Judge Orders Aurora Victim’s Family and Lawyers to Pay for Suing Gun Dealers

By Woody published on in News

U.S. District Judge Richard Matsch of Denver has ordered the plaintiffs and lawyers who sued Sportsman’s Guide and Lucky Gunner LLC for selling supplies to alleged Aurora movie-theater shooter James Holmes, to pay the companies’ legal fees in the family’s unsuccessful civil suit against the firearms firms. Click here to download a copy of the suit.

Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence Logo

The Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence lost its suit against businesses that supplied ammunition and gear to alleged Aurora shooter James Holmes. Now Brady and the family who sued are on the hook for legal fees.

Sandy and Lonnie Phillips are the mother and stepfather, respectively, of Jessica Ghawi, one of the 12 members of the audience who was shot and killed in July 2012 at a showing of The Dark Knight Rises Batman movie at a no-guns-allowed theater—Theater 9 at the Century 16 multiplex (operated by Cinemark), located at the Town Center at Aurora shopping mall in Aurora, Colorado. Our previous coverage of how to survive such an event is here.

In 2014, Sandy and Lonnie Phillips sued Lucky Gunner (aka BulkAmmo.com) because the company sold Holmes ammunition. The suit also named Sportsman’s Guide, which sold Holmes a magazine and ammunition, according to court documents. Two other companies, BTP Arms, and Bullet Proof Body Armor, were also named. Click here to read our coverage of the initial suit lodged in September 2014.

However, Colorado has a law that shields guns and ammo dealers from civil liability if those products are used in crimes. Usually, companies can only be successfully sued if they sell a defective product or violate gun-sales regulations. The Colorado statute allows gun companies to recover fees and costs if they are sued and the companies win.

Similarly, the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act of 2005 shields gun companies at the federal level. The PLCAA was enacted as a result of gun-confiscation groups suing gun makers. These suits were intended to drive gun makers out of business by holding manufacturers and dealers liable for the criminal acts of third parties, who are totally beyond their control.

On March 27, 2015, Judge Matsch wrote in his order:

“Plaintiffs [Sandy and Lonnie Phillips] have not pleaded facts that support their allegation that the federal statute was ‘knowingly’ violated. There is no allegation that the defendants had any knowledge of the allegations made about Holmes’s conduct and condition before the shootings. Plaintiffs issue with the sales is that the sellers had no human contact with the buyer and made no attempt to learn anything about Holmes. It is the indifference to the buyer by the use of electronic communication that is the business practice that this court is asked to correct. Notably, the plaintiffs have not sued the sellers of the firearms for non-compliance with the regulatory requirements applicable to over-the-counter sales.”

He then “ordered and adjudged that plaintiffs’ claims as to all defendants and this civil action are dismissed.”

Then he added, “Pursuant to C.R.S. §13-21-504.5, defendants Lucky Gunner and the Sportsman’s Guide are entitled to an award of reasonable attorney fees and costs to be determined after filing motions pursuant to D.C.Colo.L.Civ.R.54.3 within 14 days after entry of judgment.”

On April 10, Sportsman’s Guide asked for more than $70,000 and Lucky Gunner petitioned for more than $150,000 to be awarded jointly against Sandy and Lonnie Phillips and their lawyers. Brian Platt, owner of BTP Arms, an online retailer that sold the gunman tear gas, has also requested nearly $24,000 for attorney fees and more than $33,000 in relief.

Sandy and Lonnie Phillips were represented by the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence in Washington, D.C., and Arnold & Porter LLP in Denver. The lawsuit was filed in Arapahoe County District Court.

Opening statements in the Colorado theater shooting case start April 27.


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Comments (48)

  • Hide Behind


    I see no wimners or losers, call it a draw at best,
    Neither side can claim a victory as the pro gun fought a defendive battle, as is udual, but this skirmish was just that a skirmish.
    Lawyers get paid no matter what and the bank accounts and support of anti’s is a lot deeper than the pro gunners, this was just a nuisance tactic .
    The overall condition for gum owners is deteriorating in majority of dtates , leaving far less political clout from far fewer states in Congress.
    The longer in time a populace undetgoes restrictiond the less numbers of them contimue fighting restrictions and accustom their lives to fit the law..
    That lowers #’s of new gun owners or even the interedt in arms themselves.
    These peoples then do not contribute to what they see as a lost cause, or worse yet begin to wonder what the hell other peoples in less restrictive states are ctying about when their round count in mags is limited.
    “Whst’s good enough for them, should be good enough for evrrynody.


  • Will Brady Center Pay Legal Fees?


