The Massachusetts Appeals Court ruled today that state law protects the city of Somerville from a lawsuit filed by a man who became a quadriplegic at the hands of a man with a gun police had once confiscated.
At issue in the suit by Carlos Andrade and his family against the city was the way his attacker, Santano Dessin, came to be in possession of the gun he fired at Andrade in 2012.
Dessin had a license for three guns issued by the Somerville Police Department. In 2010, police revoked his license after uncovering "disqualifying adjudication of delinquency that appeared on his juvenile record," then returned them after a Superior Court judge ruled Dessin was OK to own guns. In January, 2012, the state Executive Office of Public Safety and Security ruled Dessin should not own guns, a Superior Court judge agreed and said police could confiscate the guns. Except the police never collected them again and ten months later, Dessin shot Andrade, a tenant in a building Dessin's family owned on Broadway.
In 2015, the Andrades sued Somerville for negligence. In its ruling today, the appellate justices ruled that a provision of state law relating to licensing functions protects Somerville and its police department from:
Any claim based upon the issuance, denial, suspension or revocation or failure or refusal to issue, deny, suspend or revoke any permit, license, certificate, approval, order or similar authorization.
Anticipating this, Andrade's lawyers argued that that law
Does not apply because their injuries were not caused by any licensing decision made by the department. Rather, they allege that the department acted with "gross negligence in returning a firearm to a person deemed irresponsible and then failing to retrieve it."
But the court ruled that's too narrow a reading of the law in this case, because:
[W]hile the plaintiffs' injuries were not caused directly by the issuance or revocation of a firearms license, they are "based upon" the department's decision to revoke Dessin's license. G. L. c. 258, § 10(e) [the law in question]. This licensing decision gave rise to the department's responsibilities with respect to Dessin's firearms. A local police department's duties to receive, store, and dispose of weapons when a person's firearms license is revoked or denied "are central to the functions that are immunized from liability by § 10(e). Given the broad language of the statute, they cannot be parsed from 9 See, e.g., Morrissey, supra at 593 ("Here, because the actions that the remainder of the process." Smith, supra at 33. Because the plaintiffs' complaint is "rooted in" the department's licensing function, the motion to dismiss under § 10(e) should have been allowed.