A Chicago lawsuit against a Gary, Indiana gun shop which alleged the store repeatedly sold guns to straw purchasers in violation of federal law was dismissed Thursday by a Cook County Circuit Court judge.
Judge Clare J. Quish issued the seven-page ruling in the city’s lawsuit against Westforth Sports, Inc., of Gary, a city about ten miles away from Chicago, but in the neighboring state. According to the Chicago Tribune and the court document, the city alleged shop owner Earl Westforth “ignored warnings from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives about suspicious purchases at the store.”
In a prepared statement, defense attorney Timothy Rudd at Braum|Rudd in Dayton, Ohio said the judge’s decision was a “victory for firearms retailers everywhere.”
“The City of Chicago sued the Indiana firearms retailer claiming that it sold handguns in Indiana that were alleged to have somehow later been transported by third parties into Illinois and used to cause unspecified harm in the City of Chicago,” Rudd explained. “After written jurisdictional discovery, depositions, and a full hearing on the matter, however, the Court properly found that Constitutional due process does not allow an out-of-state firearms retailer to be hauled into court in Illinois unless the claims arise out of or relate to the defendant’s own contacts with the state.”
The significance of this ruling, if it is upheld on appeal—which the city has indicated it will—is that the court has reinforced the position that firearms retailers cannot be held liable for the misuse of products they legally sold, by third parties over whom they have no control.
Judge Quish notes in her ruling that Westforth is allowed by law to sell long guns “legally at retail to residents of other sales only within the State of Indiana and only if such sales are legal in Indiana and the purchaser’s state of residence.” Westforth legally “transacts business with Illinois customers, by legally selling handguns to Illinois residents via FFL intermediaries.”
The city contended that “Westforth feeds the market for illegal firearms by knowingly selling its products to an ever-changing roster of gun traffickers and straw (sham) purchasers who transport Westforth’s guns from Indiana into Chicago,” according to the court document. But, according to the ruling, “The City admits that ‘as the complaint is drafted, there’s not a causal connection between [Westforth’s] sales to Illinois customers and the City’s claims.’ The City conceded that its injuries and claims do ‘not arise out of those Illinois sales.’”
Later in the ruling, Judge Quish notes, “There is no evidence of a bilateral relationship between Westforth and the straw purchasers…” and, “There is no evidence that both Westforth and various straw purchasers had a business relationship or contractual understanding…”
The city’s claims, Judge Quish notes, “relate solely to the actions of straw purchasers” and the shop has no “affiliation or connection” with straw purchasers.
According to the Chicago Tribune, the city was represented by attorneys from Everytown Law, Mayer Brown LLP and the city’s Law Department.
“The City has not yet had an opportunity to review the decision, but fully intends to press on with its case against Westforth after studying the Court’s ruling and deciding on the best path forward,” said Alla Lefkowitz, Everytown Law’s senior director of affirmative litigation, in a prepared statement.