Gottwalt v. Oxton et al
ORDER granting 15 Motion to Dismiss(Written Opinion) Signed by Chief Judge John R. Tunheim on March 28, 2017. (DML)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
DISTRICT OF MINNESOTA
TYLER PAUL GOTTWALT,
Civil No. 16-1098 (JRT/LIB)
JEFFERY OXTON, LORI ELLERING,
and, TRACY PEACOCK, individually and
in their official capacities, and the CITY
OF ST. CLOUD,
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND
ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANTS’
MOTION TO DISMISS
Kenneth U. Udoibok, KENNETH UBONG UDOIBOK, P.A., 310 Fourth
Avenue South, Suite 5010, Minneapolis, MN 55415, for plaintiff.
Mark P. Hodkinson and Uzodima F. Aba-Onu, BASSFORD REMELE,
100 South Fifth Street, Suite 1500, Minneapolis, MN 55402, for
Defendants Assistant Police Chief Jeffrey Oxton, Sergeant Lori Ellering, and
Officer Tracy Peacock, of the St. Cloud Police Department (collectively, the “Individual
Defendants”) arrested Plaintiff Tyler Paul Gottwalt for carrying an AK-47 1 in public.
The Stearns County District Court, however, ultimately dismissed the charges. Gottwalt
then initiated this action against the Individual Defendants and Defendant City of St.
Cloud (collectively “the Defendants”).
Because Minnesota law does not permit an
An “AK-47” is an Automatic Kalashnikov 1947 Soviet assault rifle. See AK-47,
Britannica Academic, http://academic.eb.com/levels/collegiate/article/AK-47/5254 (last visited
Mar. 28, 2017).
individual to publicly carry an AK-47 while in possession of a valid permit to carry a
weapon, and because laws outlawing the public carrying of an AK-47 are not
unconstitutional under the Second Amendment, the Court will grant the Defendants’
motion to dismiss Gottwalt’s claims.
On November 17, 2014, the Individual Defendants, along with Sauk Rapids police
officers, arrested Plaintiff Tyler Paul Gottwalt as he walked from the City of St. Cloud
across a bridge into the City of Sauk Rapids openly carrying a Kalashnikov AK-47.
(Am. Compl. ¶¶ 11-14, May 10, 2016, Docket No. 4; Pl.’s Mem. of Law in Opp’n to
Defs.’ Rule 12(c) Mot. to Dismiss (“Pl.’s Mem. in Opp’n”) at 1, Aug. 25, 2016, Docket
No. 23.) At the time, Gottwalt also possessed a permit to carry a weapon pursuant to
Minn. Stat. § 624.714. (Am. Compl. ¶ 11.)
The Sauk Rapids police allegedly realized that Gottwalt violated no laws and left
him in the custody of the Individual Defendants. (Id. ¶ 13.) The Individual Defendants
assert that after consulting with the St. Cloud Attorney’s Office, they charged Gottwalt
with violating a local ordinance, City of St. Cloud, Minnesota, Ordinances, ch. X,
§ 1060:00 (2007) (the “Ordinance”), for possessing a semiautomatic military-style assault
weapon. (Defs.’ Mem. in Supp. of Mot. to Dismiss at 4, Aug. 4, 2016, Docket No. 17.) 2
Gottwalt, however, alleges that St. Cloud attorneys informed the Individual Defendants
The Ordinance prohibits carrying “any gun, pistol, or firearm . . . unless it is dismounted
or broken apart or carried in a case in a manner that it cannot be discharged,” in the absence of “a
permit subject to the restrictions imposed by law.” § 1060:00.
that Gottwalt did not violate any state laws, yet the Individual Defendants refused to
release Gottwalt. (Am. Compl. ¶ 12.)
On three occasions, the Stearns County District Court considered Gottwalt’s
charges for violating the Ordinance and ultimately dismissed the charges. In its first
decision, on June 2, 2015, the court rejected Gottwalt’s argument that Minnesota law
allows the open carrying of an AK-47 with a permit, preempts, in conflict with the
Ordinance. The court explained that
an individual with a permit [to carry a weapon pursuant to Minn. Stat.
§ 624.714] may carry a pistol, rifle or shotgun, but only if that firearm
meets the definition of “pistol” as defined in Minn. Stat. § 624.712, subd. 2.
. . . [However,] an AK-47 does not fit the statutory definition of “pistol.”
(Answer, Ex. A at 2, 6, June 1, 2016, Docket No. 7.) Subsequently, on June 10, 2015, the
court determined that the Ordinance was not unconstitutionally vague or overly broad
because “[t]he only reasonable interpretation of the [O]rdinance is that the city intended
to enact legislation ‘identical to state law.’” (Id., Ex. B at 11-12 (quoting Minn. Stat.
§ 471.633).) However, on December 11, 2015, the court granted Gottwalt’s motion to
dismiss his charges, holding that Minn. Stat. § 624.7181 was ambiguous and resolving
the ambiguity in favor of Gottwalt. (Id., Ex. C at 14-17.) The court noted that
[o]n the one hand, Minn. Stat. § 624.7181 certainly implies that a § 627.714
permit holder may carry any type of rifle in public. However, Minn. Stat.
