The Supreme Court turned away an appeal by the daughter of a woman killed in a shooting at a Wisconsin spa in 2012, who was hoping to sue the website Armslist.com by claiming the site was liable for the suspect in the shooting acquiring his firearms.
The justices rejected an appeal Monday from the daughter of one of three people shot to death by a man who illegally bought a semi-automatic pistol and ammunition from someone he met through Armslist.com.
The Wisconsin Supreme Court dismissed the suit, ruling that federal law protects website operators from liability for posting content from a third party. The state court rejected arguments that websites that enable gun deals must take reasonable care to prevent sales to people prohibited from purchasing firearms. The Wisconsin shooter was under a court order that prohibited him from possessing guns.
Back in April of this year, in the 5-1 Wisconsin Supreme Court ruling that dismissed the case, Chief Justice Pat Roggensack wrote that claims by the plaintiff’s attorneys that Armslist was responsible for every posting on the website were flawed because of a federal law. In this case, it wasn’t the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act that stopped the lawsuit from going forward, but the Communications Decency Act.
“Regardless of Armslist’s knowledge or intent, the relevant question is whether (the) claim necessarily requires Armslist to be treated as the publisher or speaker of third-party content,” Roggensack wrote. “Because it does, the negligence claim must be dismissed.”
Gun control groups and several members of Congress weighed in as the Wisconsin court was considering the case, but I didn’t hear much about the appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court after the judges in Wisconsin rejected the lawsuit.
This challenge faced pretty long odds, to be honest. In fact, even though the Supreme Court declined to hear this appeal and stopped a lawsuit from taking place, in an appeal by Remington in a lawsuit brought by the families of several victims of the murders in Newtown, Connecticut, the justices recently declined to hear that case as well, allowing the lawsuit to proceed. It might be tempting to try to read something into these decisions, but the fact is simply that the Court only hears a handful of the thousands of cases presented to it ever term.
Next week, however, the Supreme Court will hear a gun case when oral arguments in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. New York City take place. That challenge to a New York City gun law has the potential to reshape the legal fight over the right to keep and bear arms, as long as the justices don’t decide that the case is moot because New York City changed the law in question in an attempt to avoid scrutiny by the Supreme Court. If you want to try to read some tea leaves, you’ll have better luck by poring over the written transcript of the upcoming oral arguments than by trying to divine some deeper meaning to the Court’s rejection of the lawsuit against Armslist.