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Highland Park Shooting Victims Win Seventh Circuit Affirmance of Order Remanding Lawsuit Against Smith & Wesson to State Court

Paul, Weiss, together with Romanucci & Blandin, LLC, Hunt Law PC and Everytown Law, won a significant victory for victims of the deadly July 4 mass shooting in Highland Park, Illinois, securing the Seventh Circuit’s affirmance of a lower court’s September 2023 decision remanding their case against gunmaker Smith & Wesson to state court. The appellate court rejected all of Smith & Wesson’s arguments and directed the Northern District of Illinois to consider whether the gunmaker has to reimburse the plaintiffs for costs incurred by its “unjustified” removal of the case to federal court and subsequent appeal.

In our now-consolidated complaints, initially filed in Illinois state court in September 2022, we allege that Smith & Wesson intentionally markets its rifles to “disturbed young men” who have time and again been the perpetrators of mass shootings. Smith & Wesson’s M&P rifles have been repeatedly used in mass shootings, including those in Aurora, Colorado; San Bernardino, California; and Parkland, Florida. We assert that the company’s deceptive and unfair marketing practices are designed to appeal to the impulsive, risk-taking tendencies of civilian adolescent and young adult men.

In November 2022, Smith & Wesson removed the consolidated suit to federal court in an attempt to delay the litigation and try the case in what they believed would be a more favorable forum. Arguing that the gunmaker’s jurisdictional bases for removal were incurably defective and meritless, we secured the district court’s remand of the case back to state court.

The Seventh Circuit rejected Smith & Wesson’s assertion that the case’s removal to federal court is justified because the company is an entity “acting under” a federal officer, which would allow removal whether or not other defendants elect to be in federal court. Smith & Wesson previously failed to obtain the required consent to removal from all co-defendants. The panel found that, despite the gunmaker’s argument that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) refers to manufacturers like Smith & Wesson as its partners and to the regulatory system as a partnership, “this snippet of bureaucratese does not change the nature of the relation between regulator and regulated,” and that Smith & Wesson is a wholly private entity that does not “act under” the auspices of the ATF.

Smith & Wesson also attempted to circumvent the requirement that all co-defendants consent to removal by arguing that our clients’ state suit presents multiple claims, at least one of which arises under federal law, and must therefore be heard in federal court even absent the consent of all co-defendants. The Seventh Circuit rejected this contention, explaining that, while the plaintiffs present two legal theories of relief, that does not multiply the number of claims.

The Paul, Weiss team includes litigation partners Christopher Boehning and Jeffrey Recher, counsel Hallie Goldblatt and Yotam Barkai, and associates Jacob Humerick, Shauna Shalvey, Alex Beer, Aaron Haier, Jamie Durling and Matteo Godi; intellectual property partner Claudine Meredith-Goujon; and restructuring associate Julia Heasley.

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