Monday, August 21, 2023

Third Circuit Upholds New Jersey's Right to Sue Firearm Companies, At Least Temporarily

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

In July of last year, New Jersey's Democratic Governor Phil Murphy enactedlegislation that permits the state to file lawsuits against firearm companies, apparently bypassing the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act. The National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) swiftly responded by filing a lawsuit, which led to a preliminary injunction against the new law early this year.

The state's Attorney General Matthew Platkin appealed the decision, leading to a reversal of the injunction and dismissal of the lawsuit by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals. However, this isn't necessarily a cause for celebration for Governor Murphy and Attorney General Platkin. The court's decision to overturn the injunction was influenced by the difference between potential and actual harm.

Judge Stephanos Bibas, representing a unanimous three-judge panel, clarified that federal courts should not engage in predicting outcomes and should instead focus on fully matured disputes. Essentially, the court's opinion suggested that NSSF filed the lawsuit prematurely, ahead of the new law's enforcement.

The court indicated that the suit might have been seen differently if a member of the NSSF or the organization itself were actually facing a lawsuit under the new state law. The absence of any prior enforcement actions against the NSSF or its members further complicated the organization's legal standing.

Larry Keane, the Senior Vice President of NSSF, expressed that while they disagree with the court's dismissal of their pre-emptive challenge, it's crucial to note that the court did not make a judgment on the New Jersey law's compatibility with federal legislation. Keane mentioned that they are prepared to refile their complaint if the state decides to enforce the law.

So, while Governor Murphy and Attorney General Platkin might consider this a win, they would be wise to exercise caution in using this newfound authority. If they do decide to enforce the law, they could quickly find themselves back in court. Given the current leadership in New Jersey, more setbacks could be on the horizon.

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