Ramsey Winch, Inc. v. Henry

Laura Monty

Despite opposition from employers and business property owners alike, the Tenth Circuit recently upheld “take your guns to work” laws.  In Ramsey Winch Inc. v. Henry, a number of Oklahoma businesses, initially led by Whirlpool Corporation, challenged the constitutionality of Oklahoma laws that prohibit employers from banning firearms located in locked vehicles on company property.

The plaintiffs presented three arguments in pursuit of a permanent injunction against enforcement of the laws.  First, the plaintiffs argued that the laws were preempted by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) of 1970.  Second, the plaintiffs argued that the laws constituted an unconstitutional taking without just compensation under the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment.  Finally, the plaintiffs argued that the laws violated the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment by depriving employers of the right to exclude others from their property without due process of law.  While the District Court for the Northern District of Oklahoma held that OSHA did preempt the state laws and thus granted a permanent injunction on those grounds, the Tenth Circuit reversed and held that all three of the plaintiffs’ arguments failed.

Addressing the plaintiffs’ preemption argument, the Court determined that the only applicable type of preemption in this case was conflict preemption, where it is impossible for a party to comply with both state and federal law.  However, the Court held that because the laws implicate Oklahoma’s police powers, which is an area traditionally controlled by the states, the Court’s analysis would be guided by the assumption that Congress did not intend to preempt state laws with OSHA.  Further, the Court held that because there are not any specific provisions in OSHA that require employers to ban firearms on company property, and because Congress was aware of the controversy surrounding firearms in the workplace but still did not adopt any such requirement, OSHA did not preempt the Oklahoma laws.

The Court next analyzed the plaintiffs’ takings argument and upheld the district court’s finding that there was no taking that required just compensation.  The Court first held that there was no per se taking because there was no physical invasion of employers’ properties.  The Court further held that there was no regulatory taking under the standards set forth in Penn Central Transp. Co. v. City of New York, because 1) the economic impact cited by the plaintiffs was only an incidental increase in costs associated with workplace violence, and thus not a sufficient economic impact to constitute a taking, 2) the laws caused no interference with investment-backed expectations of employers, and 3) the character of the laws were not unexpected because property owners should expect that the use of their property will be restricted from time to time. 

Finally, the Court held that the plaintiffs’ due process argument also failed.  The Court analyzed the constitutionality of the Oklahoma laws under a rational basis standard which requires the court to uphold a law if it serves any legitimate governmental purpose and is rationally related to achieving that purpose.  The Court held that the Oklahoma legislature had a legitimate purpose of protecting the Oklahoma community and expanding or securing the Second Amendment right to bear arms and that the laws were rationally related to that purpose. 

As a result of the Tenth Circuit’s decision, employers and business property owners may face increased liability for workplace violence.  Furthermore, employers’ costs of preventing workplace violence will likely increase.  Thus, the decision has serious implications for employers.