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Daniel v. Armslist LLC

United States District Court, E.D. Wisconsin

February 17, 2016

YASMEEN DANIEL, individually, and as Special Administrator of the ESTATE OF ZINA DANIEL HAUGHTON, Plaintiffs,
v.
ARMSLIST, LLC, BRIAN MANCINI, BROC ELMORE, JONATHAN GIBBON, DEVIN LINN, ABC INS. CO., DEF INS. CO., ESTATE OF RADCLIFFE HAUGHTON, Defendants.

DECISION AND ORDER

HON. RUDOLPH T. RANDA U.S. District Judge

This action arises from the October 21, 2012, mass shooting at the Azana Spa and Salon in Brookfield, Wisconsin. On that date, Radcliffe Haughton killed his wife, Zina Daniel Haughton, two of his wife’s co-workers, and himself, wounding four others. Haughton bought the murder weapon through Armslist.com, an online marketplace for the sale and purchase of firearms, even though he was not allowed to possess a firearm pursuant to a domestic violence restraining order.

Yasmeen Daniel, Zina’s adult daughter from a previous marriage, was at the spa and witnessed the carnage. Daniel brought suit in Milwaukee County Circuit Court against Armslist and its owners, Brian Mancini, Broc Elmore, and Jonathan Gibbon. Daniel also sued Devin Linn, a Wisconsin resident that sold the murder weapon to her stepfather, and her stepfather’s estate. Daniel alleges, as relevant here, that Armslist aided and abetted the unlawful sale and possession of a firearm in violation of state and federal law. The Armslist defendants removed from state court, and Daniel now moves to remand. This motion is granted.

BACKGROUND

The following facts are taken from the complaint and accepted as true for purposes of this motion.

On October 3, 2012, Radcliffe Haughton assaulted Zina Daniel Haughton in their home. In response to a 911 call, police from the Brown Deer Police Department arrived and escorted Zina to a local Holiday Inn to protect her from further violence. The following day, Brown Deer police took Zina back to her home to retrieve some personal items, after which she drove to work at Azana.

That same day, Radcliffe appeared in Azana’s parking lot with a knife and confronted Zina, who took shelter in the salon. Left in the parking lot, Radcliffe slashed the tires of Zina’s car. Later that day, Brown Deer police arrested Radcliffe for domestic violence, criminal damage to property, and disorderly conduct.

The next day, Zina signed a 72-hour contact prohibition against Radcliffe, requiring him to avoid contacting her other than through a law enforcement officer or an attorney. On October 8, Zina filed a petition for a restraining order in Milwaukee County. The court issued a temporary restraining order while the matter was pending. On October 18, Radcliffe and Zina attended a hearing to adjudicate the petition. Zina told the court that Radcliffe’s threats terrorized her “every waking moment.” Brown Deer police officers also testified in favor of Zina. The court granted Zina’s petition and prohibited Radcliffe from approaching his wife for four years, the maximum allowed under Wisconsin law. The court also prohibited Radcliffe from possessing a firearm until October 18, 2016, finding “clear and convincing evidence” that he might use a firearm to harm Zina and endanger public safety.

Federally licensed firearms dealers are required to conduct background checks on gun buyers to prevent sales to individuals prohibited from possessing firearms. In enacting this requirement, Congress recognized and sought to address the inherent danger to the public posed by certain individuals possessing firearms. Unlicensed private sellers, who are not engaged in the business of selling firearms, are not required to conduct background checks under federal law.

Private sales over the internet are frequently linked to illegal gun trafficking, sales to minors, and mass shootings, such as those that took place at Virginia Tech, a Navy recruiting center in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and Northern Illinois University. As a result, many websites have prohibited private gun sales, including ebay, Craigslist, Amazon.com, and Google AdWords.

In the marketplace created by Armslist, any putative buyer can post a description of the firearm they wish to purchase and any seller can post a description of the firearm they wish to sell. Armslist’s customers contact one another through Armslist’s server by clicking on a link in their website or using their counterparty’s contact information. Armslist receives revenue through advertising, so the more gun transactions that occur, the more money Armslist makes.

Several of the most significant design features of Armslist.com assist prohibited purchasers in evading federal and state laws while acquiring firearms. For example, Armslist provides the data fields which its customers fill out when they create “want to buy” or “for sale” posting. For sellers, one of the most prominent data fields is whether a seller is a “premium vendor” (that is, a purportedly licensed gun dealer) or a “private seller.” Similarly, for a purchaser posting a “want to buy” advertisement, Armslist offers a “seller” data field for them to specifically identify whether they would prefer to purchase from a private party as opposed to a licensed dealer. Armslist also has a search function that allows buyers to search for only private sellers. Armslist does allow users to flag advertisements for review and policing, but expressly prevents users from flagging content as criminal and illegal. Users are not required to register an account, thereby encouraging anonymity, and Armslist prominently displays on each advertisement whether the account is registered or unregistered.

Radcliffe Haughton’s search for firearms took place exclusively on Armslist.com and made use of the search function to exclude licensed dealers. On October 19, 2012, Haughton found an Armslist.com offer of sale posted by Linn for a used FNP-40 semiautomatic handgun with three high-capacity magazines of ammunition. The advertised cost was $500, more than it would normally cost for a legitimate buyer. Haughton emailed Linn using the contact function. On October 20, ...


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