4th Department: Williams v. Beemiller

The plaintiff, Daniel Williams, sought damages for injuries sustained after a shooting in 2003 during which he was mistaken for a member of a rival high school gang by the shooter.  The defendants were Beemiller, the manufacturer of the 9mm semiautomatic pistol involved in the shooting; MKS Supply (“MKS”), the wholesaler to whom Beemiller sold the weapon; and Charles Brown, the individual who sold the weapon directly to the shooter. The plaintiff sued the defendants for “negligently distributing and selling the gun in a manner that caused it to be obtained by . . . [an] illegal and malicious gun user and possessor.”  The lower court dismissed the complaint as being precluded by the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA).  The plaintiff appealed the decision to dismiss the complaint.

The court held that the lower court improperly dismissed the complaint because it fell under the predicate exception of the PLCAA, and was therefore not precluded. The PLCAA mandates the immediate dismissal of any civil action for damages against a manufacturer or seller of firearms when that firearm has been criminally or unlawfully misused and shipped in interstate or foreign commerce.   However, the predicate exception provides that the action should not be dismissed if the “manufacturer or seller knowingly violated a State or Federal statute applicable to the sale and that violation was the proximate cause of the harm for which the relief is sought.”

The court concluded that the action properly fell under the predicate exception because the defendant, Brown, knowingly sold the gun to a convicted felon thereby violating the Gun Control Act of 1968.  The court further concluded that Beemiller and MKS were accomplices in the sale because they knew, or should have known, that Brown was distributing the guns to unlawful purchasers.

100 A.D.3d 143, 952 N.Y.S.2d 333 (4th Dep’t 2012)

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