    […] Shooter’s Log has previously covered a suit in which U.S. District Judge Richard Matsch of Denver found that the plaintiffs and lawyers who […]


  • Andy


    The plaintiffs lost. Good. Both legally and morally, they don’t have any liability.

    That said, the amounts being demanded are total bulls@. The suit went away with one motion. Give em each $2,500 and be done with it.


    • Debra


      Oh, I beg to differ. They knew perfectly well what would happen. But to say that this will not lead to better gun control is silly and naive. Watch for it.

      They did not do this for money. At the very least tightening of online sales of 5000 rounds of ammo at a time are prudent. That and some other things we will work for.

      Go ahead and laugh. Works for me, actually.


    • G-Man


      @ Debra,

      Well then go ahead and call me silly and naive because this did not lead to better gun control by any stretch of the imagination. Matter-of-fact it was an embarrassing setback for your cause.

      As for on-line sales of ammo, you are going to have to accept that the amount of ammo sold will never be a consideration used to regulate or prevent on-line purchases. If one single round is legal to buy, then a million will also always be legal to buy. It’s just the way Federal Commerce laws work.

      But forget worrying about ammo, heck Obama’s ATF couldn’t even ban the sale of multiple guns. The best they could muster was to ask the 4 southwest borders states to report multiple sales of certain semiautomatic rifles above .22 caliber.

      The operative word here being “REPORT” the sale, not prevent the purchase. So these gun-loving folks can still buy 100 AR-15s a day should they be so inclined, and there is not a thing that can be done to stop it.

      Just the same as guns, you’d have to outright ban all ammo in order to prevent its legal sale regardless of the quantity, and just like guns, ‘Merica will never let that happen.

      When will you people ever learn that banning candy from everyone will never stop tooth decay? Your wasted time would be much better spent identifying individual cases and getting them the help they need, rather than punishing everyone for a few bad teeth.


    • G-Man


      @ Andy,

      Based on the amount you’ve recommended these companies be compensated ($2,500), I’m going to assume you do not own a similar business that has been involved in any lawsuits this past decade.

      First, consider the specialty required of a law firm needed for this type of case. More than likely this type of firm was not already on these companies’ payrolls, and so they had to spend time and money interviewing the right firm which is expensive, consumes company resources, as well as lost revenue.

      Then the cost of retaining their services once you’ve decided on a firm is not cheap and requires a rather large up-front retainer fee just to get started.

      Next you must consider there is much in-depth work involved by teams of lawyers within each firm to conduct the research and prepare a motion to dismiss. Sometime it can be more intense than the case itself because you generally get one shot at it, and so, you’d better anticipate every aspect of the judge’s thought process as to how he views the law, as well as the law itself, and any precedencies previously set.

      The team must carefully dissect every single word they’ve written, and do so with the assumption that one misstep or detail will be used against them by the other side or even reinterpreted by new judges should it ever be appealed or sent to the Supreme Court.

      The technicalities in carefully wording a compelling petition to dismiss require great skills that do not come cheap. Add to this the man-hours and coordination required between the other companies involved with their attorneys – and you will see the fees for these services become quite appropriate.

      In the end however, the judge will review the fees requested and make the final decision as to what he considers reasonable. All things considered, these fees are actually quite modest and could have easily been in the millions.


    • Pete in Alaska


      @Andy @ Debra ….. @Gman

      Andy and Debra,
      ….and thus endith the lesson …
      I have to agree with Gman. looking at what each of you have said and doing as much of the research as i can to support, or find fault with your positions its seems as if the facts are supported by Gman’s statement and position. once again my knowledge base has been expanded.


  • Brian P.


    Wow! Common sense still exists and from a judge no less. I wonder how many law firms are going to represent Brady nuts when it costs them $$$ to loose? Liberals are inconsistent, intellectually challenged and emotionally immature, but they do like their money.


  • Methusselah


    Wow. Arnold & Porter represented the plaintiffs in this? I used to work for them in the DC office and that is really out of character for the firm to take on something so completely at odds with the law.


  • bill evans


    I think those involved (the brady bunch (for putting them up to it and arnold and porter for NOT being American) in that frivolous law suit should be counter sued . The bull crap will stop once they realize those enforcing the crap are stupid and ya just can’t fix stupid.


  • tony


    gradulation to all three co. don’t see why some one should be concederd guilty for having a hobby in sportsman ship competition shooting . or just fun target shoot ing with friend.. person or persons, who breaks in to your home to steel guns an other things or even to kill u no good reason !.
    an they just wound the bad person. bad person should not be able to sue person defending him an family! laws need to be change in some area of law !


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