On October 11, 2018, Cohen Milstein, the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, and the D’Amore Law Group, on behalf of the family of Kirsten Englund who was murdered by a mentally troubled man who had illegally obtained a gun through an online straw purchaser, announced a landmark settlement in Vivian Englund v. World Pawn Exchange.
Englund is a wrongful death case of first impression in Oregon state court and nationally, addressing the legal liability for federally licensed firearms dealers involved in online straw sales. Prior to Englund, the law was clear that straw purchases from in-person dealers were illegal, but no regulation or legal authority directly addressed the obligations of online gun retailers to detect and prevent these sales.
As a result of key decisions during the litigation and the terms of the settlement, important legal precedent has now been established at the state and federal level on gun dealer responsibility and a message has been sent to the gun industry about how to safely sell guns online in the future.
As a part of the settlement, both gun dealer defendants, J&G Sales, a national online gun dealer, and World Pawn Exchange, a firearms dealer in Oregon, will implement important business reforms that will make it more difficult for straw purchasers to access guns, including one dealer agreeing to no longer transfer firearms ordered from online sellers, and requiring that online purchasers declare under penalty of law that they are purchasing a gun solely for themselves.
During the course of the litigation, plaintiffs won several important, precedent-setting victories, including:
- In June 2017, Multnomah County Judge Michael A. Greenlick denied the Defendants’ motions to dismiss. In a first-of-its-kind ruling in Oregon [2017 WL 7518923 (Or.Cir.) (Trial Order)], Judge Greenlick held that both gun dealers could be held liable for Kirsten’s death under general principles of negligence law. It was also a first-in-the-nation ruling as to the liability of an online gun dealer who shipped a gun to another dealer for transfer to an individual, and in holding that both dealers could be liable for negligence for the shooting, despite the fact that one of the transferred guns was not the murder weapon and that more than a year elapsed between transfer of the guns and Kirsten Englund’s murder.
- In June 2018, Judge Stone granted the plaintiff’s motion to include punitive damages, meaning that the Court held that a jury could find that dealer Defendants knew or should have known that a straw purchase was underway, describing certain circumstances of the sale a “pretty clear red flag.”
- In August 2018, Coos County Judge Martin Stone denied J&G’s motion for summary judgment. It was a first-in-the-nation ruling that a jury could hear claims against an online gun dealer who negligently sold guns that were supplied to the shooter.
In January 2016, Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll PLLC, the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, and the D’Amore Law Group, P.C. jointly filed a wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of the family and estate of Kirsten Englund, a woman who was murdered in Oregon in 2013 by Jeffrey Boyce, the son of Diane Boyce, who had illegally purchased the guns as a straw purchaser on his behalf.
Straw purchasers are individuals who fraudulently and illegally represent themselves as buying guns on their own behalf, but really are acting on behalf of others. In many cases, straw purchasers buy guns for individuals who are prohibited themselves from purchasing weapons (e.g., because of a criminal history, history of mental illness, or illegal drug use), or who otherwise wish to conceal the fact that they are obtaining weapons. However, the straw purchaser who purchases a gun to provide to a legitimate purchaser equally violates federal and Oregon law.
Plaintiffs allege that Diane Boyce, a mental health professional, who knew her son had a history of criminality, potential illegal drug abuse, and mental illness including delusions, making him legally unfit for possessing a firearm, nevertheless illegally purchased guns on his behalf.
Plaintiffs further allege that on three separate occasions, starting on December 12, 2011, over less than three months, World Pawn Exchange transferred three guns, including an AK-47, a Makarov 9mm semi-automatic pistol, and a Rock Island semi-automatic pistol, to Diane Boyce on behalf of her son Jeffrey Boyce, without exercising reasonable care and in violation of federal and Oregon laws. At least two of these guns were purchased over the Internet from J&G Sales.
Despite indicators that these sales were illegal straw purchases, defendants World Pawn Exchange and J&G Sales disregarded those laws.
On April 28, 2013, Jeffrey approached an unarmed female stranger who happened to be parked at the side of the road admiring a scenic view, shot her dead, and then lit her body on fire. The victim was Kirsten Englund. By following applicable laws and industry standards, World Pawn Exchange and J&G Sales would have prevented Jeffrey Boyce from obtaining the gun he used to kill Kirsten Englund and the other guns he had with him at the time of Kirsten Englund’s murder. Instead, Kirsten’s death was due directly to the negligence of World Pawn Exchange, J&G Sales, and Diane Boyce.
In October 2016, the Estate of Kirsten Englund settled its claims with Diane Boyce, the shooter’s mother. Claims with World Pawn Exchange were settled in September 2018 and with J&G Sales were settled in October 2018.
Cohen Milstein is handling this matter pro bono.
Terms of the J&G Sales settlement reforms can be accessed here.
Terms of the World Pawn Exchange settlement reforms can be accessed here.