MI Appeals Court Dismisses Lawsuits Against Gunmakers
A three-judge panel of the Michigan Court of Appeals unanimously handed anti-gunners another bitter defeat on Aug. 8 by throwing out the consolidated lawsuits filed by former Detroit Mayor Dennis Archer and Wayne County Prosecutor John OHair against 24 gunmakers and a dozen retailers. Detroit and Wayne County each sought $400 million, claiming that the industry had not prevented criminals, straw men and juveniles from obtaining crime guns.
The ruling amounted to the fourth and fifth dismissals of such lawsuits based on state laws that have been passed in recent years to prevent cities and counties from filing such novel civil actions against the gun industry. The other three cases involved New Orleans, LA, Atlanta, GA, and Philadelphia, PA, according to Lawrence Keane, vice president and general counsel for the National Shooting Sports Foundation.
The Detroit lawsuit was filed in April 1999, and the state law was passed in 2000 but enforced retroactively.
Except in rare circumstances, local governments, as creations of the legislature, cannot claim that an act of the legislature violates their rights, the court found. Judges Joel Hoekstra, Kurtis Wilder and Brian Zahra also said there is no constitutional ban on legislative intervention in an issue that is before a court, especially in its early stages. The decision reverses Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Jeanne Stepenics ruling in 2000 allowing the suits to continue.
Under the Michigan law, only the state attorney general can sue gun manufacturers or dealers. Attorney General Mike Cox has no plans to pursue the suits, spokesman Sage Eastman told The Detroit Free Press.
Brian Siebel, senior attorney for the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence in Washington, DC, said the Wayne County lawsuit was among the strongest in the country.
But Lawrence Greenwald, a Baltimore attorney for Beretta USA Corp., said the suits are falling by the wayside. Not one of some 33 similar lawsuits filed by cities and counties has been won; many, including that by New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, have been dismissed by trial or appellate courts.
Archers and OHairs successors did not announce a next move.
Sharon Banks, spokeswoman for Wayne County Executive Robert Ficano, who was the county sheriff when the suit was filed, said, The appeals court has spoken and we plan no further appeal.
Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, a state lawmaker when the bill was approved, is considering whether to appeal the decision to the Michigan Supreme Court, spokesman Howard Hughey said.
These lawsuits join a growing list (of defeats), Keane said. However, the industry is still threatened by litigation, and we are still just one verdict away (from disaster) by a runaway jury.
More than 30 states have enacted legislation that prevents municipal anti-gun lawsuits, and Congress is currently considering S-659, which would make such legal actions against federal law. That bill has already passed the House of Representatives and is presently in the Senate, with 54 sponsors. President Bush said he will sign it, if it is passed.