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Court dismisses Defense Distributed’s lawsuit over New Jersey “ghost gun” law

Court dismisses Defense Distributed’s lawsuit over New Jersey “ghost gun” law

Enlarge / The US Courthouse in Austin, Texas.Nathan Mattise reader comments 2 with 2 posters participating Share this story Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share on Reddit Sometimes lawsuits can be like real estate—all about location, location, location. And this week at a federal court in Texas, US District Judge Robert Pitman made a…


The US Courthouse in Austin, Texas.
Enlarge/The US Courthouse in Austin, Texas.
Nathan Mattise

Sometimes lawsuits can be like real estate—all about location, location,location.And this week at a federal court in Texas, US District Judge Robert Pitman made a ruling (PDF) that endedDefense Distributed v. Grewal (PDF), the lawsuit brought last summer by the 3D printed firearms company (and colleagues like the Second Amendment Foundation) against New Jersey State Attorney General Gurbir Grewal.

From Defense Distributed’s perspective, the core question involved whether aNJ statuteaimed at regulating “ghost guns” violated the Constitution. The company believed such a law infringed on its right to free speech (among other legal claims). Judge Pitman, however, did not ultimately have to weigh in on that matter. Instead, he granted New Jersey’s motion to dismiss on the grounds that he did not have jurisdiction to hear this matter in the first place.

The case for jurisdiction

Back at a hearing on January 15 (transcript available), attorneys for Defense Distributed and New Jersey outlined their arguments as to why or why not this particular case should be heard in a Texas federal courtroom. Prior legal precedent appeared split, but Defense Distributed attorney Chad Flores argued this case resembledCalder v. Jones. In that ruling, the Supreme Court did allow a court within a state to have personal jurisdiction over a national entity (theNational Enquirer, based in Florida then, was sued for defamation in California after copies were distributed in-state). Flores argued that likeEnquirerinCalder,the NJ statute does “change what people can say here in Texas,” therefore Pitman should have jurisdiction.

Arguing for New Jersey, attorney Casey Low citedWalden v. Fiore, in which the Supreme Court found Nevada lacked personal jurisdiction over something that happened in Georgia because, asOyez.orgsummarized, “a non-resident defendant [must] have a substantial connection with the state in which he is sued. This connection must arise from the contacts that the defendant himself creates.” Low argued the New Jersey statute did not create a substantial connection with Texas. “It’s at best like sending a cease-and-desist to tell them, ‘If you commit a crime, you’ll be under jurisdiction here,’” he said. “Just because the plaintiffs want to subject themselves to jurisdiction everywhere doesn’t mean New Jersey faces jurisdiction in Texas.”

Ultimately, Pitman found New Jersey’s argument compelling, and this week he granted the state’s motion to dismiss this case. “Defendants’ allegedly harmful conduct, however, has no relation to Texas, was not expressly aimed at Texas, and does not avail itself of any Texas laws or benefits,” thejudge’s order(PDF) states. “The only relationship any of the Defendants’ actions have with the State of Texas is the ‘mere fortuity’ that Defense Distributed resides there.”

Defense Distributed vows to fight on

Throughthe company’s LEGIO siteon Thursday, Defense Distributed reacted by insisting it would carry on its battle against any restrictions for distribution of its CAD files for printing a firearm.

“We are considering all options and will most likely lead the fight in new and multiple jurisdictions,” the company wrote. “Over the coming months we will recount the compounded, interstate legal cowardices that have produced this multi-year litigation against one modest non-profit effort in Texas.”

On the other side, many state officials elsewhere publicly claimed victory. Additional defendants in the lawsuit included officials such as New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, former Delaware Attorney General Matthew Denn, Pennsylvania’s Attorney GeneralJosh Shapiroand Governor Thomas Wolf, and Los Angeles City Attorney Michael Feuer. New Jersey Attorney General Grewal even took to Twitter to directly share Judge Pitman’s final judgment.

Grewalwas a separate, distinct legal case from the other high-profile legal dispute currently involving Defense Distributed:State of Washington v. Department of State. So this ruling will have no official bearing onWashingtondespite the cases involving many of the same issues. No further hearings inWashingtonhave been scheduled at this time.

Likewise, theongoing criminal casein Texas against Defense Distributed founder and former CEO Cody Wilson is also separate from these legal matters. Wilson faces multiple counts of sexual assault of a child and indecency charges. Each of the eight counts he’s up against is punishable by up to 20 years in prison and a $10,000 fine. He is scheduled to be formally arraigned today, February 1.

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