Police are seeking legal protection over how they handle an applicant’s personal information.

Hawaii County is facing a lawsuit over background checks required for people applying for a concealed carry firearm permit.

James Grell argued that the application process requires him to relinquish privacy protections. He applied for a permit twice this year and was denied both times by the Hawaii Police Department because he refused to waive attorney-client privilege and the right to privacy with his physician, the suit alleges.

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The waiver in the application was “too broad” and “Grell is unable to exercise his right to bear a firearm or even apply to do so until he permits the HPD’s fishing expedition into his constitutionally protected private information,” his lawyers wrote in a motion for a preliminary injunction filed Friday.

Elizabeth Strance, the county’s top attorney, said the corporation counsel’s office hasn’t been served yet and declined to comment further.

County police chiefs long had authority to issue concealed carry permits, and issued few, until a June 2022 Supreme Court ruling.

As a result of the ruling, Hawaii County revised its permitting process to include a waiver of the applicant’s privacy rights as well as the right to sue the police department over how it handles their background check.

“They know they had to issue permits, so they just decided to put in the biggest background check they could think of,” Alan Beck, one of Grell’s lawyers, said Friday. “There’s nowhere else in the country that’s doing this. Even the most restrictive places like New Jersey don’t make you waive your attorney-client privilege and medical privacy rights.”

County police chiefs long had authority to issue concealed carry permits, and issued few, until a June 2022 Supreme Court ruling scaled back requirements. (Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2021)

Grell, an accountant, applied first in April.

He attached a letter saying that he would not waive his rights as the waiver requested, and he left the waiver blank. A week later, HPD told him it would not process his application without the waiver signed, and because his money order was directed to the wrong person, according to the lawsuit.

In May, Grell sent in another application with the correct payee, but still left the waiver blank with his explanation. Almost two weeks later, HPD rejected his application again because of the blank waiver.

Grell would waive neither his attorney-client privilege, since he was a plaintiff in another case, nor his doctor-patient privilege, the suit said.

Beck and Richard Holcomb, Grell’s other lawyer, also argued that the information HPD seeks might be highly confidential and there were insufficient guardrails to secure it. Whoever signed the waiver, moreover, would forfeit their rights to sue over their information being improperly used.

Beck, who is based in Hawaii, has been particularly focused on Second Amendment lawsuits in Hawaii in the past year.

He had successfully sued Honolulu and the state in federal court on behalf of Michael Santucci, a Navy officer whose guns were confiscated after he indicated on a form that he had sought medical care for feeling “depressed and homesick.” Santucci was later given back his firearms, and the Honolulu Police Department has since changed its permit application.

Grell was a co-plaintiff with another man, Andrew Teter, who sued the state of Hawaii over its 30-year ban on butterfly knives in 2020.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on the case Monday, finding that Hawaii’s ban on butterfly knives was unconstitutional, on the grounds that it was inconsistent with “the Nation’s historical tradition of regulating arms.”

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