On Dec. 14, 2012 twenty first graders and six adults were tragically shot and killed at the elementary school in Newtown, Conn. While numerous lawsuits have resulted from this horrific incident, the one capturing the biggest headlines involve the families’ suit against gun manufacturer Remington Arms Co.
The gun manufacture has attempted to block the suit based upon, among other things, the 2005 Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act which grants broad immunity to gun manufacturers. The suit, which is currently running the gamut through Connecticut state court, has now been sent back to the Connecticut courts following the US Supreme Court’s refusal to hear Remington’s motion to block the suit.
BUT…Don’t read too much into the Court’s refusal to hear the motion. That does not, by any stretch of the imagination, mean that the company has lost. Quite frankly, the machinations of appeals courts’ rulings and motions for writ are complicated and somewhat esoteric. The highest level of Appellate courts – the level of the US Supreme Court or any state Supreme Court – are courts of limited jurisdiction and not original jurisdiction. What that means is you can only get in front of these courts if they accept the case. The decision process of which cases get accepted and which cases get declined is, for the most part, not indicative of the facts of the case.
To the contrary, courts at this level seem to take cases more on the policy that needs to be set or areas where there is conflict among the lower courts. Further, as may be the situation here, where the case has not gone to full conclusion the courts are somewhat reluctant to jump into case ending rulings. The reason for this is that most courts at this level don’t want to be policy makers. Instead they want, if possible, for the case to be decided on the merits. Having the case heard completely on its merits may negate the need for the court to get involved at all. Especially when it comes to the US Supreme Court, they are very limited in the number of cases they take – usually somewhere between 100-150 of the more than 7,000 they are asked to review.
Ultimately, this case, involving such high emotions, horrible facts and issues of first impression will likely end up in front of the US Supreme Court before all is said and done. It’s just that now, early in the matter, the court is reluctant to get involved.