Firearms Possession by Persons with Mental Illness; Negligent Entrustment

Delana v. CED Sales, Inc., No. SC95013, 486 S.W.3d 316 (Mo. 2016) (en banc)

Missouri Supreme Court rules that a claim of negligent entrustment can be brought against a seller who sold a firearm to an individual after the seller had been specifically informed that the purchaser was mentally ill and had attempted suicide recently and was likely to do harm to self or others if given possession of a firearm, where the purchaser did subsequently use the firearm to kill another person.

Background: On June 25, 2012, Colby Weathers’ mother called the store manager of Odessa Gun & Pawn and asked him to refrain from selling a gun to her daughter who was severely mentally ill, informing him that Ms. Weathers had purchased a gun at the pawnshop the previous month and attempted to commit suicide. Two days later, the store manager sold a gun to Weathers and within two hours, Weathers had shot and killed her father. The State charged Weathers with murder but accepted her plea of not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect and ordered her committed to the Missouri Department of Mental Health. Weathers’ mother filed a wrongful death action alleging that the pawnshop was liable under theories of negligence.

The circuit court entered summary judgment in favor of Respondents, finding that Weathers’ mother’s negligence claims were preempted by the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA), which protects the sellers of firearms against negligence claims. The court also determined that although the PLCAA provides an exception to this protection in cases of negligent entrustment, Missouri law does not recognize a cause of action for negligent entrustment against sellers.

Holding: On appeal, the Supreme Court of Missouri held that the district court erred in determining that Weathers’ mother was precluded from proceeding with her negligent entrustment claim. The court found that, because Congress had expressly and unambiguously exercised its constitutionally delegated authority to preempt state law negligence actions against sellers of firearms, the PLCAA clearly preempted state law on point; thus, the PLCAA’s exception for negligent entrustment actions applied. What is more, the Court found that Missouri law does recognize a cause of action for negligent entrustment. The court concluded that negligent entrustment occurs when the defendant "supplies" a chattel (i.e., item of personal property) to another with actual or constructive knowledge that, "because of youth, inexperience or otherwise," the recipient will likely use the chattel in a manner that will result in an unreasonable risk of physical harm. Because Weathers’ mother presented sufficient evidence, the circuit court erred in entering summary judgment in favor of the pawnshop.

Found in DMHL Volume 35, Issue 2