Mississippi Gun-Rights Statute Did Not Apply to Company Parking Lot

By Jeffrey Rhodes July 29, 2020
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Driver Taking Handgun From Glovebox

An automobile-plant worker in Mississippi could not pursue a legal claim after he was fired for having a loaded gun in his car. A state statute protecting such conduct did not apply to limited-access parking lots, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals held.

The plaintiff was an employee of a contractor at Nissan North America's automobile-manufacturing plant in Canton, Miss. On Feb. 12, 2016, the contractor received an anonymous tip that the plaintiff had a loaded firearm in his vehicle, which was parked in a lot owned by Nissan. The parking lot was licensed by Nissan to the contractor for use by its employees.

A security officer searched the plaintiff's vehicle and found a loaded gun in the center console. The plaintiff was sent home and told he would be contacted after the contractor decided how to handle the situation. The contractor decided to fire the plaintiff.

The plaintiff brought a wrongful discharge claim against the contractor and Nissan, alleging that his discharge violated a Mississippi statute permitting employees to have firearms in their vehicles. Under the statute, a public or private employer may not establish, maintain or enforce any policy that prohibits a person from transmitting or storing a firearm in a locked vehicle in any parking area.

The statute, however, contains an exception for private employers that prohibit employees from transporting or storing a firearm in a vehicle located in a parking area to which access is restricted or limited through the use of a gate, security station or other means of limiting the general public from accessing the property.

The lot in question was located at the back of the plant, and the entire plant was surrounded by a chain-link perimeter fence topped with barbed wire. To access the lot, vehicles had to pass through two separate entrances. There was a no-trespassing sign posted at the first entry, which stated that only Nissan employees, contractors and approved visitors were permitted inside the perimeter fence.

The two separate entrances had retractable drop arms, but the plaintiff and the defendants disagreed as to whether the arms restricted access to the lot. According to the defendants, the drop arms were down and barred access to outsiders except during shift changes. According to the plaintiff, the drop arms were always raised and did not limit access to the lot.

There were also security cameras directed at the inner entrance, which Nissan monitored from a central security office onsite. Security officers continuously patrolled the entire Nissan plant, including the parking lot. Additionally, Nissan and the contractor each had policies prohibiting firearms on company property, including the parking lots.

Based on these facts, the contractor and Nissan argued that the exception to the statute applied. They also argued that Nissan was not actually the plaintiff's employer. The district court agreed, and the plaintiff appealed the case to the 5th Circuit.

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On appeal, the 5th Circuit considered whether the plaintiff could assert a wrongful discharge claim based on the Mississippi statute in question. The appellate court said such claims seemed permissible when an employer violated the statute and an exception did not apply.

Upon further review, however, the 5th Circuit determined that neither defendant violated the statute because the exception applied. While the parties disputed how often Nissan lowered the drop arms at the entrances to the lot, the drop arms at least provided a periodic limitation to access. Additionally, a security camera protected the inner entrance, security officers patrolled the lot, a barbed-wire-tipped fence surrounded the plant, and Nissan posted visible no-trespassing signs. Under Mississippi law, entering another's property in violation of a no-trespassing sign is a criminal offense.

The appellate court upheld the dismissal of the plaintiff's claims because these facts sufficiently showed restrictions on access to the parking lot, and so the exception to the statute applied.

McIntyre v. Nissan North America Inc., 5th Cir., No. 19-60246 (June 18, 2020).

Professional Pointer: State statutes vary concerning carrying and storage of firearms, but generally will permit employers to limit the carrying and storage of guns on restricted-access company property.

Jeffrey Rhodes is an attorney with McInroy, Rigby & Rhodes LLP in Arlington, Va.

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