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The City of Chicago et al., vs. Beretta U.S.A Corporation, et al.,
Nos. 95243, 95253, 95256 and 95280, cons. Illinois Supreme Court. 11/18/04
(Notice:The decision was reported in a slip opinion, not released for publication in the permanent law reports, and until released, it is subject to revision or withdrawal ).
A long-awaited decision by the Illinois Supreme Court has dealt Chicago’s Mayor Daley a resounding defeat in his bid to hold manufacturers, distributors and dealers of certain firearms, primarily handguns, liable for crimes committed with their use. A holding against the defendants would have opened up a Pandora's box of public nuisance claims that could have then applied to just about any manufacturer, distributor and/or dealer of any product ultimately used as a weapon in a crime. This possible overbroad repercussion was pointed out in the unanimous decision written by Justice Rita B. Garman. The Court clearly took a position of judicial restraint, noting that this was a matter better left to the legislature. The Court reversed the Appellate Court and affirmed the decision to dismiss the suit initially ruled by Cook County Chancery Judge Stephen A. Schiller.
A total of 18 manufacturers, 4 distributors and 11 gun dealers were initially sued by the City of Chicago and County of Cook in November, 1998. In its prayer for relief the plaintiff City sought compensation for the cost of emergency services, law enforcement efforts, the prosecution of violators of gun control ordinances and other related expenses. The County of Cook sought compensation for the costs of treatment of victims of gun violence, prosecution for criminal use of firearms, including the expenses associated with defense counsel [public defenders] to those accused of gun crimes. Both Plaintiffs sought punitive damages and permanent injunctive relief to abate the alleged “public nuisance.”
The case reached the State Supreme Court on appeal after the trial courts’ dismissal of the action on September 15, 2000, pursuant to the defendants’ motion, was reversed by the Illinois Appellate Court for the 1st District.
The case was unique in that none of the manufacturers’ principal places of business were located within Illinois, and only one distributor was located within its borders. While all of the gun dealers were located in Illinois, none had a business within Chicago’s city limits.
From the onset of the litigation, pro-firearm advocates, including many well-known attorneys, law professors and firearm experts, predicted the outcome, commenting on the obvious failure on the part of the plaintiffs to show a nexus between either the manufacture, distribution and/or sale and the ultimate criminal use of a firearm. Although it would appear that elementary horn-book law precluded any finding of proximate cause between the collective defendants’ actions and/or inactions and the resulting alleged damages, this case traveled the appellate route to the State’s highest court--demonstrating and personifying the zeal and tenacity of some of the anti-gun community’s misguided efforts to curb crime by aiming at manufacturers, distributors, and dealers of firearms -- a proven fruitless, but alarming threat to freedom-loving American gun owners.
Five of the Justices joined in a specially concurring opinion written by Justice Charles E. Freeman, who relied on his reasons given in his specially concurring opinion in a similar companion case involving multiple individual plaintiffs, Stephen Young et al., v. Bryco Arms, et al., 93678, 93685 and 93728, cons., also decided on 11/18/04.
In Young, Justice Freeman, specially concurring, joined by Chief Justice McMorrow, and Justices Fitzgerald, Kilbride and Rarick, as in this case, found ”[t]he majority’s recitation of the facts and its discussion of the current state of the law with respect to the issues raised are both comprehensive and accurate. The conclusion reached is legally correct.” However, Justice Freeman was compelled to call attention to “ . . . some of the more disturbing allegations in Plaintiff’s complaint . . .not highlighted in the majority opinion because they do not impact the majority’s legal analysis.”
It appears that the concurring opinion’s need to point out “disturbing statistical data”-- regarding the gun manufactures’ alleged awareness of the probability that their wares might be used in the commission of crimes -- found its origin in the plaintiffs’ overkill of pleadings, saturated with evidentiary facts and conclusions, in defiance of the “ultimate facts” pleading standard in Illinois. At the onset of the Beretta case, the Plaintiffs clearly spouted their anti-gun political agenda by overloading the pleadings with statistical data, much of which survived to their second amended complaint.
Justice Garman stated early in the opinion that the Court had reservations about the plaintiffs’ second amended complaint, noting in pertinent part:
“Although we have reservations regarding the adequacy of the second amended complaint under our fact-pleading standard, we decline to dispose of this case on a procedural issue. The questions of law raised on this appeal are of great importance, have been fully briefed and argued, and provide a substantive basis for resolving this issue.”
Turning to the substantive issues, the Court considered the required elements of the “public nuisance” cause of action--public right, unreasonable interference, proximate cause, and the remedies sought, in light of the defendants’ principal contentions--as the Court stated--that “they may not be held liable in public nuisance when they have no control over the instrumentality at the time the alleged harm results from the criminal acts of third parties, as well as the argument that their conduct is too remote from the alleged injury for liability to attach.” In conclusion, the majority opinion states:
“Plaintiffs and the amici supporting their position advocate expansion of the common law of public nuisance to encompass their novel claim. They anticipate our reluctance to expand nuisance liability in an area highly regulated by both state and federal law and urge that it is not only within our inherent authority, but it is also our duty, to construe the common law to aid a local government’s effort to protect its citizens from gun violence.
“ To do so, we would have to decide each of the issues raised in this appeal in plaintiffs favor. In effect, we would have had to resolve every “close call” in favor of creating an entirely new species of public nuisance liability. Instead, after careful consideration, we conclude that Plaintiffs have not stated a claim for public nuisance. Even granting, arguendo, that a public right has been infringed, we conclude that their assertions of negligent conduct are not supported by any recognized duty on the part of the manufacturer and distributor defendants and that, under the Gilmore rule (Gilmore v. Stanmar, Inc., 261 Ill. App. 3d. at 661), their allegations of intentional conduct are insufficient for public nuisance liability as a matter of law. In addition, we hold that proximate cause cannot be established as to the dealer defendants because the claimed harm is the aggregate result of numerous unforeseeable intervening criminal acts by third parties not under defendants’ control. By implication, proximate cause is also lacking as to the manufacturer and distributor defendants, who are even further removed from the intervening criminal acts. Finally, we hold that plaintiffs’ action for damages is barred by the Moorman doctrine and the municipal cost recovery rule. [Moorman Mfg Co., v. National Tank Co., 91 Ill. 2d. 69 (1982)].
“Any change of this magnitude in the law affecting a highly regulated industry must be the work of the legislature, brought about by the political process, not the work of the courts. In response to the suggestion of amici that we are abdicating our responsibility to declare the common law, we point to the virtue of judicial restraint.
“We, therefore, reverse the judgment of the appellate court and affirm the judgment of the circuit court, which properly granted defendants’ motion to dismiss.
Appellate court judgment reversed; circuit court judgment affirmed.”





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