Mary Kay Scott Wins Landmark Illinois Supreme Court Case

In two consolidated cases, City of Chicago v. Beretta, et al. and Young v. Bryco Arms, et al. (itself consisting of three consolidated actions), the City of Chicago and several families of victims of gang-related handgun violence sued various manufacturers, distributors, and retailers of handguns, seeking damages and injunctive relief. Plaintiffs alleged that the defendants created a public nuisance by deliberately designing, and manufacturing guns that would appeal to gang members due to their small size and light weight, and by selling guns to “straw purchasers” whom they knew or should have known would inject those guns into the black market, where they would ultimately end up in the hands of juvenile gang members who would criminally misuse them. The firm represented Breit & Johnson Sporting Goods, one of the handgun retailers alleged to have knowingly made a lawful sale of a handgun to a “straw purchaser.”

All defendants filed motions to dismiss the suits on the grounds that plaintiffs could not state a claim for public nuisance under Illinois law. The trial court denied the defendants motions, but certified the cases for immediate review. The Illinois Appellate Court agreed to hear an immediate appeal, and affirmed the trial court’s ruling. Defendants petitioned the Illinois Supreme Court for leave to appeal, which was granted. In a case of first impression, the Illinois Supreme Court reversed the trial and appellate courts, and held that defendants could not be held liable under the theory of public nuisance. The Court held that as a matter of law, the defendants’ conduct did not proximately cause injury to the defendants or the public, because the defendants have no control over the third parties who criminally misused the guns they manufactured and sold. The Court further held that the tort of public nuisance could not encompass the lawful manufacture and sale of firearms, which are already heavily regulated by Federal and State law. Finally, the Court ruled that the issue of juvenile gang violence, while admittedly a significant societal problem, is an issue that must be addressed by the Illinois legislature, rather than judicial intervention.