NEW YORK (Reuters) - A splintered New York state Court of Appeals said an upstate shooting victim cannot pursue a negligence lawsuit against an Ohio firearms dealer who sold a gun in Ohio that was later resold on the black market and used in the shooting.
Thursday’s 4-3 decision by New York’s highest court was a setback for gun control advocates seeking to limit the movement of firearms across state lines.
Charles Brown, the dealer, had been sued by Daniel Williams, who was shot by mistake at age 16 in 2003 while playing basketball near his Buffalo, New York, home. The shooting derailed his hopes of playing NCAA Division I basketball.
Williams said Brown should have realized the Hi-Point 9 mm semi-automatic gun in question could end up in New York.
He said this was because the buyer, James Nigel Bostic, an Ohio resident who with his associates bought 182 guns from him on six occasions, said he wanted to open a gun shop in Columbus, Ohio, and “wouldn’t mind having a shop” in Buffalo.
Writing for the majority, which upheld a lower court ruling, Chief Judge Janet DiFiore condemned “the scourge of illegal gun trafficking affecting our state and others, which takes an enormous toll on injured parties and their communities.”
She nevertheless said Brown could not be sued in New York because he lacked “minimum” contacts with the state.
“Despite Bostic’s stated aspiration to open a gun shop in Buffalo, the record is devoid of evidence supporting plaintiffs’ theory that, merely by selling handguns to Bostic, Brown intended to serve the New York market,” she wrote.
Max Samis, a spokesman for Brady, a group that advocates gun violence prevention and represented Williams, said the nonprofit was disappointed and weighing its next steps.
Brown’s lawyer Scott Braum welcomed the decision, saying gun dealers deserve the same jurisdictional protections as anyone else. “There is no special body of law for firearms,” he said.
The decision does not affect Williams’ claims against Beemiller Inc and MKS Supply Inc, which respectively made and distributed the Hi-Point gun.
Judge Eugene Fahey dissented, finding it “hard to imagine” that Brown was ignorant there could be consequences in New York, which has a “very substantial interest” in protecting its citizens by holding dealers liable for improper gun sales.
“There is simply no basis, in law, to deny Daniel and his father their day in court against Brown,” Fahey wrote.
DiFiore and Fahey were appointed by Governor Andrew Cuomo. His office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The case is Williams v Brown, New York State Court of Appeals, No. 25.
Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; editing by Jonathan Oatis