Remington Arms Company asked the Supreme Court Thursday to take up a lawsuit next term brought by a survivor and families of nine other victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy in 2012 who argue the gun manufacturer should be held partly responsible for the mass shooting.
The company is asking the justices to reverse the Connecticut Supreme Court that ruled in March 2019 that the lawsuit brought by the victims could go forward.
A 2005 federal law protects many gun manufacturers from wrongful death lawsuits brought by grieving family members. But the Sandy Hook plaintiffs are seeking a way around the law by targeting the company’s marketing strategy. While the state Supreme Court ruled the case could move forward, it agreed to put its ruling on hold pending appeal.
It was in 2012 when a gunman forced his way into Sandy Hook Elementary and in 264 seconds fatally shot 20 first grade children and six staff members. He used a Bushmaster XM15-e2s semiautomatic weapon that had been sold to his mother.
Lawyers for the victims have sued Remington contending that the company marketed rifles like the one used in the crime in its advertising and product catalogs in a deceptive way by extolling the militaristic and assaultive qualities of the rifle and reinforcing the image of a combat weapon – in violation of a Connecticut law that prevents deceptive marketing practices.
They say that the shooter was encouraged by the marketing campaign to choose his weapon of choice and that under Connecticut law they have the legal right to bring the claim against the manufacturer.
But Scott Keller, a lawyer for Remington, argued in court papers filed Thursday that when Congress passed the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act in 2005 it did so to “ensure that firearms – so central to American society that the Founders safeguarded their ownership and use in the Bill of Rights – would be regulated only through the democratic process rather than the vagaries of litigation.”
Keller said that Congress determined that “mere possibility of imposing liability on an entire industry for harm that is solely caused by others” is an “abuse of the legal system ” and that the plaintiffs can’t use the state unfair trade practices law to bring the claim.
Acknowledging that the shooting “shocked the country,” Keller said that the Connecticut Supreme Court was mistaken when it allowed the lawsuit to proceed and that it threatens to “unleash” a flood of similar cases.
Josh Koskoff, the attorney representing Sandy Hook families in the Remington suit, said he believes the US Supreme Court will affirm the state’s ruling.
“Remington’s filing makes no new or unexpected arguments. Our state’s highest court has already ruled that the families deserve their day in court and we are confident that the US Supreme Court will defer to that well-reasoned opinion,” Koskoff said.
The justices will likely announce this fall whether they will take up the case.