§ 624.714 appears to concern itself with only pistols and common sense
dictates that the legislature could not have intended for individuals to be
allowed to walk on public sidewalks armed with AK-47 rifles.
(Id. at 17.)
On April 27, 2016, in connection with his arrest, Gottwalt initiated this action
against the Individual Defendants as well as Defendant City of St. Cloud (collectively
“the Defendants”). (Compl. ¶¶ 1-4, Apr. 27, 2016, Docket No. 1.) Gottwalt claims that
the Ordinance is vague, overbroad, unconstitutional, and preempted by Minnesota law.
(Am. Compl. ¶¶ 38-39.) Gottwalt also claims: the Ordinance abridges Gottwalt’s Second
Amendment right to bear arms; the Individual Defendants violated 42 U.S.C. § 1983
through the Due Process Clause of the Fifth 3 and Fourteenth Amendments as they
incorporate the Second Amendment; the Individual Defendants violated § 1983 by their
false arrest and illegal imprisonment of Gottwalt; and the Individual Defendants
maliciously prosecuted Gottwalt as a matter of state law. (Id. ¶¶ 24-37.) The Defendants
moved to dismiss Gottwalt’s claims on August 4, 2016.
Because Minnesota law does not permit an individual to publicly carry an AK-47
while in possession of a valid permit to carry a weapon, and because laws outlawing the
public carrying of an AK-47 are not unconstitutional under the Second Amendment, the
Court will grant the Defendants’ motion to dismiss Gottwalt’s claims.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
In reviewing a motion to dismiss brought under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6), the Court
considers all facts alleged in the complaint as true to determine if the complaint “state[s]
a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Braden v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 588 F.3d
The Amended Complaint refers to the Fourth rather than the Fifth Amendment. The
Court assumes this was a typo.
585, 594 (8th Cir. 2009) (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009)). To
survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must provide more than “‘labels and
conclusions’ or ‘a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action.’” Iqbal, 556
U.S. at 678 (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). Although
the Court accepts a complaint’s factual allegations as true, it is “not bound to accept as
true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555
(quoting Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986)). “A claim has facial plausibility
when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable
inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678.
“Where a complaint pleads facts that are ‘merely consistent with’ a defendant’s liability,
it ‘stops short of the line between possibility and plausibility,’” and therefore must be
dismissed. Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557).
MINNESOTA STATUTES AND ORDINANCE
The parties’ predominant dispute is whether the St. Cloud Ordinance is consistent
with the applicable Minnesota statutes. Gottwalt asserts that the Ordinance conflicts with
Minn. Stat. § 624.7181 because the Ordinance criminalizes carrying a rifle, while
§ 624.7181 allows “the carrying of a BB gun, rifle, or shotgun by a person who has a
permit under section 624.714.” § 624.7181, subd. 1(b)(3) (emphasis added). Gottwalt
asserts that the Minnesota legislature views an “AK-47” as a “rifle,” because Minn. Stat.
§ 624.712 describes an AK-47 as an “Avtomat Kalashnikov (AK-47) semiautomatic rifle
§ 624.712, subd. 7(1)(i) (emphasis added).
Thus, Gottwalt maintains the
Ordinance is void and the Individual Defendants unlawfully arrested and detained him.
The Defendants respond that the Minnesota statutes and the Ordinance are consistent
with each other because nothing in the Minnesota statutes allows an AK-47 to be publicly
The Court must interpret and construe statutes so as to “ascertain and effectuate
the intention of the legislature.”
Minn. Stat. § 645.16.
Furthermore, the Court’s
construction must avoid absurd results and “statutes relating to the same subject are
presumed to be imbued with the same spirit and to have been passed with deliberation
and full knowledge of all existing legislation on the subject and regarded by the
lawmakers as being parts of a connected whole.” State v. Clark, 755 N.W.2d 241, 249
(Minn. 2008) (quoting Kaljuste v. Hennepin Cty. Sanatorium Comm’n, 61 N.W.2d 757,
762 (Minn. 1953)). “A statute should be interpreted, whenever possible, to give effect to
all of its provisions; no word, phrase, or sentence should be deemed superfluous, void, or
insignificant.” Am. Family Ins. Grp. v. Schroedl, 616 N.W.2d 273, 277 (Minn. 2000)
(internal citation and quotation marks omitted).
After careful consideration of all the relevant Minnesota statutes, the Court finds
that Minnesota law, which allows an individual to carry a weapon in public while in
possession of a valid permit, does not permit an individual to carry a military-style
Gottwalt also argues that an AK-47 is a “rifle” according to the common meaning of the
word. He cites to the United States Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives as
well as the Merriam-Webster definitions of “rifle.”
assault weapon (including an AK-47). As a result, the Ordinance does not conflict with
Minnesota law. Gottwalt’s reliance solely on Minn. Stat. § 624.7181, subd. 1(b)(3),
which allows “the carrying of a BB gun, rifle, or shotgun by a person who has a permit
under section 624.714,” is misguided, as he focuses on the word “rifle” but does not
consider the remaining phrase, “who has a permit under section 624.714.” In turn,
§ 624.714 – the statute governing weapon-carrying permits – solely and consistently
refers to “pistols” but never mentions rifles, shotguns, or BB guns. See, e.g., § 624.714,
subd. 7(c) (“A permit to carry a pistol issued under this section expires five years after
the date of issue.”).
