February 1, 2024 – RLF achieved another victory for one of its firearm industry clients in a lawsuit alleging negligent entrustment of a firearm. The firearm retailer named as a defendant in the case completed all the required paperwork and ran a background check through New Hampshire’s point of contact system. The state’s Department of Safety responded with a “delay” response. Several days after the mandatory three-day period elapsed, the retailer legally transferred the firearm to the individual. Approximately a month and a half after the firearm was legally transferred, the purchaser used it to shoot and injure two police officers. The two police officers, both of whom recovered and returned to active duty, filed a lawsuit against the retailer and the New Hampshire Department of Safety.
The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the retailer, and the case was appealed. The New Hampshire Supreme Court upheld the trial court’s dismissal of the case against the retailer based upon New Hampshire’s firearm industry immunity law, N.H. Rev. Stat. § 508:21. This statute sets forth that a “qualified civil liability action shall not be brought in any state court,” with extremely limited exceptions. The plaintiffs argued that this statute did not grant the retailer immunity because the retailer somehow contributed to the police officers’ injuries by failing to appreciate the purchaser’s compromised mental state. The court concluded that the plain meaning of the statute grants immunity to the retailer, even if it was found to have partially contributed to the incident.
The plaintiffs also argued that Section 508:21 is unenforceable because it conflicts with its federal counterpart, the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (“PLCAA”). The immunity granted by the PLCAA to sellers does not apply to negligent entrustment claims, thus, the plaintiffs argued that the PLCAA preempted the state statute. The New Hampshire Supreme Court disagreed with the plaintiffs and concluded that “nothing in the PLCAA requires that states also implement a negligent entrustment exception, nor does it otherwise indicate that this exception is intended to prohibit states from exercising their ability to provide additional protections to sellers by further limiting sellers’ liability.” In essence, states are free to go beyond the protections afforded to the industry by the federal government.
Finally, the court found that Section 508:21 is constitutional under the state’s constitution. While the statute treats classes of persons differently, the legislative history demonstrated that the statute is designed, in part, to achieve the important governmental objective of safeguarding citizens’ fundamental right to bear arms. Section 508:21 also does not divest a plaintiff of a remedy, and in this case, it did not preclude plaintiffs from pursuing non-firearm seller defendants for compensation.
The court’s decision establishes the strength of Section 508:21 and the State of New Hampshire’s decision to protect firearm manufacturers and sellers from frivolous lawsuits. This case creates a substantial hurdle for any future similar cases against the firearm industry in the Granite State.
Renzulli Law Firm, LLP vigorously defends its firearm industry clients nationwide—with excellent results. If you have any questions concerning firearms related litigation, please contact John F. Renzulli or Christopher Renzulli.