By Dan Jaffe on August 9, 2016

Gun controlThe U.S. District Court of Kansas recently denied a retailer’s motion to dismiss a suit alleging negligent entrustment and knowing violation of federal law in the sale of a firearm based on the pre-emption provisions of the PLCAA. Corporan v. Wal-Mart Stores East, LP, et al, 2016 WL 388134 (D. Kansas 2016). In Corporon the plaintiff alleged that Frazier Glenn Miller murdered her son and father with a shotgun sold by the Wal-Mart defendants to John Mark Reidle, who transferred the gun to Miller after he purchased it.  Miller, a convicted felon, was prohibited by law from purchasing firearms. Plaintiff further alleged, and the Court accepted as true for purposes of the motion, that in the presence of at least one Wal-Mart salesperson, Miller selected a shotgun and initiated its purchase.  Miller then claimed he did not have any identification with him and “offered that Reidle would complete the purchase.”  Reidle, in the presence of Miller and at least one Wal-Mart employee, completed the requisite Form 4473 in which he falsely identified himself as the actual buyer of the shotgun.  Defendants assisted Reidle in completing the Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives Form 4437, and then sold him the shotgun.  Reidle thereafter transferred it to Miller, and four days later Miller used it to commit the murders.

Defendants moved to dismiss Plaintiff’s complaint under the PLCAA, 15 U.S.C. §§ 7901, et seq., which generally prohibits suits against firearms and ammunition manufacturers and sellers arising from the criminal or unlawful misuse of such products, unless the suit falls within one of six exceptions.  15 U.S.C. §§ 7901-7903.  There was no dispute that the case was barred by the PLCAA unless it fell within of the exceptions.

In opposing the motion, plaintiff asserted that the exception for knowing violation of a federal statute applicable to the sale of a firearm applied. 15 U.S.C. § 7903(5)(A)(ii) and (iii).  The PLCAA defines the knowing statutory violation exception to include knowingly making any false entry into a required record, and “…otherwise dispose of a [firearm] knowing or having reasonable cause to believe that the actual buyer of the [firearm] was prohibited from possessing or receiving a firearm…” 15 U.S.C. § 7903(5)(A) (iii)(I) and (II).

The Court found that the allegations in the complaint did not plausibly support a claim that defendants violated any statute. There were no allegations that defendant knew or should have known that Miller was a convicted felon. However, plaintiff also alleged that the defendant s violated the Federal Gun Control Act by falsely certifying in the Form 4437 that that it was not unlawful to transfer the firearm to the prospective purchaser. The defendants pointed out that plaintiff did not allege that they made any false entries or false statements in connection with the Form 4473— only that Reidle did so. The Court held that if Plaintiff amended her complaint to allege that the Form 4473 was signed by a salesperson with knowledge that Reidle was not the actual buyer of the firearm (which Plaintiff asserted she could do), she would have alleged sufficient facts to “survive the PLCAA filter.” It granted Plaintiff leave to so amend her complaint, and denied the defendants’ motion to dismiss.

The PLCAA requires that courts must “immediately dismiss” a qualified civil liability action unless one of the statutory exceptions apply, Corporan shows the nature and level of detail of the facts which must be pleaded and proved to successfully invoke the knowing violation of a federal statute exception.