Attorneys: Guolee, Terrence F.
In its second win for a government entity before the Illinois Supreme Court in the past month, Querrey & Harrow struck a huge blow for municipal police and correctional agencies throughout Illinois in Adames v. Sheahan et al., Case Nos. 105789 and 105851 cons. (decided March 19, 2009).
Terrence Guolee obtained the decision from the Supreme Court, which overturns the First District Appellate Court’s reversal of the trial court’s summary judgment order in favor of former Cook County Sheriff Michael Sheahan. In the case, a 13-year-old boy, the son of a correctional lieutenant, was home alone when he found his father’s duty handgun in an unlocked gun case in a closet. Not knowing that a bullet remained in the chamber of the gun after the magazine was removed, the child accidentally and tragically shot and killed a young friend. Suit was filed against gun manufacturer Beretta and the Sheriff, in his capacity as the father’s employer. The boy was later adjudicated delinquent for involuntary manslaughter and reckless discharge of a firearm. The father served a suspension from his employment as a correctional officer.
Plaintiffs claimed the father was negligent and the Sheriff, as his employer, was responsible for the death. The trial court granted summary judgment on all counts, holding that the Sheriff owed no duty to protect the deceased minor from the criminal acts of the lieutenant’s son. While plaintiffs also sued the father, plaintiffs dismissed these claims following the entry of summary judgment. The First District Appellate Court, however, found the storage of the gun was within the course and scope of the lieutenant’s employment and the Sheriff could be held liable pursuant to the doctrine of respondeat superior.
Querrey & Harrow's petition for leave to appeal was accepted by the Supreme Court and the case was argued on November 18, 2008. In the March 19, 2009 decision, the Court held that the father did not act within the scope of his employment when he stored the gun, and, thus, the Sheriff was not liable under respondeat superior. In particular, the Court noted the well-developed record of the Sheriff’s extensive gun training, general orders, and instructions mandating that weapons stored at an officer’s home be made inaccessible. The Supreme Court also found the lieutenant did not store the gun in the manner selected in order to perform his job duties as outlined by the Sheriff, thus accepting the main defense theme presented by Querrey & Harrow since the case’s inception.
As to co-defendant Beretta, the trial court’s summary judgment on the plaintiff’s product liability claims were upheld by the appellate court. On review, among other findings, the Supreme Court found that dismissal was proper as the Federal Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA), which provides certain protections to weapons manufacturers, was applicable because the juvenile shooter committed a criminal act. This decision is the first state supreme court decision in the nation addressing the PLCAA.
Terrence Guolee was assisted with the briefing by Jennifer Medenwald. Jennifer was also involved in Q&H's other win before the Illinois Supreme Court this month, detailed at http://www.querrey.com/news-87.html. A full copy of the Adames decision is available via the Supreme Court’s website at http://www.state.il.us/court/OPINIONS/SupremeCourt/2009/March/105789.pdf. Video of the arguments in the case can be accessed via http://www.state.il.us/court/Media/On_Demand.asp.
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Querrey & Harrow’s municipal practice group attorneys regularly represent governmental bodies, including the State of Illinois, the Illinois State Treasurer, various state’s attorneys, several counties, municipalities, townships, schools and park districts, in litigation involving Section 1983 civil rights, reapportionment, employment, eminent domain, premises liability claims and other matters. Information regarding our municipal law practice can be found at http://www.querrey.com.