In re Acad. Ltd., No. 19-0497

CourtSupreme Court of Texas
Writing for the CourtJUSTICE BOYD
PartiesIN RE ACADEMY, LTD. D/B/A ACADEMY SPORTS + OUTDOORS
Docket NumberNo. 19-0497
Decision Date25 June 2021

IN RE ACADEMY, LTD. D/B/A ACADEMY SPORTS + OUTDOORS

No. 19-0497

SUPREME COURT OF TEXAS

June 25, 2021


ON PETITION FOR WRIT OF MANDAMUS

JUSTICE BOYD, concurring.

After Congress passed the federal Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA) in 2005, the National Rifle Association praised it as "the most significant piece of pro-gun legislation in twenty years."1 Not surprisingly, others criticized it as bad legislation "based on flawed reasoning"2 and as "a political stunt meant to assuage the concerns of those on both sides of the gun debate without actually doing anything of substance."3 Whatever one's policy views may be, and whatever effect the PLCAA may (or may not) have on current issues of gun rights and gun violence, our obligation as Texas's civil court of last resort is simply to construe and apply the Act correctly.

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For the reasons the Court explains, I agree that the PLCAA bars the plaintiffs' claims in this case for negligence, negligent hiring, training, and/or supervision, and gross negligence. But I do not agree that the Act bars the plaintiffs' claim for negligent entrustment. To the contrary, the Act expressly excepts negligent-entrustment claims from the bar it otherwise imposes. The Court holds that the Act bars the negligent-entrustment claim because that claim is not viable under Texas law. Ante at ___. In its view, Texas common law determines whether the PLCAA's exception applies. Ante at ___. But our precedent and the Act itself require us to apply the Act's own language, not Texas common law, to determine whether the Act's exception applies. The Act defines the claims it prohibits, provides an exception from that prohibition for "negligent entrustment" claims, expressly defines "negligent entrustment," and refuses to create a federal cause of action for negligent entrustment. Because the negligent-entrustment claim the plaintiffs assert in this case matches the Act's definition of "negligent entrustment," the claim falls within the Act's exception and the Act does not bar the claim.

Nevertheless, I concur in the Court's judgment because Texas law does not recognize the negligent-entrustment claim the plaintiffs have asserted. That claim falls squarely within the PLCAA's definition of (and exception for) negligent entrustment, so the PLCAA does not bar it, but it fails because Texas law does not recognize it and the PLCAA does not authorize it. The claim must be dismissed under Texas law, but not because the PLCAA bars it.

I.
The PLCAA

The PLCAA bluntly prohibits any "qualified civil liability action" against a seller or manufacturer, in which a claimant seeks relief for harm resulting from a third party's unlawful

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misuse of a firearm or ammunition.4 15 U.S.C. §§ 7902(a), 7903(5)(A). But it expressly excludes actions "against a seller for negligent entrustment" from the phrase "qualified civil liability action." Id. § 7903(5)(A)(ii). So the Act does not bar a negligent-entrustment claim, even though such a claim otherwise constitutes a qualified civil liability action.

Here, the plaintiffs have sued a company that sold a firearm and ammunition for negligently entrusting the products to the buyer. As silly as it sounds, the issue is whether the plaintiffs' action against a seller for negligent entrustment is an action "against a seller for negligent entrustment." On its face, of course, the question answers itself: the plaintiffs pleaded a claim against a seller for negligent entrustment, and the Act expressly provides that it does not bar that claim. But because "words can have more than one meaning," Jaster v. Comet II Const., Inc., 438 S.W.3d 556, 563 (Tex. 2014) (plurality op.), we must decide what "negligent entrustment" means under the Act and whether the plaintiffs' claim fits within that meaning.

The PLCAA expressly defines "negligent entrustment" as

the supplying of a qualified product by a seller for use by another person when the seller knows, or reasonably should know, the person to whom the product is supplied is likely to, and does, use the product in a manner involving unreasonable risk of physical injury to the person or others.

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15 U.S.C. § 7903(5)(B). That's exactly what the plaintiffs allege here: that Academy (concededly, a "seller") supplied a "gun and 30-round magazine" to another person when Academy knew or reasonably should have known that the person was likely to (and did) use the products to cause unreasonable risk of physical harm to himself and others. Because that claim falls within the Act's definition of "negligent entrustment," it is not a "qualified civil liability action" and the PLCAA does not bar it. See id. § 7903(5)(A)(ii).

Nevertheless, the Court concludes that the PLCAA bars the negligent-entrustment claim because Texas common law does not recognize negligent entrustment as a valid claim against a product's seller. Ante at ___. The Court reasons that because the PLCAA states that its provisions shall not be "construed to create a public or private cause of action," the Court may utilize the Texas common-law meaning of "negligent entrustment" to determine whether the PLCAA bars the plaintiffs' claim. Ante at ___ (quoting 15 U.S.C. § 7903(5)(C)). In other words, in the Court's view, whether the PLCAA's exception applies depends on whether the claim is viable under state law. The Court thus concludes the PLCAA's exception for negligent-entrustment claims does not apply (and the PLCAA thus bars the plaintiffs' claim) because "Texas does not recognize a cause of action for negligent entrustment based on the sale of property." Ante at ___ (emphasis added).

But the PLCAA does not leave room for this Court to supplement the Act's definition of "negligent entrustment" with Texas common law. It states that its bar does not apply to negligent-entrustment actions "brought against a seller," and it defines "negligent entrustment" to mean "a seller" supplying a qualified product "when the seller knows, or reasonably should know, the person to whom the product is supplied is likely to, and does, use the product in a manner involving

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unreasonable risk of physical injury to the person or others." 15 U.S.C. § 7903(5)(A)(ii), (B) (emphasis added). And it defines "seller" to include any importer, dealer, or other person engaged in the business of importing, dealing, or selling firearms or ammunition. Id. § 7903(6). Regardless of any substantive state law, a claim asserting that "a seller" negligently sold a firearm or ammunition is not a "qualified civil liability action" under the PLCAA, so the PLCAA does not bar it. Whether state law will independently support such a claim presents a separate question entirely.

The Court supports its conclusion that the Act bars this negligent-entrustment claim by citing to other courts that have also adopted its reasoning.5 Ante at ___. Others, however, have recognized that whether the PLCAA bars a claim and whether the claim is viable under state law present two different issues that must be addressed separately.6 Still others have been inconsistent

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or unclear in their analysis.7 While other courts' reasoning provides helpful guideposts, our precedent controls and confirms that the Act's definition of "negligent entrustment" must govern whether the Act's exception for negligent-entrustment claims applies.

"Courts must adhere to legislative definitions of terms when they are supplied." Youngkin v. Hines, 546 S.W.3d 675, 680 (Tex. 2018). We held in Youngkin that, because the Texas Citizens Participation Act (TCPA) expressly defined the phrase "exercise of the right to petition," we could not rely on the constitutional meaning of that phrase to inject additional requirements into the statute's definition. Id.8 Instead, because we were construing and applying the TCPA and the TCPA expressly defined the phrase, we were "bound by the statutory definition for the purposes of the TCPA," the constitutional meaning was "irrelevant," and injecting additional requirements based on the constitutional meaning "would be disloyal to [the] enacted text." Id. at 681. In the same way, because the PLCAA expressly defines the phrase "negligent entrustment," we cannot

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rely on the Texas common-law understanding of that phrase to inject additional requirements into the PLCAA's definition. See TGS-NOPEC Geophysical Co. v. Combs, 340 S.W.3d 432, 439 (Tex. 2011) ("If a statute uses a term with a particular meaning or...

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