a jury, denying his request for a declaratory judgment holding that certain firearms were improperly seized and withheld from him by the defendant, the Commissioner of Emergency Services and Public Protection, [1] and thus that he is entitled to the return of those firearms.[2] On appeal, the plaintiff claims that the trial court erred in denying his request on the basis of its misinterpretation of the applicable statutory provisions. We affirm the judgment of the trial court.

         The following procedural history and facts, as found by the trial court, are relevant to our disposition of this appeal. The plaintiff has been a collector and dealer of firearms licensed by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) since 1988. While reviewing the plaintiff's application to renew his federal firearms license in 2011, the ATF discovered that he had a felony conviction in 1964 and, therefore, that he was ineligible to have such a license or to possess any firearms. The ATF contacted the Connecticut State Police to alert them that the plaintiff was likely in illegal possession of firearms. In December, 2011, after being notified by state and local police that he was ineligible to possess any firearms, the plaintiff surrendered fifty-nine firearms to authorities. Three of those firearms, a B-West Arms AK-47-type rifle (AK-47), a Group Industries Uzi submachine gun (Uzi), and a SWD Cobray-11 submachine gun (M-11), are at issue in this appeal.

         The firearms in question were all manufactured, and thereafter acquired by the plaintiff, prior to September 13, 1994. The plaintiff properly registered the Uzi and the M-11 as machine guns under both state and federal law, but he neglected to register the AK-47 as a machine gun. The plaintiff also never obtained a certificate of possession or registered the three firearms as assault weapons as required by Connecticut law. The Uzi and the M-11 each have a ‘‘selective-fire'' mode that allows them to be fired in either automatic or semiautomatic mode, and the AK-47 firearm is explicitly listed under General Statutes § 53-202a as an assault weapon.

         On August 6, 2014, the plaintiff brought an action pursuant to General Statutes § 52-291 seeking a declaratory ruling that the three firearms at issue had been improperly seized and withheld from him and that he was entitled to their return. The sole basis for the defendant's refusal to return the three firearms was that they were never properly registered as assault weapons pursuant to Connecticut law.[3] During the two day trial beginning on August 23, 2016, the plaintiff argued, in relevant part, that because the three firearms in question were manufactured prior to September 13, 1994, they are exempt from any registration requirement under General Statutes § 53-202m. The defendant disagreed, arguing that the plain language of § 53-202m exempts only specific categories of assault weapons from the registration requirement and that the plaintiff's firearms did not qualify for such exemptions, thereby making their possession without registration illegal and subjecting them to seizure and destruction as contraband. The court agreed with the defendant and, thus, ruled that the plaintiff was not entitled to the declaratory relief he requested. This appeal followed.

         The plaintiff claims on appeal that the trial court erred in its interpretation of § 53-202m by finding that only certain assault weapons manufactured prior to September 13, 1994, are exempt from registration thereunder. The plaintiff argues that No. 13-220 of the 2013 Public Acts (P.A. 13-220), as codified in the current revision of § 53-202m, is ambiguous because it refers to and incorporates by reference certain preexisting statutory provisions that were no longer in force and effect when the statute was enacted. Therefore, the plaintiff urges us to consider extratextual evidence in the form of an October 11, 2013 letter from Reuben Bradford, the former Commissioner of Emergency Services and Public Protection, declaring that it was the intent of the legislature in passing § 11 of P.A. 13-220 to exclude all assault weapons manufactured before September 13, 1994, from the statute's transfer restrictions and registration requirements. We disagree with the plaintiff's interpretation of the applicable statutory provisions.

         ‘‘Statutory interpretation presents a question of law for the court. . . . Our review is, therefore, plenary.'' (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Russo Roofing, Inc. v. Rottman, 86 Conn.App. 767, 775, 863 A.2d 713 (2005). ‘‘When construing a statute, [o]ur fundamental objective is to ascertain and give effect to the apparent intent of the legislature. . . . In other words, we seek to determine, in a reasoned manner, the meaning of the statutory language as applied to the facts of [the] case, including the question of whether the language actually does apply. . . . In seeking to determine that meaning, General Statutes § 1-2z directs us first to consider the text of the statute itself and its relationship to other statutes. If, after examining such text and considering such relationship, the meaning of such text is plain and unambiguous and does not yield absurd or unworkable results, extratextual evidence of the meaning of the statute shall not be considered. . . . The test to determine ambiguity is whether the statute, when read in context, is susceptible to more than one reasonable interpretation.'' Dept. of Public Safety v. Freedom of Information Commission, 298 Conn. 703, 720, 6 A.3d 763 (2010).

         We begin our analysis by setting forth the relevant statutory language. General Statutes § 53-202c criminalizes the possession of an assault weapon unless otherwise permitted by General Statutes §§ 53-202a through 53-202k and 53-202o. ‘‘[A]ny property, the possession of which is prohibited by any provision of the ...


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