Reckless Lawsuits—What The Courts Say

Posted on March 18, 2005

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Judicial Activism

"It seems that plaintiffs seek injunctive relief from this court because relief has not been forthcoming from the General Assembly. We are reluctant to interfere in the lawmaking process in the manner suggested by plaintiffs, especially when the product at issue is already so heavily regulated by both the state and federal governments. We, therefore, conclude that there are strong public policy reasons to defer to the legislature in the matter of regulating the manufacture, distribution, and sale of firearms." Supreme Court of Illinois, Chicago v. Beretta (2004)

"[The] courts are the least suited, least equipped, and thus the least appropriate branch of government to regulate and micro-manage the manufacturing, marketing, distribution and sale of handguns." Supreme Court of New York, Appellate Division, People of New York v. Sturm, Ruger (2003)

"The practical effect of the [doctrine of preemption by the state legislature] is to preclude all other local or special laws on the same subject. That the City has filed a lawsuit rather than passing an ordinance does not make this any less usurpation of State power. The City may not do indirectly what it cannot do directly." Court of Appeals of Georgia, Sturm, Ruger v. Atlanta (2002)

"[T]he court will not twist a jury trial involving municipal costs into a wildly expensive referendum on handgun control. The Mayor and the City must find another means to their ends." Delaware Superior Court, Baker v. Smith & Wesson (2002)

"[Miami-Dade County, Florida’s] frustration cannot be alleviated through litigation as the judiciary is not empowered to enact regulatory measures in the guise of injunctive relief. The power to legislate belongs not to the judicial branch of government but to the legislative branch." Florida Third District Court of Appeals, Penelas v. Arms Technology (2001)

"[Philadelphia’s] action seeks to control the gun industry by litigation, an end the City could not accomplish by passing an ordinance." U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia v. Beretta (2000)

 

Exotic Legal Theories

"Plaintiffs have advanced a novel approach to an old theory by targeting the gun manufacturers. Unfortunately, this was a theory in search of a case, and the defendants are out of range." U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia v. Beretta (2000)

"The Court sees no duty on the manufacturers part that goes beyond their duties with respect to design and manufacture. The Court cannot imagine that a weapon can be designed that operates for law-abiding people, but not for criminals." Delaware Superior Court, Sills v. Smith & Wesson (2000)

 

Attacking a Law-Abiding Industry

"No evidence in this case hints that any of the manufacturer defendants provided weapons to criminals or failed to properly record sales or did any of the other acts that plaintiffs characterize as high-risk business practices. They did not control the wrongful acts or encourage others to engage in questionable acts. Neither did they change their business practices to avoid proposed regulations or advise retailers on ways to circumvent the law. The record in this case shows that the only business practice that these defendants engage in is the manufacture and sale of firearms to dealers that are licensed as such by the federal government. Plaintiffs have cited no cases finding a manufacturer has engaged in an unfair practice solely by legally selling a non-defective product based on actions taken by entities further along the chain of distribution. Even plaintiffs’ experts could not present an evidentiary link between the manufacturer of a firearm and a retail gun dealer who sold guns that ended up in criminal circumstances. It is important to emphasize that the evidence presented did not show that any defendant had actual knowledge that specific retailers were illegally supplying guns to the crime gun market or took any action to aid or encourage such activity." California Court of Appeals, 1st Appellate District, People v. Arcadia Machine & Tool, Inc. (2005)

 

Liability for Actions of Others

"[W]e are reluctant to state that there is a public right to be free from the threat that some individuals may use an otherwise legal product (be it a gun, liquor, a car, a cell phone, or some other instrumentality) in a manner that may create a risk of harm to another. . . . We conclude that there is no authority for the unprecedented expansion of the concept of public rights to encompass the right asserted by plaintiffs." Supreme Court of Illinois, Chicago v. Beretta (2004)

"[N]o legal duty exists upon these defendants to protect citizens from the deliberate and unlawful use of their products." U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia v. Beretta (2000)

 

Remote Effects and Lack of Causation

"[W]e hold that proximate cause cannot be established as to the dealer defendants because the claimed harm is the aggregate result of numerous unforeseeable intervening criminal acts by third parties not under defendant’s control. By implication, proximate cause is also lacking as to the manufacturer and distributor defendants, who are even further removed from the intervening criminal acts." Supreme Court of Illinois, Chicago v. Beretta (2004)

"The harm allegedly suffered by the Plaintiff and the actions of Defendants here that are alleged to have caused that harm are simply too remote to support a claim … based on a theory of either public nuisance or negligence. Because the product here in dispute is a non-defective one, any possible recovery by Plaintiff from Defendant under a product liability claim is undercut." Circuit Court of St. Louis County, St. Louis v. Cernicek (2003)

"It cannot be denied that factors other than the defendant’s manufacture, advertisement, distribution and retail sales of guns contribute in significant measure to the various harms claimed by the plaintiffs. The scourge of illegal drugs, poverty, illiteracy, inadequacies in the public educational system, the birth rates of unmarried teenagers, the disintegration of family relationships, the decades long trend of the middle class moving from city to suburb, the decades long movement of industry from the northeast rust belt to the south and southwest, the swings of the national and state economies, the upward track of health costs generally, both at the state and national level, unemployment, and even the construction of the national interstate highway system, to name a few, reasonably may be regarded as contributing to Bridgeport's increased crime rate …" Supreme Court of Connecticut, Ganim v. Smith & Wesson (2001)

 

Public Nuisance

"[I]f public nuisance law were permitted to encompass product liability, nuisance law would become a monster that would devour in one gulp the entire law of tort. If defective products are not a public nuisance as a matter of law, then the non-defective, lawful products at issue in this case cannot be a nuisance without straining the law to absurdity. To extend public nuisance law to embrace the manufacture of handguns would be unprecedented under New Jersey state law and unprecedented nationwide for an appellate court." New Jersey 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals, Camden Co. Bd. of Chosen Freeholders v. Beretta (2001)

 

Impact on Other Industries

"[G]iving a green light to a common-law public nuisance cause of action [against the firearms industry] will, in our judgment, likely open the courthouse doors to a flood of limitless, similar theories of public nuisance, not only against these defendants, but also against a wide and varied array of other commercial and manufacturing enterprises and activities. All a creative mind would need to do is construct a scenario describing a known or perceived harm of a sort that can somehow be said to relate back to the way a company or an industry makes, markets and/or sells its non-defective, lawful product or service, and a public nuisance claim would be conceived and a lawsuit born. A variety of such lawsuits would leave the starting gate to be welcomed into the legal arena to run their cumbersome course, their vast cost and tenuous reasoning notwithstanding." Supreme Court of New York, Appellate Division, People of New York v. Sturm, Ruger (2003)

"In addition to the quite reasonable fears of this and other courts which have examined the issue of opening a floodgate to additional litigation, the end of which cannot even be imagined, there are issues of both logic and fairness that weigh heavily in favor of granting the present motion to dismiss." Circuit Court of St. Louis County, St. Louis v. Cernicek (2003)

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