HARTFORD, Conn. -- The Connecticut Supreme Court Thursday narrowly reversed a ruling by a lower court judge dismissing a lawsuit by the families of victims of the Sandy Hook shooting against gun manufacturer Remington, allowing the case to proceed.
By a 4-3 decision the court has remanded the landmark gun case back to Bridgeport Superior Court and possibly created a path that other mass shooting victims can follow to get around the federal Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, known as PLCAA, which has protected the manufacturers of the AR-15 from lawsuits.
The court ruled that the Sandy Hook families should have the opportunity top prove that Remington violated the Connecticut Unfair Trade Practices Act (CUTPA) by marketing what it knew was a weapon designed for military use to civilians such as Nancy and Adam Lanza.
Adam Lanza used the AR-15 to kill 26 people, including 20 first graders, at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012.
"We further conclude that PLCAA does not bar the plaintiffs from proceeding on the single, limited theory that the defendants violated CUTPA by marketing the XM15- E2S to civilians for criminal purposes, and that those wrongful marketing tactics caused or contributed to the Sandy Hook massacre," 1/2Palmer wrote. "Accordingly, we affirm in part and reverse in part the judgment of the trial court and remand the case for further proceedings."
"Following a scrupulous review of the text and legislative history of (the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act) we also conclude that Congress has not clearly manifested an intent to extinguish the traditional authority of our legislature and our courts to protect the people of Connecticut from the pernicious practices alleged in the present case. The regulation of advertising that threatens the public's health, safety, and morals has long been considered a core exercise of the states' police powers." Justice Richard Palmer wrote.
"Accordingly, on the basis of that limited theory, we conclude that the plaintiffs have pleaded allegations sufficient to survive a motion to strike and are entitled to have the opportunity to prove their wrongful marketing allegations,' Palmer wrote.
A Superior Court judge in Bridgeport dismissed the lawsuit in 2016 agreeing with attorneys for Remington that the lawsuit "falls squarely within the broad immunity" provided to gun manufacturers and dealers by the arms act. The lawsuit originally filed in 2015 by nine families of victims, as well as a teacher who was injured in the shooting, also named Camfour Holding LLP, the gun's distributor, and Riverview Gun Sales Inc., the East Windsor gun shop where Nancy Lanza purchased the AR-15 right around her son's 18th birthday.
Adam Lanza was 20 years old on Dec. 14, 2012, when he killed his mother in their Newtown home, shot his way into the elementary school he had attended and went on a killing spree inside two classrooms with a Bushmaster AR-15 before killing himself with a handgun.
Legal experts said the case will come down to how the state Supreme Court will interpret two possible exceptions allowed under the arms act -- whether Remington can be held liable for so-called "negligent entrustment" or whether it violated the Connecticut Unfair Trade Practices Act. Negligent entrustment is defined as "supplying of a qualified product by a seller for use by another person when the seller knows, or reasonably should know, the person to whom the product is supplied is likely to, and does, use the product in a manner involving unreasonable risk of physical injury to the person or others."