September 21, 2021
The Missouri Court of Appeals issued a decision affirming the dismissal of a case in which plaintiffs alleged that a sporting goods store illegally sold ammunition to a straw purchaser. Renzulli Law Firm represented the store in both the trial court and on appeal.
Plaintiffs claimed that the store sold ammunition to a straw purchaser, who was buying it on behalf of an alien who was unlawfully in the United States and therefore prohibited from purchasing it pursuant to the Gun Control Act (“GCA”). The alien later used the ammunition to murder several individuals. Plaintiffs alleged that the alien selected a box of ammunition and gave it and some cash to the buyer, before they went to the register at the front of the store where the buyer paid for the ammunition. Based on the above, plaintiffs argued that the store should have realized that the ammunition was being purchased for the alien because he could not legally purchase it himself. In an effort to circumvent the immunity provided by the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (“PLCAA”), plaintiffs raised causes of action for negligent entrustment and negligence per se in an attempt to satisfy the exception to the PLCAA for such claims. The trial court granted the motion to dismiss filed by Renzulli Law Firm and dismissed plaintiffs’ claims on the pleadings, holding that they were barred by the PLCAA and failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted pursuant to Missouri law.
The Court of Appeals unanimously affirmed the dismissal of the case on the basis that plaintiffs’ negligent entrustment and negligence per se claims were not viable pursuant to Missouri law. Relative to the negligent entrustment claim, the court held that there was no basis for the store to know that the alien was illegally in the United States, and the prohibition on sales to straw purchasers applies only to sales of firearms, which require identification, completion of a 4473 form and a background check, not to sales of ammunition, which have no such requirements. The court specifically noted that it was “not aware of any federal or state law that prohibits the purchase of ammunition for another person.” With regard to plaintiffs’ negligence per se claim (negligence based on the violation of a statute establishing the standard of care), the court held that the statute on which plaintiffs relied, the provision in the GCA prohibiting the sale of ammunition to aliens unlawfully in the United States, does not create a private civil liability action based on its violation. Accordingly, it held that the GCA could not be used as the basis for a negligence per se claim.
If you have any questions concerning the above decision, or the defense of claims pursuant to the PLCAA, please contact John F. Renzulli or Christopher Renzulli.