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Media Alerts - Estate of Arrington v. Michael - Third Circuit
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December 31, 2013
  Estate of Arrington v. Michael - Third Circuit
Headline: Child Safety Lock Act's term "inoperative" is not ambiguous and thus summary judgment was warranted

Area of Law: Child Safety Lock Act

Issues Presented: Whether the Child Safety Lock Act is ambiguous and whether the denial of summary judgment was appropriate

Brief Summary: Plaintiff claimed immunity from civil damages for the unauthorized use of his gun in the murder of a young woman. The district court ruled that the term 'inoperable' used in the Child Safety Lock Act was ambiguous and thus material facts were at issue so summary judgment was denied. The Third Circuit determined that the term is not ambiguous and even if it was it is a matter of law and not fact. The Court reversed the district court and remanded with instructions to dismiss the claims.

Extended Summary: This case centers on the tragic murder of a young woman and whether the father of her killer is civilly liable for any damages because his gun was used to commit the crime. The Child Safety Lock Act (CSLA) provides that any individual with lawful control of a gun who has utilized a secure gun storage or safety device and has not authorized or permitted access to the gun is immune from any suit in a qualified liability action. A qualified liability action is defined as a suit where damages result from the criminal or unlawful misuse of a handgun by a third party which had been made inoperable by use of a storage device. Michael is a police officer who was planning a vacation to Florida and locked his gun in a police department issued gunlock and hid a key in a drawer and put the magazine and ammunition in a duffle bag in the corner of the room. The room itself had a bolt lock on it.
Arrington was plaintiff's son's girlfriend. She had a PFA against him which he had violated. After drinking a lot of alcohol, the son broke down his father's door, ransacked the room, found the key, got the gun and magazine, and went to Arrington's house where he shot her. The district court determined that "inoperable" was an ambiguous term in the CLSA and that a material factual dispute existed as to whether the gun used here was inoperable and thus denied plaintiff's motion for summary judgment.
The Third Circuit held that even if there was an ambiguity, it would be a question of law and not a factual dispute for a jury. The Court noted that the text of the statute states that a gun is made inoperable by use of a secure gun storage or safety device. The Third Circuit concluded that the term "inoperable" was not ambiguous because inoperable was not used by itself but instead refers to using a gun storage or safety device. A device of this kind was used here and thus plaintiff fits squarely within the immunity of the statute. The Estate also argued that having the key so near the lock is akin to not using the lock at all. The Court rejected that argument, explaining that it overlooks plaintiff's other actions of keeping everything behind a dead-bolted door and having the gun, magazine, and ammunition separated. The court determined that Michael was entitled to immunity under the statute and remanded with instructions to dismiss the claims.

To read the full opinion, please visit http://www2.ca3.uscourts.gov/opinarch/131042p.pdf

Panel (if known): Rendell, Jordan, and Lipez, Circuit Judges

Argument Date: October 17, 2013

Argument Location:

Date of Issued Opinion: December 24, 2013

Docket Number: No. 13-1042

Decided: Remanded

Case Alert Author: Cheri Snook

Counsel: Suzanne McDonough, for appellant; Frank N. DiMeo, Jr. and James D. Rosen, for appellee

Author of Opinion: Judge Jordan

Circuit: Third Circuit

Case Alert Supervisor: Professor Mary E. Levy

    Posted By: Susan DeJarnatt @ 12/31/2013 01:25 PM     3rd Circuit  

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