Court rules on gun manufacturer suit

Jennifer Nelson
January 1, 2007
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The Court of Appeals upheld a trial court's decision to deny handgun manufacturers' motion to dismiss a public nuisance suit brought by the city of Gary. The court determined Indiana's public nuisance statute is applicable to the sale or marketing of firearms for purposes of the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act.

At issue in Smith & Wesson Corp. et al. & United States of America v. City of Gary, Indiana by its mayor, Rudy Clay, 45A05-0612-CV-754, was whether the PLCAA, 15 U.S.C. 7901-7903, barred Gary's nuisance claims against the manufacturers.

Gary had filed a suit against handgun manufacturers, one wholesaler, and retailers alleging the defendants knowingly sold guns to illegal buyers through intermediaries in "straw purchases," which is selling a gun knowing that the buyer will give the gun to someone who is not legally allowed to purchase one.

Gary first brought the suit in September 1999, and the Indiana Supreme Court held the city could proceed on its negligence and negligent design claims and reversed the trial court's dismissal of the city's public nuisance charge against the manufacturers, determining manufacturers should be included in the claim.

In 2005, Congress passed the PLCAA, which was created to protect handgun manufacturers, distributors, dealers, and importers from lawsuits because of handgun misuse or criminal activity. PLCAA included a "predicate exception," that said a "qualified civil liability action" would not include "any action in which a manufacturer or seller of a qualified product knowingly violated a State or Federal Statue applicable to the sale or marketing of the product ... ." 15 U.S.C. 7903(5)(A)(iii).

The manufacturers moved to dismiss the city's complaint, citing PLCAA. The trial court denied the motion because it found PLCAA to be unconstitutional and implied the act was applicable to the city's claims. The manufacturers appealed, arguing the predicate exception doesn't apply to the city's public nuisance claim.

The Court of Appeals determined Indiana's public nuisance statute, as applied by the Indiana Supreme Court to the alleged conduct of the manufacturers, is applicable to the sale or marketing of firearms for purposes of the PLCAA. Judge John Sharpnack wrote in the opinion the word "applicable" is unambiguous in the predicate exception and on the face of the language, Indiana's public nuisance statute appears applicable.

PLCAA was designed to protect manufacturers engaged in lawful sales of handguns, but the city alleges the manufactures were knowingly participating in unlawful sales of handguns to illegal buyers, so the predicate exception would not apply, wrote Judge Sharpnack.

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  1. If a class action suit or other manner of retribution is possible, count me in. I have email and voicemail from the man. He colluded with opposing counsel, I am certain. My case was damaged so severely it nearly lost me everything and I am still paying dearly.

  2. There's probably a lot of blame that can be cast around for Indiana Tech's abysmal bar passage rate this last February. The folks who decided that Indiana, a state with roughly 16,000 to 18,000 attorneys, needs a fifth law school need to question the motives that drove their support of this project. Others, who have been "strong supporters" of the law school, should likewise ask themselves why they believe this institution should be supported. Is it because it fills some real need in the state? Or is it, instead, nothing more than a resume builder for those who teach there part-time? And others who make excuses for the students' poor performance, especially those who offer nothing more than conspiracy theories to back up their claims--who are they helping? What evidence do they have to support their posturing? Ultimately, though, like most everything in life, whether one succeeds or fails is entirely within one's own hands. At least one student from Indiana Tech proved this when he/she took and passed the February bar. A second Indiana Tech student proved this when they took the bar in another state and passed. As for the remaining 9 who took the bar and didn't pass (apparently, one of the students successfully appealed his/her original score), it's now up to them (and nobody else) to ensure that they pass on their second attempt. These folks should feel no shame; many currently successful practicing attorneys failed the bar exam on their first try. These same attorneys picked themselves up, dusted themselves off, and got back to the rigorous study needed to ensure they would pass on their second go 'round. This is what the Indiana Tech students who didn't pass the first time need to do. Of course, none of this answers such questions as whether Indiana Tech should be accredited by the ABA, whether the school should keep its doors open, or, most importantly, whether it should have even opened its doors in the first place. Those who promoted the idea of a fifth law school in Indiana need to do a lot of soul-searching regarding their decisions. These same people should never be allowed, again, to have a say about the future of legal education in this state or anywhere else. Indiana already has four law schools. That's probably one more than it really needs. But it's more than enough.

  3. This man Steve Hubbard goes on any online post or forum he can find and tries to push his company. He said court reporters would be obsolete a few years ago, yet here we are. How does he have time to search out every single post about court reporters and even spy in private court reporting forums if his company is so successful???? Dude, get a life. And back to what this post was about, I agree that some national firms cause a huge problem.

  4. rensselaer imdiana is doing same thing to children from the judge to attorney and dfs staff they need to be investigated as well

  5. Sex offenders are victims twice, once when they are molested as kids, and again when they repeat the behavior, you never see money spent on helping them do you. That's why this circle continues