Skill machine manufacturers have requested a lawsuit against the Charlottesville commonwealth’s attorney be sent back from federal court to the city circuit court.
Last week, the manufacturers, who are plaintiffs in a lawsuit against Charlottesville Commonwealth’s Attorney Joe Platania, requested the lawsuit be remanded to the circuit court and filed an amended complaint which removed federal issues. The amended complaint relies on arguments based in Virginia code and the state constitution instead.
Initially, the manufacturers alleged that Platania had violated their constitutional rights when he determined that the machines violate state gambling law. Queen of Virginia, POM of Virginia and Miele Manufacturing sued Platania in Charlottesville Circuit Court in June. The lawsuit was then moved to the Western District of Virginia U.S. District Court, which has jurisdiction over civil actions arising under the Constitution. Now, the plaintiffs say Platania just violated the state constitution when he questioned skill machines’ legality.
“While it is true that a Commonwealth Attorney can (and should) prosecute illegal gambling, Plaintiffs’ games are not illegal gambling. That is the point,” the amended complaint reads. “Moreover, Defendant is not entitled to act as prosecutor, judge and jury by declaring in a press release that Plaintiffs’ games are illegal in Charlottesville.”
Skill machines have been in Virginia for about two years, and Charlottesville is the first locality to question them. Despite the statewide proliferation of the machines, their legality in Virginia has not been settled, though manufacturers have stated they expect members of the General Assembly to address this during the 2020 session.
The skill machines bear many visual and practical similarities to slot machines, which are illegal in Virginia, but the plaintiffs claim the machines are legal because winning is not based entirely on chance. This “skill” factor allows the machines to fit within the narrow state gambling code, they argue.
The manufacturers argued in their initial complaint that their gaming machines are legal under state code and that Platania’s June decision to ban the machines in Charlottesville had hurt their standing within the state and violated their constitutional rights.
Specifically, the complaint alleges Platania’s June ban violated their rights to due process under the state constitution, depriving them of the “fundamental [rights to] liberty and property” by preventing them from distributing skill game machines in the Charlottesville and their property game terminals “to unjust seizure and civil forfeiture.”
“Defendant’s actions are demonstrative of how the vagueness of the statutes as applied to Plaintiffs and their retailers leaves them open to entirely arbitrary and selective enforcement by Virginia’s Commonwealth’s attorneys,” the amended complaint reads.
The manufacturers have requested declaratory judgments that the game are not illegal gambling devices; that their due process rights under the Virginia Constitution were violated; the issuance of a writ preventing Platania from prosecuting the games as illegal gambling devices; and order Platania to “correct” his release, among other relief.
“While Plaintiffs acknowledge that the amendment of their complaint does not technically divest this Court of subject matter jurisdiction, this Court can and should exercise its discretion under [U.S. code] to remand the case to the Circuit Court for the City of Charlottesville as a matter of fairness and comity,” a memorandum of support reads.
Counsel on behalf of Platania have not yet responded to the amended complaint and no hearing dates have been scheduled.