Thus, giving effect to both § 624.7181 and § 624.714, a permitted individual may
carry a rifle or shotgun only if that weapon meets the definition of a “pistol.” Minnesota
statute defines a “pistol” as:
a weapon designed to be fired by the use of a single hand and with an
overall length less than 26 inches, or having a barrel or barrels of a length
less than 18 inches in the case of a shotgun or having a barrel of a length
less than 16 inches in the case of a rifle[.]
§ 624.712, subd. 2. The statute does not otherwise define “shotgun” or “rifle.” Section
624.712, subd. 7 separately defines“[s]emiautomatic military-style assault weapon” to
include a number of types of firearms, including the “Avtomat Kalashnikov (AK-47)
semiautomatic rifle type,” along with a number of other “rifle types” and “shotgun
Throughout Minnesota’s statutes regulating firearms, there are repeated
references to “pistols” and “semiautomatic military-style assault weapons” as two distinct
categories of regulated firearms. See, e.g., Minn. Stat. § 624.711 (“It is not the intent of
the legislature to regulate [firearms] not defined as pistols or semiautomatic military-style
weapons . . . .”); § 624.713 (defining the persons who are not entitled to “possess
ammunition or a pistol or semiautomatic military-style assault weapon”).
“pistol” cannot include a semiautomatic military-style assault weapon, as such an
interpretation would deem § 624.712, subd. 7 superfluous or insignificant. See Am.
Family Ins. Grp., 616 N.W.2d at 277 (“[N]o [statutory] word, phrase, or sentence should
be deemed superfluous, void, or insignificant.”). Additionally, the AK-47 Gottwalt was
carrying does not meet the statutory definition of a “pistol” because, according to
testimony submitted in state court, the barrel of that firearm was 17 inches. (Answer,
Ex. A at 4.)
Because Gottwalt was not in possession of a “pistol,” but instead a
“semiautomatic military-style assault firearm,” Gottwalt was not authorized to publicly
carry the AK-47 pursuant to § 612.714. Thus, the Court finds Minnesota law does not
conflict with the Ordinance.
Gottwalt also asserts that the Ordinance is “overly broad as it makes it unlawful to
bear arms in the City of Saint Cloud. The bearing of arms is an act that is protected under
the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution.”
(Am. Compl. ¶ 17.)
Gottwalt asserts that there is “controlling United States Supreme Court case law” that
clearly establishes his right to bear arms provided by the Second Amendment and cites to
McDonald v. Chicago, 561 U.S. 742 (2010), and District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S.
570 (2008). (Pl.’s Mem. in Opp’n at 10-11.)
However, neither case support Gottwalt’s broad proposition that the Second
Amendment provides individuals with the unrestricted right to bear an AK-47 or any
other type of military-style assault weapon.
On the contrary, each case involves a
discrete issue readily distinguishable from the instant action. In Heller, the Supreme
Court held that the Second Amendment protects the right to keep and bear arms for the
purpose of self-defense and struck down a federal law that banned the possession of
handguns in the home. 554 U.S. at 635. In McDonald, the Supreme Court held “the
Second Amendment right recognized in Heller” also applies to states. 561 U.S. at 791.
Gottwalt did not assert that his AK-47 was needed for the purpose of self-defense.
Furthermore, his proffered authority does not support the right to carry such a weapon in
public. In fact, the Supreme Court in Heller explained “[l]ike most rights, the right
secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited.” 554 U.S. at 626. As Gottwalt’s
reliance on Heller and McDonald is misguided, the Court finds that the Ordinance is
neither unconstitutional or overbroad with respect to the Second Amendment right to bear
Furthermore, as Gottwalt failed to plead a Second Amendment violation as a
matter of law, the Court will also dismiss Gottwalt’s § 1983 claims of false imprisonment
and false arrest. Cook v. City of Bella Villa, 582 F.3d 840, 848-49 (8th Cir. 2009) (“To
state a claim under [42 U.S.C.] § 1983, a plaintiff must allege the violation of a right
secured by the Constitution and laws of the United States . . . .” (quoting West v. Atkins,
487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988))). Finally, as the Individual Defendants correctly deduced and
lawfully reprimanded Gottwalt for carrying a semiautomatic military-style assault rifle in
accordance with the Ordinance, the Court will dismiss Gottwalt’s malicious prosecution,
false imprisonment, and false arrest claims.
Based on the foregoing, and all the files, records, and proceedings herein, IT IS
HEREBY ORDERED that:
Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss [Docket No. 15] is GRANTED.
Gottwalt’s Amended Complaint [Docket No. 4] is DISMISSED with
LET JUDGMENT BE ENTERED ACCORDINGLY.
DATED: March 28, 2017
at Minneapolis, Minnesota.
JOHN R. TUNHEIM
United States District Court
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